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Blues Clues

Helpful, hopeful ways to stay positive this winter

By Victoria Abbott Riccardi

If you’re feeling anxious about how you’re going to persevere, emotionally, through the darker, colder months ahead, you’re not alone. Almost everyone I know is trying to figure out how to stay healthy in body and mind as we navigate the uncharted challenges of a winter season compounded by pandemic.

Fortunately, research has shown there are loads of things you can do to stay positive and energized. In the we’re all in this together spirit, we checked in with several Trustees staffers and asked them to share how they expect to counter the winter and Covid blues this season. Here are some of their plans:

Refresh: Head Outside

“Even just a short morning walk makes my day that much better,” says Michelle de Lima, Engagement Manager, Boston Community Gardens. “Breathing fresh air and looking up at the sky fights that cabin fever feeling and stimulates the senses.” Research shows spending time in nature helps reduce stress, anxiety, and depression.

“Instead of getting down when it snows, say, ‘great, what can I do?’” says Belmont-based Pete Marotta, Stewardship Data & Projects Coordinator. “I plan to do a lot of winter hiking around many Trustees properties,” including favorites Whitney and Thayer Woods in Hingham & Cohasset, Bear Swamp in Ashfield, and Royalston Falls in Royalston.

Shana Dumont Garr, Curator of Fruitlands Museum in Harvard, who lives in Acton with her husband and seven-year-old son, plans to bike, run, and take walks this winter. “I clipped back tree branches to make a loop on our property and if you go around it eight times, it’s a mile.

Pete Marotta and fiancee Kelsey are avid winter hikers.

Marotta inspects an icicle at Rock House Reservation in West Brookfield.

Prepare: Equip Yourself

Brian Westrick, Associate Field Director, based in Florence, regularly hits the trails near his Northampton home with his wife and toddler son. But with earlier sunsets, they switch the light on darkness. “We already had headlamps, but we recently bought several flashlights to go on night walks around our neighborhood and look at stars.”

Pete Marotta says an important part of enjoying the cold is dressing appropriately, and recommends layering and sturdy winter clothes. (For those who need warm winter gear or have some to donate, local nonprofits like ABCD and Cradles to Crayons can help.) The right gear also applies to outdoor equipment. The Westricks recently invested in a Thule Chariot for their son. It’s like a stroller, but instead of using the wheels [when it snows], we swap them for skis. So while we snowshoe or cross-country ski, my son is in a self-contained pod.

Invite: Socialize Safely

According to the Harvard Study of Adult Development, people who are more socially connected to family, friends, and their community are happier, healthier, and live longer than those who are less well connected. “I’ve started inviting neighbors and friends to sit around our firepit,” says Garr. “Reaching out and inviting people to stop by is a great way to deal with isolation.”

“I have a portable firepit that I bring to friends’ houses,” says de Lima. “It allows everyone to feel warm and socialize outside.” For Garr and Westrick, who have young kids, they’re planning playdates in the form of family hikes. In addition to fresh air and exercise, everyone gets to catch up with friends.

Breathing fresh air and looking up at the sky fights that cabin fever feeling and stimulates the senses.

– Michelle de Lima

Explore: Redefine Travel

Science shows that traveling boosts mental and physical health since it helps people detach from their work environment, experience novel things, and control what they do each day. But with Covid restricting travel, it’s time for creative alternatives. “Travel books can take you to a different place,” says Marotta. “I recently got On Trails: An Exploration about a guy [named Robert Moor] hiking the Appalachian Trail.”

Experimenting with more adventurous cooking also can be transporting. Westrick and his wife plan to make Middle Eastern and Asian recipes from Israeli-born chef Yottam Ottelenghi. De Lima, who teaches foraged garden mixology classes at The Trustees, will make Amaro (a bitter Italian herbal liqueur) with cranberries, apples, and foraged twigs from a spicebush.

Daytrips also let you travel somewhere new. “The Trustees’ new website has great information about the different reservations and Google Maps will find the closest park to where you live,” says Marotta.

Act: Get Creative

Studies show that engaging in the creative arts can decrease anxiety and stress. “In the evening after doing the dishes, I go to the basement and sew,” says Garr, who also does crafts with her son. “The other day I made a pillow! Creating things boosts my self-esteem and makes me feel good about myself.”

Shana Dumont Garr and her son Tommy in their basement creative cornere collaborate on a new t-shirt design created with pieces of old shirts.

Garr also has begun making collages from old New Yorker magazines for friends. “I think about the recipient as I lay out the pieces and it’s really satisfying.” Research shows that the act of giving to others has health benefits and stimulates areas of the brain associated with pleasure, social connection and trust, resulting in a “warm glow” effect.

Other pursuits can work as mood enhancers, too: Westrick’s wife has started meditating and in inclement weather, de Lima pulls down the shades and cranks up some Bollywood or old school hip hop to dance around the house.

Take It All In: Nature Heals

Science shows that house plants can purify the air we breathe, reduce stress, increase pain tolerance, and boost productivity. “If you’re dreaming about your garden, try an indoor citrus,” says de Lima. “Even if it doesn’t fruit, the flowers smell nice.” She also suggests growing microgreens, noting, “Fedco Seeds and Johnny’s Selected Seeds sell seeds especially for growing sprouts. Untreated whole seeds or beans from the grocery store can work well too, including lentils and chickpeas.”

Although winter might feel like it will never end, in the Northern Hemisphere it’s actually the shortest season of the year. The days are already starting to get longer, and the increasing daylight energizes the spirit. A little extra effort goes a long way to carrying us through these colder months—and never fear, spring will soon be here!

Francis William Bird Park, Walpole

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