Winter is coming, and so are new COVID-19 restrictions. The general consensus seems to be that we are in for a long, tough winter. I had never struggled with my mental health in the past, but this year has been particularly difficult. I suffered from anxiety and panic attacks until summer finally came around. In the next few months my mental health may again suffer. Therefore it is important to be prepared.
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1. Stay Home, Stay Healthy
We’ve all heard that so many times this year, it is becoming very frustrating. COVID fatigue is real. And yet we must listen to the experts and take good care of ourselves and others. I love my home, but I’m not going to lie, I’m a bit sick of being stuck here. I did get out for a road trip and a few camping trips this summer, but that was only for a few days at a time and not nearly enough to quell my wanderlust.
Since there isn’t much I could do about this I decided to redecorate my house a bit. I converted one room into a haven of tranquility for myself. I got a nice comfy chair, a cute new lamp and a large bookshelf. Being surrounded by books brings me a lot of happiness. Before COVID hit I was a regular at our local thrift store, always hunting for that hidden treasure. Now that I can’t do that anymore, or in limited capacity, I have used Thriftbooks a lot to buy my used books online.
You can also redecorate on a smaller scale; hang up a different picture, rearrange your furniture and et some house plants. I love having plants around. There are quite a lot of interesting things you can grow in your home!
2. Switch up Your Routine
Remember when the pandemic started, and the advice you heard the most was ‘keep up your routine’? Well, I did, and I can tell you, it was exhausting. I’m not saying it isn’t a good idea. But if your normal routine becomes too much do not push yourself to keep it up anyway, if you have the freedom to do so. For example, when I exercise I tend to really push myself. I’m always the one who goes to the toughest gym classes, walks the longest, and tries to lift heavier and heavier weights. It’s usually fun, but it was turning into a chore this year.
If I do not exercise I start feeling unwell physically pretty quickly. So I took up restorative yoga. One of the local yoga teachers offers a Monday evening class. It’s been challenging for me to let go of that idea that exercise had to hurt to be effective. Restorative yoga is more self-care than exercise though, and who doesn’t need that right now?
Maybe instead of going for an hour run go for a half hour walk. Do some yoga, any kind is incredibly beneficial. Or do a quick 5 minute workout. Take a hot bath instead of a quick shower. Maybe just take your dog for a walk on a different route. I drove quite a ways to take my dog to a different dog park yesterday, and it was exciting for both of us to see something different.
My point is, 2020 isn’t the year to beat yourself up. Be good to yourself!
3. Don’t learn a new Hobby
New hobbies were all the rage this spring. “Learn how to cook, how to bake, how to knit. Become a painter, expand your horizons by doing virtual tours of all sorts of different places. Learn a new language, become a professional photographer!” Uff, how exhausting. Guess what? I didn’t do any of those. The sheer amount of things that would make my life that much more relevant was overwhelming to me. Anything that required patience was out of the question. Even reading was sometimes too much. I did, however, get very good at playing Candy Crush Saga. And that is okay, because it kept me afloat.
What shall we do during the long winter hours then? If you already have a hobby like sewing, or maybe knitting you are lucky in my opinion. Not only does it produce cute Christmas presents for the family, but it seems to be one of those activities where you can just let your mind rest and concentrate on the task at hand. Baking could also be a lot of fun this winter. My dear friend Annalisa, the queen of great ideas, made home-made treats for her puppies while in lockdown this spring.
There is so much outside input these days that our minds get overwhelmed and stressed out. Figure out what helps when you get restless and stressed. Maybe you’ll just have some mala beads close by and start fiddling with them. Maybe you are not able to keep up your meditation routine. Instead try lighting some incense in the morning. The familiar smell can be just as calming as the routine itself, as it reminds you of the peace it brings you.
4. Turn off the News
Personally I have a great need to stay informed. I want to know what’s going on in the world, with the US elections, the pandemics, other countries. This year, I have been able to judge the state of my mental health by my ability to watch the news. In the spring I tried occasionally, but was close to having panic attack after 5 minutes. So, I didn’t watch the news. I wasn’t constantly informed, and surprisingly it wasn’t the end of the world.
I find that there is too much chatter and not enough information a lot of the time. If you want to stay informed but not listen to random chatter all day, waiting for some actual news to be revealed, I recommend reading newsletters or checking your favorite news website for 15 minutes every day. I have subscribed to 4 New York Times newsletters and read them in the morning. When I’m done I check my favorite news website. Sometimes that seems too much and repetitive, and I allow myself to delete the newsletters without reading them. That’s a big step for someone who is always afraid of missing out on information, but it is very relaxing.
Allow yourself to not take in every bit of information that is out there. If anything big happens, you can trust on hearing about it, no matter if you listen to the news or not. Stay informed on important issues, but do it in bits that are small enough for you to maintain your mental well-being.
5. Protect yourself from Negativity
Our world is incredibly polarized right now. It seems like talking about issues with someone who doesn’t share your opinion has become somewhat impossible. Conflict seems to be everywhere, even in our own families. It is imperative when maintaining your mental health that you find a way to deal with these conflicts.
Someone very close to me holds a wildly different opinion on COVID and related measures than I do. In the beginning she would literally attack me with this. I needed to believe her. Only she knew the truth. A civilized discussion was impossible. It felt as if she was emptying a large bucket of opinions over my head and I was drowning in the tide. I distanced myself from her. But it was painful because I love her a lot. She continued to send me messages about ‘the truth’.
Finally I had to make a decision. Do I want this person in my life, or do I want to cut her out over this? I decided to send her a message. I told her my position and asked her to please respect it. Of course I would also respect her position. I told her we do not need to agree, let’s just talk about other things. And it worked!
It is incredibly important, right now and always, to set boundaries. Have this conversation. Tell them it isn’t something you want to talk about. But if you do want to engage, know what outcome you are striving for. Set a realistic goal for the conversation. You may not be able to change the other person’s mind. But in my opinion, if we can manage to talk to each other about the issues that divide us, a lot will be gained.
6. Know who to turn to when you need help
Here is the thing that could be tricky this winter. Who do we turn to when our mental health gets worse and we need help? A lot of people are struggling right now. Chances are, friends and family won’t have the capacity and energy to support you the way you need to be supported. Be prepared for this, as hard as it might be. Reach out to your loved ones and see how they are doing. Maybe they are well enough to support you, or maybe you can even offer some words of encouragement. Remember to check on your quiet friends.
If that fails, be prepared to reach out to a professional. There’s a chaplain hotline in my community that I can call anytime I need to talk to someone. Do some research. Maybe something similar exists in your community. Do you see a therapist on a regular basis? Check in with them, maybe they offer online options. There are online platforms dedicated to this topic as well.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help!
I want to leave y’all with my 2 cents worth of wisdom. This year has been awful. I don’t know if next year will be better. There is a good chance that things aren’t going back to normal any time soon. Please, as much as we are all stressed, be kind. We need more kindness in this world. And take good care of yourselves.