Winter tends to be a difficult time of year for older people, when colder conditions make it harder to be active.

Loneliness only gets worse when the darkness creeps in, it can seem like everyone but you is having a great time (it’s often untrue, but that doesn’t stop the thought appearing). Winter in 2020 is going to be much worse.

People around the world continue to battle through a pandemic. Lockdowns (local, national, or both) may make the coming winter the most miserable in decades. This makes it even more important that older people stay positive and engaged. Focus on making the best of things, and 2021 may bring better times.

In service of that goal, this article is going to cover five practical steps older people can take to stay positive, and keep their spirits high (and their boredom at bay) during winter. Let’s get to them:

Join some suitable online groups

Staving off loneliness is so much harder when you can’t meet up with people (older people are more at risk from COVID-19, so they do need to be extremely careful). However, it’s still possible to enjoy some social activity. You just need to venture into the online world. Whether through sites like Reddit or social networks like Facebook, you can find online communities that suit your interests and start making new friends.

An easy way to get started is to go to Reddit and search for a topic you’re passionate about. These tend to group into collections called “subreddit’s”. Maybe you know a lot about philosophy, or maybe you love steam engines. In each case, there’s at least one subreddit that you might enjoy (r/philosophy and r/steamengines, respectively). It doesn’t matter how old you are or where you’re from. Reddit is as anonymous as you want it to be, so you can just start participating and be accepted for your contributions.

Staying in touch with friends and family with video calling can also help you to stay positive over the winter period. Try and regularly contact friends or family either by phone, email or social media, perhaps once a day. Video calling from smartphone apps over WIFI is a great way of staying in touch, the BBC recently released a short video on how to do so with WhatsApp, which is available on most smartphones:

For more information on staying connected, you can also see our article on digital skills for older people

Sharpen your mind with puzzles

Your body needs physical activity and challenge to stay in good condition. This is why it’s so important to get exercise and eat healthily. What often gets overlooked, though, is that the same is true of your mind. The more you use your cognitive faculties, the sharper they’ll get — and when you don’t tax your mind for a long period, you’ll notice a decline.

Due to this, finding some title to solve some puzzles will really help you stay sharp. You can solve a Rubik’s Cube, fill in some crosswords, and complete some sudoku squares. And even if you’re not interested in video games, you can surely get somewhere by playing solitaire in between online community updates (computer versions of traditional games are excellent).

Increase your light exposure

When the autumn light has faded and you’re not supposed to go outside due to lockdown procedures, you can end up getting very little direct light exposure during the average winter day, and this isn’t good for your health or your mood. This is where light therapy lamps can be extremely useful.

Designed to treat SAD, or seasonal affective disorder, you can use light therapy lamps on a daily basis to simulate summer daylight. They vary wildly in cost, but it’s definitely worth investing in one if you can find a good deal. Pay close attention to the features, though: a decent light therapy panel will reach 10000 lux, so don’t pay for anything that doesn’t reach that level (and be sure to read reviews before buying).

Work on something practical

That you can’t really go outside doesn’t mean that you can’t work on some practical projects. There are plenty of things you can do indoors to stay occupied. You could take up knitting, try origami, dabble in electronics, or even try carpentry. The point is to do something that allows you to work with your hands, because that’s highly rewarding.

Maybe you have an old hobby you could return to, or maybe you could pick something totally unfamiliar to try. This might even be the perfect time to learn an instrument you’ve been thinking about trying for quite a while. By January, you could have mastered the guitar basics.

Trying to look after your physical health when you’re stuck in a local lockdown, during winter no less, can seem difficult, but there are some simple exercises you can do from home you can follow to make things easier and more manageable:

The British Heart Foundation even has a guide to some chair-based exercises you can do if you struggle with mobility.

Maintain a set schedule

Habit and routine are extremely important. Humans are creatures of habit, and they can cope with terrible situations if they can just focus on their routines. Even when you’re tempted to stay in bed all day and watch TV, force yourself to get out of bed and do something. It can be difficult to stay positive in winter without setting some goals, so defining a clear schedule is one of the best ways to encourage this.

If you can get into the habit of following your schedule (maybe you could start each day with some light therapy as you complete some crosswords, then work on your hobby, then speak to some friends, etc.), you can find that the days go by more easily, the darkness and coldness of the winter don’t bother you so much, and you feel better in general.

The winter definitely presents some major challenges for older people, but they can still enjoy the winter months if they manage to stay positive and engaged — and the tips we’ve looked at here can help with that. Good luck!