“Winter is coming” as many of us (in the northern hemisphere) would say. Just as quickly and inexorably the number of reported Covid-19 infections rises. The pandemic is going to make next winter harder than ever for most people, and spring is still far away. It doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom, though, just because it’s getting colder.
Here are a few tips and strategies to cope better with whatever is to come.
Let’s just take a moment to think about what we got to work with. Next winter will bring up three big issues from which many other problems spring. Understanding what we are going to deal with is a first step in the right direction.
It’s a known fact that anxiety is better dealt with if there is a plan, yet planning is not that easy right now. Ironically, a total lockdown at least has the advantage of giving certainties about what people can or cannot do. In the second wave of the pandemic almost all the world is caught in the middle, and we literally don’t know what will be of us next week. Economy, as well as professional and social life, are huge sore points. Some of us don’t even know how long they’ll be able to keep their jobs, others are job hunting right now, in the middle of a crisis of epic proportions. Many families used to take advantage of the winter holidays to get together, will this still be the case when such a simple thing like flying somewhere is nothing to take for granted anymore? And if you live in the U.S.A. the presidential election will keep you in suspense for a while longer.
It is as if our lives are on hold, but how long can we go on like that?
The burn out
We have been coexisting with Covid-19 for months now, and many of us have already gone through a very tough time. My thoughts are with all the people who had, and still have, to work in dangerous conditions and impossibly long hours, with those who got sick themselves or have lost loved ones, but really, every single one of us suffered. It’s only fair to ask ourselves how and if we can do it all over again, while coping with a seasonal affective disorder on top of it. The first wave of the pandemic caught us all off guard, but back then at least we had fresh energies to tackle it all. Now it’s as if we are all returning from a trauma with not time enough to recover.
Christmas, Thanksgiving, Hannukah, Diwali, New Year and so on. In many cultures winter is made much brighter by festivities. We spend more time with our friends, our families reunite, we exchange gifts and all is cozy and happy. Unfortunately, this year everything will have to be downsized and it is likely that we will have to give up some of our most loved traditions and this is a huge problem in itself for many people. The financial crisis caused by the pandemic certainly won’t help us to have a particularly sparkling holiday season either, no wonder our mood is not the best.
TIPS AND STRATEGIES
Now it’s time to think about how to face whatever winter will bring us with the right attitude.
1. Find a compromise - This is possibly the most important thing to so. Yes, winter is long, yes, things are not as they used to be, and they won’t be back to normal for a while. This does not mean living in fear 24/7, or giving up our old lives entirely, and changing is not a bad thing. Actually, many would argue changing is vital. So, do you need to do some shopping? Just choose the less crowded shops and avoid rush hour. You may even order online once and go in person the next. Do you feel like going for a walk? Find a less crowded path. Did you use to go out with a bunch of friends every weekend? Throwing a party is not wise right now, but you can still meet one or two people at a time, every other week. Do you love Japanese, Indian, Italian cuisine? Maybe you can’t go to the restaurant but you can still have food delivered at your place. Just find a balance between freedom and safety.
2. The right mindset - If we had to represent winter we’d probably draw dry trees, dead flowers or a snow-covered landscape. We tend to connect winter to an idea of death but winter is simply a time for rest. Nature is actually getting ready for a new rebirth, so why shouldn’t we? Spring will return, metaphorically speaking and not. Experience this winter not as a punishment, or as the end of everything, but as an opportunity to rest and reboot yourself. Take the chance to learn, to give your career a new course, to look at your life and find a way to fix the things you don’t like, or maybe resume some long-forgotten project. The right mindset not only influences your mood, but also your physiological response, such as changes in heart rate and blood pressure. It’s worth working on it, right?
3. Don’t start from scratch - We may not be pandemic experts, but we are not newbies anymore. Let’s face the next winter using all the experience gained in the past months. For example, was it really worth panicking over toilet paper? Have you discovered a new hobby? Have you eaten too much to relieve the stress just to gain weight and stress some more? Which challenges have you already managed to overcome and how? Which people have you missed the most? Answer all these questions and use your experience wisely.
