As someone who suffers from anxiety and depression, I’m really dreading this upcoming pandemic winter since I am also impacted by seasonal affective disorder.
I’m not sure about you, but I’ve had a lot of emotional ups and downs and my mental health has really been affected during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Remember back in when the lockdowns happened? Yeah, we all did our part in by sheltering in place to flatten the curve. Spring and summer brought us warm weather and an opportunity to socialize outside while respecting social distancing.
Now, what the heck are we going to do once the pandemic winter hits?
What I wish I knew when COVID-19 first started
Looking back, I wish I was more prepared when the pandemic hit the U.S. early this spring. Somehow, when I have the tools and resources available at my disposal, I am able to cope better with stress and uncertainty.
Having anxiety and depression suck but if you know what to expect externally, it’s a little bit easier to manage yourself internally.
“Plan now before it gets very cold, as it’s actually much harder to make and implement plans once you’re already feeling anxious and stressed.”Dr.Teachman How Will We Cope with the Pandemic Fall
As a social worker and mental health professional, I oftentimes talk to my clients about the internal resources that they can always tap into during times of stress. This is especially true if you suffer from mental illness.
Are you wondering, how do you prepare for a pandemic winter when you’ve never experienced one?
Well, technically you can’t, but, now that we’ve lived through it for over 7 months, you can likely anticipate what the pandemic winter may be like. I really liked what Jeff Wiser wrote in the New York Times on How Will We Cope with the Pandemic Fall?
Your future self will thank you for preparing now
Since it’s fall right now, it’s the best time to start planning and preparing.
You have a few months so start getting your mind, body, and home ready by following these tips and suggestions to help you prepare for your first pandemic winter.
Trust me, I thought it might be ridiculous to start preparing now for December but once I started going through the tips I realized that I will have far less stress come wintertime.
5 ways to prepare your physical and mental health for the pandemic winter
1. COVID + FLU: Don’t Risk Two
Maybe you don’t believe in getting vaccinations. I’m not going to try to convince you to get the flu vaccine, I’ll just share some facts.
The symptoms of the flu and COVID are almost identical. The flu vaccine isn’t going to prevent you from getting COVID-19, but it will reduce the risk of you contracting the flu, spreading it to others, and possibly get hospitalized.
Have you ever had the flu? If not, you don’t want to because it feels like being hit by a truck. And then getting hit again when you’re down. It’s a terrible experience and not something you want to have to cope with during your first pandemic winter.
In addition, getting a flu vaccine can also save healthcare resources for the care of patients with COVID-19.
2. Organize your medicine cabinet
I’ve been looking for a thermometer at my local CVS store since March and they are still sold out. So I finally ordered one from Amazon in preparation for the pandemic winter cold and flu season.
I’m not loving my thermometer but I’m glad I have one in case I need to use it sometime this winter.
Check your medicine cabinet and make sure you have some non-expired cold and cough medicine, cough drops, ibuprofen, tissues, etc.
You don’t want to have to scour nearly empty shelves at the drug store when you’re feeling unwell so check what you have and safely dispose of old medicine.
3. Make an appointment with your doctor/dentist/optometrist
Right now is the best time to schedule an appointment to see your physicians for a check-up and exam.
Because you’ll actually be able to see them and get an appointment slot!
So if you’re having bad allergies, need a prescription for birth control, contact lenses, the toothache that’s nagging you, or whatever in your body that hasn’t been feeling quite right, call your doctor today and make an appointment.
4. Think about starting psychotherapy
If you’re like me and have experienced a lot of emotional ups and downs during the pandemic, right now is a great time to find a therapist and start sessions.
Or perhaps you can consider joining an online support group.
“Getting help when needed is a sign of maturity and wisdom. And don’t wait until you’re at wit’s end; get help early and often.”Dr. Jay Winner
I’ve been participating in the online group discussions on Frame and it’s helped me feel so much better because I realize I’m not alone in what I’m going through.
Frame also offers individual therapy virtually and what’s really cool about the company is that they match you with a therapist based on what you are looking for…think of it as a matchmaking service for mental health needs. There are several other online platforms where you can get immediate access to a licensed mental health professional.
There are numerous benefits of psychotherapy and you can read more about it in my article on How to overcome depression and anxiety in 9 effective steps.
5. Move your body for 30 minutes every day
Exercise helps with stress management, reducing anxiety, and bolstering your immune system.
Research has shown that if you have low to low moderate depression, vigorous exercise induces dopamine and serotonin, the feel-good brain chemicals that elevate mood.
Therefore, when you exercise, the beneficial physiological changes in your brain are equivalent to taking an antidepressant without any negative side effects!
I don’t know about you, but I’m avoiding indoor gyms right now. Instead, I’ve signed up for virtual classes online.
It’s part of my daily routine to log onto Zoom to attend yoga classes at Divinitree, see the friendly faces of my teachers, and workout together. Since I’m paying and signing up for it, I’m much more committed to exercising.
I’ve also found a few YouTube videos that I really enjoy, like Barre which is a low impact full body workout in 30 minutes, which is usually as long as my attention span goes for with exercise videos.
You can also go outside to walk, run, ride your bike, go hiking, and spend time in nature. Whatever you do, come up with a plan to move your body every day for at least 30 minutes during the pandemic winter.
