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Mentally Coping With COVID-19 This Fall and Winter

So far, 2020 has been an incredibly difficult year -- to say the least. And, unfortunately, there may be no immediate relief in sight. As we enter the fall and winter, experts are anticipating that there could not only be a second wave of the COVID-19 virus, but also mental health issues.

"A second wave of devastation is imminent, attributable to mental health consequences of Covid-19," writes Dr. Naomi Simon, Dr. Glenn Saxe and Dr. Charles Marmar in an article published in the medical journal JAMA.

"The magnitude of this second wave is likely to overwhelm the already frayed mental health system, leading to access problems, particularly for the most vulnerable persons."

In addition to surging new cases, there hasn’t been a lull in behavioral health this past summer.

“What we know is that six to nine months post-impact is when symptoms are the worst, because that's how long it takes your brain to adjust to what's happened — regardless of the type of disaster,” explains Dr. Kira Mauseth, a practicing clinical psychologist who also teaches at Seattle University.

“That six to nine month window is what we're coming into right now for the fall,” adds Dr. Mauseth. “Again, regardless of the type of disaster. We're anticipating behavioral health needs, regardless of whether there's a second wave of illness or not, being the strongest between now and December of 2020.”

“Instead of approaching this with fear and trepidation and dread, we just need to prepare ourselves as much as possible,” says Jeff Gardere, a board-certified clinical psychologist and associate professor at Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine in New York City.

How can you prepare as we enter the fall and winter? Well, here are seven tangible tips that may help you cope and manage your emotions.

1. Stay connected.

You may be suffering from Zoom fatigue. However, staying connected with others is vital. Check-in with friends, family, co-workers, and neighbors on a regular basis. You may also want to reach out to someone with whom you haven’t spoken with in a long time. In addition to video calls, a quick phone call or text will also suffice. You may also want to send cards.

You may also want to consider drive-by parties or try to establish a social bubble, if possible so that you’re not missing out on that important face-to-face interaction. For example, you could plan to have an outdoor gathering where attendees are wearing masks and practicing social distancing.

Also, depending on your comfort, you could also volunteer in your community. AmeriCorps has ten safe ways to serve your community, such as donating money or blood. You could also deliver meals to seniors or families in need.

2. Limit your exposure to the news.

“As the pandemic unfolded, I frequently suggested to my patients that they limit the number of times they watched the news or followed social media related to the pandemic—no more than one hour per day or one newscast. The constant reminders and exposure perpetuate uncertainty leading to more unnecessary stress,” suggests Ariadna Forray, MD, a Yale Medicine psychiatrist.

While this can be difficult, you could try:

  • Removing social media or news apps on your phone. Another option would be to block these apps at specific time, such as Freedom, Moment, or Offtime. Newer iPhone and Android devices also have settings that allow you to limit your smartphone use.

  • Establishing tech-free zones in your home like your bedroom or dining room.

  • Kicking your boredom by playing with your children, going for a walk, watching “trash” TV, or participating in a virtual party.

3. Take it one day at a time.

With the holidays approaching, this may be difficult. However, it’s also a challenge to make plans when we don’t know what direction the virus is going to take. As such, try to take it one day at a day.

Mindfulness is a great place to start. Additionally, you could set daily goals that are achievable. Examples could be reading for 20-minutes, tracking your expenses, or cleaning out your pantry or work desk.

4. Find positive outlets.

Similarly, find healthy ways to relieve your stress. Physical activity, learning something new, writing in a gratitude journal, or creating a self-care routine are all effective ways to manage your stress.

5. Get adequate sleep.

Stick to your normal sleep schedule. That means going to bed and waking up at the same time every day. Besides encouraging you to maintain a routine, which provides predictability, it prevents effects like anxiety and depression.

6. Spend as much time as you can outside.

Numerous research has found that spending time outside can improve your mood and reduce anxiety. Whenever you have the opportunity, go hiking in the woods or stroll along the beach. Go for a bike ride with your children after they’re done school. And, depending on the weather, have dinner outside or plan a camping trip.

However, as the weather gets cooler, find ways to get comfortable. For example, purchase new outwear or invest in outdoor heaters.

7. Flip adversity into opportunities.

“For anybody who wants to be more resilient, this is the magical thing to do,” recommends Dr. Stefan Hofmann, a professor of psychology at Boston University, and the author of “The Anxiety Skills Workbook.” Some ideas would be pursuing a new hobby, spending more time with your kids, or enhancing your work skills.

“We cannot change the pandemic. It is here. We have to accept it,” Dr. Hofmann said. “Find where you want to go with your life, and go in this direction.”

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