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One technique to stay mentally strong through the winter break

Date: 07 December 2020

Mentally reframe winter as a challenge, not a threat


A 2014 study found that reappraising pre-performance anxiety as excitement improved people’s performance in a range of nerve-inducing events. By using minimal strategies like saying "I am excited" out loud, individuals were able to reframe their anxiety and went on to outperform others at karaoke singing, public speaking and maths exercises.

When you perceive a situation as a dire threat, it changes the way you process information. You no longer measure the pros and cons of your choices evenhandedly. Instead, your attention narrows and your interpretations become biased, so that you assume the worst when a situation is ambiguous. If we can rewire a certain thought pattern through repetition and practice, as cognitive behavioural therapy promises, we might be able to avoid this threat response mechanism.

Of course, we are living through an objectively dangerous pandemic and highly unpredictable times. But we may have more agency than we think over our cognitive response. So instead of viewing the winter break as a threat, try to reframe it as a challenge and convince yourself they're making things more exciting.

  • List all the things you've always wanted to do but never had the time for. Which could you reasonably do during the darker months?
  • From puzzles to books, card games to boxsets, positively indulge in the great indoors this winter
  • Try to gamify the situation: how many outdoor games or activities can you think of that work indoors?

Kari Leibowitz of the University of Tromsø, in northern Norway (where winters involve days that are almost totally dark), designed a ‘wintertime mindset scale’. It asks people to rank the extent to which they agree with phrases like “There are many things to enjoy about the winter”, “I love the cosiness of the winter months” and “Winter brings many wonderful seasonal changes”. The people who agreed more strongly with these phrases were more likely to maintain positive mental wellbeing throughout the darker months.

The more we view winter in this way - as exciting and novel - the better we equip ourselves to stay resilient throughout it.

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