Also remember that sience has made a lot of progress too, and we now have many more resources to fight the virus.
4. Accept that you are not in control - As mentioned before, uncertainty is part of our lives, now more than ever. Living day by day and creating short-term goals, instead of worrying about what will happen in two months helps a lot to ease the load. Focus more on what you can control instead of worrying about what you cannot control. This also applies to people around you. Don’t look at how and if your neighbor complies with restrictions while you do your best to act like a top class citizen, never mind if other people hang out with friends while you live like an eremite, or if they bought a new TV while you struggle to reach the end of the month. You can’t do anything about that anyway. Focus on what you can do for yourself and your loved ones, instead. You’ll find out there is indeed a lot to be done.
5. Ask for help - So you are nervous about what next winter may bring, you see signs of incipient depression and your finances are not doing so well either. This is nothing to be ashamed of, remember that you are by far not the only one, and there is nothing wrong in asking for help. Just do it sooner rather than later. Last minute solutions are not always the best and waiting for something you perceive as unavoidable may increase your anxiety level. Ask for your friends or family’s support, and if this is not possible you can contact consultants, or experts, or even one of the many volunteer associations available to help people coping with this difficult moment.
6. Offer help - The fact that you need help does not mean that you, in turn, cannot reach out a hand to others. Whether they are your family or friends, or complete strangers. Especially with the winter holidays approaching. The pandemic has made life tougher for many of us, and now more then ever help is needed in small things as well as in big ones. If you don’t feel like going out too often, or interacting with people it’s alright, many associations are now also operational online. You can collaborate with writing letters, translating documents, recording podcasts, making phone calls. The possibilities are endless and your help is precious. Also, having a new purpose will make your long, winter days fuller and more satisfying.
7. Get out more! - No, it is not a joke. Exercise is essential for mental health, so is disconnecting for a while from work and family. Unless you live in a place where the lockdown is very strict, enjoy a few hours outside every now and then. Yes, even if it’s cold. There is a saying that goes “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes.” So make the most of the daylight, however brief, you may even try to reschedule your day based on that. It’s a blessing for your body and soul.
8. Create a safe environment for your mind - We are all tempted to be a bit lazy, in winter, maybe spend long nights curled under a blanked watching TV, or on the internet. There is nothing wrong with that, as long as we remember that hours of exposition to bad news are unhealthy from all points of view. Always remember that no matter how difficult the situation is, we are all in it together, and above all that it is all temporary, it will pass. So stay connected with the people you love, but don’t spend the whole day staring at a screen. The same goes for the news, choose one or two sources you trust, stick to those alone, and again, limit your exposure time to at most a couple of hours a day in total. Last but not least, visualize yourself in the future, when everything you hate about this moment will be just a memory.
9. Reward yourself - If you want to make your winter a little more cheerful despite the pandemic, or even try to make it pass faster, make sure you have nice little things waiting for you. Choose one specific day of the week, maybe the one you find more boring or challenging, and make it your personal happy day. Plan to do something you love, add something special to your diet, binge-watch your childhood favorite movies. And what about the so dreadful festivities? Nobody will steal Christmas, and limited does not mean cancelled, you can still have fun planning something nice. Just reward yourself for your patience, your efforts, your hard work. Having good things to look forward to, or small goals to work towards will motivate you and improve your mood.
10. Be kind to everyone. Including yourself - You know what may make a winter locked in the house very very long? Family quarrels. Try to avoid contrasts, and if people around you don’t cooperate, avoid rising to the bait. It’s not easy, and it takes time and exercise, but kindness will make you feel better, accomplished in a way. And if sometimes you feel down or unmotivated, don’t be too hard on yourself, it’s normal and you have every right to not be at the top of your game every single day. Allow yourself to cry and let off some steam, but then dry your tears, roll up your sleeves and keep on going.