Adapted from the New York Times, originally printed October 11, 2020
Summer and a warm fall brought pandemic relief with outdoor brunches, rambling walks, and beers on the stoop — yet in the latest of 2020’s cruel twist, the plunge in temperature may cause a surge in infections and stress.
“We’re moving from spring mode to marathon mode,” said Dr. Bethany Teachman, a University of Virginia psychologist specializing in anxiety. She added that since stressors tend to pile up over time, we would be “going into winter feeling depleted and exhausted.”
So how can we handle the stress of heading back indoors? What are the best strategies? She recommends a three-step approach…
Acknowledge. Start by recognizing that it’s OK, and even helpful, for people to “grieve what they have lost,” said Dr. Teachman, “because there are real losses.” Once we’ve acknowledge the hardship, “the critical piece is to not stay stuck there,” she continued.
Find Alternatives. Once you have identified what you’ve lost, such as socializing, find alternatives — maybe online meet-ups, a pod with another family or simply bundling up. “If you have the opportunity, invest in a really good winter coat,” Dr. Teachman said. “Look into a little heater to put on a patio.”
Make a Plan. Planning ahead is important. “Plan now before it gets very old,” Dr. Teachman said. This is partly for practical reasons — that heater might be on back-order — and partly for psychological ones, as “it’s actually much harder to make and implement a plan once you’re already feeling anxious and stressed.” Dr. Dagmawi Dagnew, a psycologist with the Department of Veterans Affairs, says, “Having a plan is an antidote for uncertainty.”
Every therapist emphasized the importance of social connections. “We are social creatures, and we can’t find the pandemic by socially isolating ourselves,” said Dr. Stefan Hofmann, a professor of psychology and Boston University.
This is likely to mean, yes, more of the dreaded Zoom calls. “You might roll your eyes and hate every minute of it,” Dr. Kim Gorgens, professor of psychology at the University of Denver, said, but you should think of it as ‘taking your medicine.”