3 tips to make small changes to your home to feel better
Wow, as I’m writing this I realize it’ll be almost 7 months that I’ve been working remotely as a medical social worker. That feels surreal.
I don’t know how long we’ll all be working remotely. So right now is a great time to consider making any changes that will help you focus, comfortable, and relaxed while studying or working from home.
1. Improve your desk and workspace
While working remotely, my husband and I are both using our dining room table as our temporary office. It’s not ideal and I wish we had a separate bedroom to use as our office, but we’re working with what we have.
Do I love my workspace?
Can I make some subtle changes to feel better?
Yes! I’m going to buy some twinkle string lights and make our workspace a little bit cozier.
So why don’t you evaluate your workspace and make sure you’re comfortable and have ample lighting. You don’t want to sit in a dark room, because you’re more likely to feel depressed and less productive.
Once the pandemic winter hits, it will get darker outside earlier so maybe consider getting a desk lamp or stringing up some twinkle lights to cheer up your space.
2. Get rid of clutter
I’ve started a declutter project at my house and I am impressed with the amount of stuff that we’ve accumulated over time.
Do you sometimes open a drawer and find it stuffed and then immediately close it because you don’t want to “deal with it.” Yeah, I know the feeling but you’ll thank yourself later once you start going through it and donating/recycling/disposing of items.
There are numerous benefits to decluttering. Start now so that you’ll feel more energized, less anxious, stressed, and more relaxed once the pandemic winter hits.
3. Decide how you’re going to stay warm and dry
Typically we’re in our office or school during winter and the environment we’re in is heated for us. Now we’re going to be inside our own home during the pandemic winter while working or attending school.
Therefore, right now is a good time to think about how you want to stay warm and dry.
Perhaps you want to buy a space heater so that you don’t have to warm up your entire home while you’re working or studying? Or maybe you want to invest in some clothing like a winter coat that will keep you warm.
Don’t wait until it’s freezing cold and you’re standing in line with 50 other people at Bed Bath & Beyond trying to get a space heater. Make a plan and buy whatever you need in advance.
Find some ways to make sure that you stay social
We are all hardwired for social connection. During the summer it’s a lot easier to spend time outdoors with friends and loved ones while practicing “social distancing.”
“Connection is why we’re here; it is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives.”Brené Brown
It’s not going to be as easy to socialize during the pandemic winter because of the cold and rain.
Ask yourself how you’re going to continue connecting with your friends, colleagues, and family members in-person and virtually.
Come up with a few plans and discuss them with your loved ones. You’ll thank yourself later for being so proactive once pandemic winter hits.
Consider what would help bring you joy, feel more comfortable and happy
Initially, when I started working from home, I was wearing yoga pants and a comfortable t-shirt every day. I thought what’s the point of getting all dressed up, no one can see me, and I am not going anywhere.
However, over time I realized that I had low energy and motivation.
As a result, I decided to start wearing my favorite clothes and jewelry. What do you think started to happen after I started dressing up?
Yes, you’re right, I was happier and more energetic.
So ask yourself if there are any small things that would bring you huge amounts of delight, pleasure, and/or joy on a regular basis? Perhaps it’s wearing some bright colors or reading books by your favorite author. Or maybe learning to make a delicious warm latte for yourself in the morning.
Whatever you do, these small changes will make a dramatic shift and you will feel more joy and happiness in your day-to-day life during the pandemic winter.
Write a list of projects and hobbies to do when you’re bored
So one thing that may be challenging during pandemic winter is that it will be cold, wet, and difficult to go outdoors for entertainment. You may find yourself getting fed up with the monotony of your daily life.
To combat boredom, start writing a list of projects now that you’ve wanted to do around the house but haven’t had time to do.
Or start a new hobby, join a book club, or volunteer. These activities will help you immensely by keeping you active, more positive, and less likely to ruminate, get stressed, or depressed. You can also check out suggestions on My Ultimate Coronavirus Lockdown Guide.
Figure out how to literally brighten up dark days
One part of winter that I am truly dreading is that it gets dark early.
Sunlight is essential for our mental and physical health. Light exposure has a ton of positive effects including setting our internal body clock, helping with our sleep and regulating our hormones.
When we have short, cold, gloomy days during winter, there’s a higher risk of depression often known as seasonable affective disorder (SAD).
Fortunately, if natural sunlight is not available, you can still get the neurological and psychological benefits from an artificial lightbox. The key is to ensure that the device yields at least 10,000 lux and spending thirty minutes in the morning in front of this lightbox will reverse the symptoms of SAD and alleviate anxiety.
Our first winter pandemic is just around the corner and your future self will thank you since you’re being proactive now to prepare your mind, body, and home.
Consider getting a flu shot, seeing your doctor, and arranging for psychotherapy. Taking care of your physical and mental health is instrumental for your overall wellness. Figure out ways of how you’re going to be physically active daily and socialize with your loved ones when it’s cold outside.
Start thinking about creating a warm, comfortable, and bright space in your home for working or studying. Find some new hobbies or activities to engage in to disrupt the monotony of your day and consider getting a lightbox if you’re prone to depression.
What are the ways that you’ve started preparing now for your first pandemic winter? Do you have suggestions or anecdotes to share with us?
Have you tried an online support group that you think would benefit others? Please share your stories and comments below.