Happiness and health are interwoven like a fine tapestry. In the last two years, the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on both—even folks who’ve not gotten ill themselves have felt isolated, been restricted from favorite activities, and dealt with the stress of worrying about friends and family. As we discover the many ways in which mind and body interact, one truth becomes ever more obvious: “mens sana in corpore sano.” That catchy old Latin saying—about a healthy mind in a healthy body—is a central truth of human existence, and it works both ways. The microbiome is a communicative (collective) beastie; things happen in your “gut brain” that impact your mood and cognition, and the reverse is equally true: Your state of mind is key to a healthy digestive and immune system.
Winter is prime time for soups and stews bubbling with slowly tenderizing root veggies and savory herbs. You can use a slow cooker, or simmer on the stove for a bit more direct control. Then there’s baking. All right, it became a pandemic punchline of sorts, but there’s nothing like the smell of fresh bread or cookies wafting from the kitchen to lift your spirits and set your microbiome humming with happy anticipation.
Yes, even now. Windowsill or countertop container gardening can produce herbs, veggies, and microgreens, while adding life and a lovely shade of green to your surroundings. How about a mushroom kit, air-purifying houseplants, or an improvised interior green wall? Grow lights may be called for, but it’s hard to have too much light around you this time of year—you’ll get downright fond of them.
Winter is prime study time. Delve into a favorite period of history. Pick up another language or a musical instrument. Choose any subject in the whole wide wonderful world that you’d like to know more about and seek out an online course; there are lots of free ones out there, and local community colleges often have inexpensive courses in all sorts of things. Master a new computer skill set to kick your resume up a notch.
Start a journal. Write a letter to someone who’s hurt you and burn it in the sink. Write a letter to a younger or older friend or family member you haven’t seen in a while (this one actually should be mailed) telling them what’s new with you. Sending and getting actual handwritten missives is so retro it’s new again. Try your hand at haiku or free verse.
sing and dance
Whether you prefer to put some vinyl reverently on the turntable or pair your phone with a wireless speaker, turn up your favorites and belt ‘em out—nobody’s listening. Get that area rug out of the way and bop your best moves all over the living room—nobody’s watching. Besides being a superb joy generator, a few good jams a week make for excellent exercise if you work it. Your lungs, muscles, and mind will all be grateful.
Or many somethings. Experts at Harvard have determined that creative activity can have positive effects on depression, anxiety, and physical illness such as cancer; even if you’re not battling these, working with your hands to create something is a satisfying mind/body booster that can stave off illness. If you can manage it, it’s great to work with others around—there’s a reason sewing circles and bees were so popular in Great-Grandma’s day. Check out the offerings of Circle Creative Collective and the Woodstock School of Art for support, inspiration, and instruction. YouTube also offers free tutorials on more activities than you’ll be able to complete in a lifetime.
The best mood and body combo of all is each other’s company and conversation. Just about every suggestion here can also form the basis of a group activity for two or more. In person is best, of course—make sure everybody’s on the same page and/or can accommodate one another’s preferred level of safety precautions, and consider issues of ventilation and sanitation. Even getting together virtually is, as we have all discovered, much better than not getting together at all. Once you’ve got that part figured out, bring on the revelry. Come together and make things, study, sing, dance, eat. Pick a novel or poetry book together for reading and discussion or have a movie marathon. Whatever you do, don’t isolate any more than you prefer. We all need one another; there are plenty of folks out there who’d be happy to see you. Be the one to reach out and start some good trouble. You’ll likely make somebody’s day—and there’s really nothing better for the mind, body, and spirit than that.
Physical fitness and getting fresh air are essential to maintaining health because our highly sensitive immune systems are made more resilient through regular exercise, which boosts your mood as well. Whether it is a daily walk, a weekend on the slopes, or an ice-skating outing with loved ones, a daily dose of exercise is absolutely essential in promoting wellness during the winter and throughout the year.
Mental clarity is another important component to warding off illness, both physical and emotional. Put aside time to be by yourself, where you can clear your head and find some peace. Bundle up and sit outside by a warm fire, listening to the stillness of the snow-covered trees, or go for a serene walk in the woods with a thermos of hot tea. Take up meditation or yoga, and find the form that feels just right for you.