Once we’ve acknowledged the hardship, “the critical piece is to not stay stuck there,” Dr. Teachman said. “We can recognize that things are hard, without wallowing.” Identify what we have lost (such as socializing), and then 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.”
Planning ahead is important. “Plan now before it gets very cold,” 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 plans once you’re already feeling anxious and stressed.” Dr. Dagnew noted that uncertainty is a key reason we feel stress, so “having a plan is the antidote for uncertainty.”
Every therapist emphasized the importance of social connections. “We are social creatures, and we can’t fight the pandemic by socially isolating ourselves,” said Stefan Hofmann, a professor of psychology at Boston University, and the author of “The Anxiety Skills Workbook.” “Very few people are able to weather the storm by sitting in the room and meditating.”
This will likely mean, yes, more of the dreaded Zoom calls. “You might roll your eyes and hate every minute of it,” Dr. Gorgens said, but we should think of it as “taking your medicine.”
Other basics we shouldn’t overlook: eating healthfully, exercising regularly, following routines (to maintain a sense of control), limiting alcohol and especially getting plenty of sleep. “That’s where you’ll get the biggest reward, as sleep is the common denominator across every mental illness,” said Dr. Gorgens. She also recommended that we “limit exposure to the 24-hour, inflammatory, incendiary news cycle, that will only get louder in advance of Nov. 3.” Consider discrete times for news consumption (such as blocks in the morning and evening), as opposed to an IV drip throughout the day.
As we’re nudged back indoors, we’ll be making constant calculations about what is an acceptable level of risk, which varies for each person: Can a friend swing by for a brief indoor visit if you both wear masks? Can you then offer a cup of coffee, which would mean taking off the mask? Is that OK, if you stay six feet apart? And if you decide that’s allowable, can you just let them stay for lunch or to watch the game?