COVID-19 and the Holidays: 5 Things You Can Do to Mentally Prepare for the Long Winter Ahead

December 22, 2020
Staying connected and caring for yourself.

This content is courtesy of Mayo Clinic, the No. 1 hospital in the nation according to U.S. News & World Report. Middlesex Health is a member of the Mayo Clinic Care Network. This relationship provides us with access to information, knowledge and expertise from Mayo Clinic.

The holiday season can be a challenging time for some people, and COVID-19 is exacerbating feelings of isolation and loneliness as so many more people are spending holidays alone.

"The long, dark, cold days of winter are upon us, and for some people, anxiety and depression can become problems this time of year," says Paige Gernes, physician assistant, Mayo Clinic Health System in St. James. "COVID-19 is adding to the mental fatigue of the season, as many more people spend time in isolation."

Here are five things you can do to get ready for the long winter ahead.

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. Now is a good time to schedule regular virtual times throughout winter to reconnect safely. A regular check-in schedule gives you something to look forward 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. 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 suffering and emphasize feelings of fear or sadness. This winter, 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 news and social media if you find that it makes you anxious.

3. 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 activity of stress hormones. There are many different types of relaxation exercises, including deep breathing, meditation, progressive muscle relaxation and others. 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 mindfulness mediation audio files to guide you. There are also meditation apps that can lead guided meditations and be helpful.

4. 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.

5. 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.

Resources from Middlesex Health

Middlesex Health, a member of the Mayo Clinic Care Network, offers information and support to help members of our community during the COVID-19 pandemic. These include:

  • Center for Behavioral Health
    Inpatient and outpatient services for children, adolescents and adults facing challenges related to mental and emotional health, substance use disorders and recovery, identity and more.
  • Coronavirus Information & Resources
    Updates and information from Middlesex Health, plus links to State of Connecticut and CDC resources.
  • Virtual Visits
    Keep up with your health care from the safety and comfort of home.

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