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Polar Vortex, Pandemic-Style

We are experiencing a Polar Vortex this week where I live, Calgary, AB, Canada. For those readers who are unfamiliar, this is a weather phenomenon that Canada experiences once once or twice in the winter months, bringing extremely cold Arctic air that makes for VERY cold temperatures and wind chills.

Canadians are hearty and mostly winter-loving folk, but a Polar Vortex brings us to our knees. Prolonged time (more than 30 seconds) outside is not recommended, driving can be treacherous and finding any motivation is a real challenge. We are living the stereotype of being in perpetual cold currently... But at least hockey is back on TV. When the alarm went off Monday morning, the weather report said it was -50 degrees Celsius with the wind chill (-58 Fahrenheit) which is enough to make anyone want to stay in bed and ignore the world.


Add the frigid temperatures to overall pandemic fatigue and the winter blahs and we are mixing an elixir where hopelessness could thrive.




You see, in non-COVID times, when the winter temperatures are not so extreme, Canadians find ways to enjoy our winter months with outdoor activities like skiing, snowshoeing, skating, playing hockey, gathering for a hearty meal with friends and family, or watching a professional hockey game in an arena full of people. This week, between the extreme cold and the measures taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19, none of the activities above are accessible. The photo above what taken when I headed to a frozen mountain lake by Banff with my family to play some pond hockey a few weeks ago when temperatures were milder.


How do we cope?


As an Occupational Therapist, I use a variety of tools to help clients whose mental health has deteriorated to the point of struggling to manage basic everyday activities. The concepts below can be helpful in making room for the challenges we are experiencing, even in the absence of a severe mental health condition. They are intended to help you struggle against the current situation less so you are more able to find a way to do the things that matter most to you.


Lean into the present moment.


Struggling against what is here and out of our control only creates suffering. Be with it. Settling into the present moment, we consider the circumstances, allowing our responses to be present without labeling them “good” or “bad”. This builds awareness so we can evaluate the experience and then choose a value-based direction.


Given the polar vortex and pandemic, it is quite likely that you feel disconnected or even grief-filled at the thought of the way things used to be. If we curiously observe the circumstances, make room for our responses, and use mindfulness to be present to our inner and outer experiences, we may be better able to take a small step toward adding meaning to our day, even in the current circumstances.


Values: Who and what matters most to you, how you want to show up in the world


Taking a small step in line with the value of connection in a polar vortex and pandemic might look like a pizza night on Zoom with a group of friends. I found we did more of these things in the beginning, when we were energized and motivated to make the most of a difficult situation. Now we are tired. Order some pizza in, get connected with some others. If you’re a traveler and filled with wanderlust like I am, a small action in line with values might be reminiscing about previous trips with travel mates or making a list of places you'll visit next. Are these friends at your pizza night? I've been embracing the values of creativity, contribution, and connection by creating a few videos on TikTok of all things! I'm @carlyn.ot.coach if you're inclined to say hello.


In creating the ACTivate Vitality: Rise and Live Fully program as part of my coaching practice, I leaned into the successes Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) has brought to my clients, starting with sitting in the present moment to build mindful awareness. From this place, we can build the skills to tune into our values by looking at how different things impact us. The things that energize us and bring us alive are great ways to point toward values. The things that frustrate, upset, and anger us also point to values.


Paying attention to values and choosing small actions in the direction of those values is a great way to support your overall well-being and build resilience in the current circumstances. If you’d like to explore more on this, and how to unhook from difficult inner experiences, download the Vitality Guide.



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