Winter can be a difficult time for some people. Long, dark days coupled with cold weather and social isolation can lead to feelings of sadness, anxiety, or depression. The coming winter could be especially difficult as infectious disease experts recommend that we "hunker down" to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Proper preparation can help ease this transition and help you feel mentally ready for a pandemic winter.
Here are 8 things you can do this fall to prepare to get ready:
1. Schedule virtual interactions.
Earlier in the pandemic, many people used technology to virtually connect with loved ones. For some, the frequency of this type of interaction slowed during warmer months of summer. Fall is a good time to schedule regular virtual times throughout winter to safely reconnect. A regular check-in schedule gives you something to look forward to and provides the emotional and mental support you need. Everyone needs a varying amount of real social contact, so find a routine that works best for you.
2. Change your screen time routines.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many children and adults are incorporating more screen time into their work or school days. That's why it's more important than ever to evaluate your use of electronics for the rest of the day. Screen time tends to increase during the winter because we spend more time indoors. However, there are health benefits related to reducing screen time, including improved physical health, decreased obesity, and more time to play and explore. Take time this fall to set expectations with your family for the number of hours per day along with creating phone-free zones or times. Here are additional tips for reducing screen time in your home.
3. Evaluate how much and what type of news you consume.
It's important to be informed about the world around you, but 24/7 access to news reports can be overwhelming. Ongoing negative news coverage can significantly affect your mood, especially if you consume news that tends to highlight the suffering and emphasize feelings of fear or sadness. This fall, track the amount of time you are spending watching television, listening to the radio, or reading online news coverage. Set a goal to consume only reliable news sources that report facts and avoid media that sensationalizes emotions. Limit your exposure or take a break from the news and social media if you find that it makes you anxious.
4. Acknowledge changes in holiday traditions.
Social distancing and masking recommendations likely will change some of your holiday traditions this winter. Start a conversation early with your loved ones about expectations and necessary changes. Be mindful of the little things that bring you joy and look for ways to celebrate safely together, even if it is virtually.
5. Learn a new relaxation exercise.
Relaxation techniques are a great way to help with stress management. Practicing relaxation techniques can have many benefits, including slowing heart rate, lowering blood pressure and fatigue, improving concentration and mood, and reducing the activity of stress hormones. There are many different types of relaxation exercises, including deep breathing, meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, and others. These techniques take practice, so start in the fall so you can reap benefits during the winter. Talk with your health care provider for recommendations. Or you can check out a book at your local library or find an online resource such as these mindfulness mediation audio files to guide you. There are also meditation apps that can lead guided meditations and be helpful. Some cost a monthly fee but many give one month free as a trial period.
6. Plan ways to give back.
Look for ways to help your community, such as blood donations, checking on older people in your neighborhood, or donating supplies or money to local organizations. Helping a cause larger than yourself can give you a sense of purpose and fulfillment and focus your thoughts on the present and things to be grateful for today.
7. Engage in play.
Find an activity to engage in, such as something you enjoy so much that you lose track of time while doing it. It may be an activity you haven’t done for a while, a new one you’ve been meaning to try, or something completely out of your comfort zone. This kind of play gives us the opportunity to relax our bodies and minds and take a break from the constant pressures of daily life. Engaging in these types of activities also decreases feelings of irritability and increases social, emotional, and physical connections.
8. Seek professional mental health.
Feelings of stress and anxiety are common and normal. It's your body's way to warn you of harm. If your stress and anxiety seem to be taking over your life, it's time to seek professional help. Starting the conversation with your health care provider or establishing care with a licensed therapist in the fall can help you find solutions as we go through winter with COVID-19 in our communities.
Credit: Sarah Reichert, L.I.C.S.W., M.S.W Behavioral Health