Winter means different things to people from different places. When I was teaching communication and public speaking in Virginia, we closed the university because of a “blizzard.” You could still see the top of the grass. I told my students that, in Wisconsin, if it’s snowing and you can still see the top of the grass, you keep golfing.
No matter what winter means to you, we can agree that Wisconsin’s snowy season is here to stay. And, believe it or not, changing your attitude about the season can go a long way toward having a more positive winter experience. While we can’t change the weather, we can change the way we design public spaces and use resources so winter activities are more accessible for all.
That’s what Wintermission Eau Claire is looking to do: help people from all backgrounds have a more enjoyable, engaged winter. I joined colleagues from several local governments and organizations in applying for the Wintermission grant in November 2018, and we were one of three cities in the country to receive it. Since then we’ve worked to engage our community, launch pilot projects, and learn how to make public spaces work better year-round. (You can read more about Wintermission and about our first pilot project online at volumeone.org.)
We’re looking forward to announcing more pilot projects in the new year, but – you may be asking yourself – what can I do to have a better winter NOW?
Here are Wintermission Eau Claire’s five tips for a healthier, happier winter:
1. Stay Present
Take the time to breathe, reflect, and find beauty in the world around you.
Too often, news of a coming snowstorm triggers our past memories of difficult travel, shoveling, or roof-raking, and we’re stressed before the flakes even start falling. Instead, take a breath, and remember that while snow falling may cause complications to our daily routines, snow being on the ground transforms our post-autumn world into a breathtaking winter vista. What is having to scrape a layer of ice and snow off your car but an invitation to clear off your own, personal zen garden? Sure, the “garden” is a white mound in the general shape of a Toyota Camry, but it needs to be done. Why not enjoy it?
Choose to be present this winter, and reflect on the unique opportunities this season brings with it. We can’t change winter – only how we react to it.
2. Stay Connected
Take the time to connect with the people who matter most to you.
Since chance encounters while out and about are less likely in winter, be intentional about staying connected with your friend group. Wintermission Eau Claire’s survey found that 85% of Eau Claire area residents spend less time outdoors in winter compared to the rest of the year, and that 64% of residents somewhat or definitely experience feelings of social isolation from friends and family during winter. Plan phone calls, organize get-togethers, and respond to text messages, because it’s easier to feel disconnected in winter than at other times of the year, and social isolation has detrimental effects on your physical and mental health. By planning a connected winter, you will reap the benefits all season long!
3. Stay Active
Take the time to keep your mind and body balanced.
What’s the best form of exercise in winter? As the saying goes, the most effective exercise is the one that you’ll actually do. If you like to jog or run outside in summer but hate running on a treadmill in winter, consider finding a new form of exercise you’re willing to do. If winter has you down, certainly don’t force yourself to do something you hate! Whether that new option is lifting weights every morning, engaging in yoga, walking indoors at the Pablo Center or Oakwood Mall, or joining a gym, keep looking until you find something that works for you. Eau Claire is a great place for winter recreation, and hitting up a cross country ski trail or going snowshoeing gets your blood pumping while giving you unparalleled license to enjoy the great outdoors. Staying active in winter helps prevent chronic diseases such as asthma, diabetes, and hypertension, keeps your metabolism working, combats the “cabin fever” associated with being stuck inside, and provides neurochemical benefits to help fight off the effects of the Seasonal Affective Disorder many Americans experience. Invest in your health this winter, and stay active in the way that works best for you.
4. Stay Proactive
Take the time to think about what you’ll need – or no longer need.
From car emergency kits to ice scrapers and sidewalk salt to getting a flu shot, being prepared for the season requires some forethought. Make sure you have everything you need to thrive this winter and then – this is the important part – consider donating winter items you don’t need so someone else can thrive. Finding winter fun that doesn’t break the bank can be challenging, and it’s even more so if you’re starting from scratch. Instead of throwing out old skis or snowsuits, donate them to a local charitable organization that can make them available for people in need. If we take time to take care of ourselves and our neighbors, our community can be even stronger all year long.
5. Stay Comfortable
Take the time to appreciate things that make you feel cozy.
With shorter days and chilly weather changing the way we experience the outdoors, it’s crucial your indoor environment keeps you feeling cozy through the winter months. The Danish call this feeling of coziness in winter “hygge” – pronounced “hoo-guh” – and choose to see winter as a time to indulge in the comforts of the season. That means savoring the chance to curl up near a fireplace with a good book and a warm beverage, or the feeling of warm, fuzzy socks. Cultivate an atmosphere that pleases your senses, and cherish the things we can do only in winter.
I truly hope this #EauWinter is a good one for you. More importantly, I hope that as the obstacles of the season present themselves (as they inevitably will), you’ll take the time to step back, survey the awe-inspiring natural beauty around you, and choose to have a more enjoyable winter.
Happy New Year, Eau Claire – I hope you feel as lucky to live here as I do. Even when the cold air hurts our faces.
Wrasse is a government and community relations specialist for UW-Eau Claire, and is UWEC’s representative on the Wintermission team. Wintermission Eau Claire partners include UWEC, Visit Eau Claire, the Eau Claire City-County Health Department, the Cities of Eau Claire and Altoona, and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation. For more information, visit www.facebook.com/wintermissioneauclaire.