Winter, plus the unavoidable flu season associated with it, isn’t everyone's favorite time of the year, and many struggle to endure it. In 2020 we have COVID to contend with, too, increasing the challenges that come with the cold days and miserable weather.
The global pandemic and subsequent lockdown have far-reaching consequences, yet there are many unknowns about this disease.
This article explores how best you can cope with it, now that summer and fall are over. We'll look into SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) and offer some guidance on dealing with the seasons' darkness, literally and figuratively.
Why Is COVID Worse in the Winter?
There are several predictions that COVID numbers will spike during winter. Here are some reasons why it could be worse.
During the so-called cold and flu season, viral and respiratory infections already break out in varying degrees and burden healthcare services.
On top of this, the wet conditions and the temperature drops contribute to compromised immune systems. In areas experiencing a high number of COVID cases, the picture looks worse in winter. We can therefore expect to see a swell in numbers and that the disease will likely spread further.
With no accurate data available yet on how SARS-CoV-2, the strain which causes it, will behave in these conditions, it creates further uncertainty. Some of the symptoms also present itself as seasonal flu, and many people may not get tested or even know that they've contracted it. This creates additional risk, as they won't be in quarantine.
In winter, we tend to stay indoors more frequently and keep our windows closed. You may also find several people huddled up together in the living room to enjoy a warm, cozy fire or snuggling to stay warm.
These cold-weather habits make it difficult to practice social distancing indoors. We're also spending less time outside in the fresh air and may have limited ventilation inside. Ideal conditions for a disease with airborne transmission capabilities to thrive.
SAD - Seasonal Affective Disorder
When we endure long dark days and little sunshine, it can affect our biological clocks or circadian rhythms. You may refer to it as the winter blues, but it's most likely a case of seasonal affective disorder, or SAD for short.
It presents itself as feeling tired, depressed, or moody with low energy levels. During stressful and uncertain times, you may experience more severe symptoms. It's important not to write it off and monitor how you feel. Check for early warning signs like oversleeping and eating, and excessive use of alcohol.
Also, consider that the lockdown and pandemic have changed how we usually operate this time of the year. To date, 2020 has been emotionally draining, and the status quo is already disturbed.
You may feel more anxious or frustrated than you'd typically be at the beginning of winter, and the most significant part is still ahead of us. It doesn’t paint a pretty picture with contributing factors like job losses and financial stress on top of lockdown social isolation.
You'll manage it better once you acknowledge these feelings and try to bear rather than confront why you're experiencing it. It'll most likely help you in your efforts to accept it as the current reality too. If you're no longer able to control it or suffering a major meltdown, seek advice or assistance from a qualified professional.
Coping With COVID in the Winter
So how can we cope with COVID during the winter months? Here are a few suggestions to maintain both your physical and mental wellbeing.
We all need regular interaction, and social distancing on top of the lockdown can leave you to feel disconnected from your nearest and dearest. Make time for virtual catch-ups with your family and friends online or on the phone.
It’ll give you something to look forward to and provide a valuable support structure for when you're feeling down. It doesn't only have to be a quick chat or sharing the news. You can do plenty of fun activities too. Thanks to technology, you can set up a remote cook-along with several people involved or do a live exercise session together.
It'll give you a welcome break from your work routine if you're operating from a home-based office. Added value is that you can stay safely connected without worrying that you'll get exposed.
Be Selective With News
While it's vital to stay informed and know what's happening in your area and worldwide, watching negative news for an extended period will take its toll.
Be selective with how much you consume daily, and get your information from a reputable television or radio station. Social media and some online channels may offer instant news and plenty of it, but it can draw you into pessimism and sensationalism.
Also, be mindful of what you share, don't get caught up in the outrage of fake news or drawn into unreliable content. If it leaves you feeling anxious, you're probably spending too much time watching, listening to, or reading. Switch it off and take a break.
Plan Special Days and Celebrations
Social distancing and being in a forced lockdown will put a damper on special days and festivities. As the end of the year approaches, plan how you'll celebrate the holidays.
You may have to manage your family's expectations as well as your circle of friends and tell them upfront how you're adapting. Perhaps you can start a few fun new habits this year that will last into the future, even if you can only have smaller gatherings with loved ones.
Communicate your intentions to avoid misunderstandings and disappointment, especially with younger kids and older relatives who like to observe tradition. Take care to add some joy, even if it is with a virtual connection.
It's also an excellent opportunity to give back to your community. You can give some of your time to a worthy cause or help with food or warm clothing donations. It'll give you a sense of purpose and fulfillment while making these uncertain times a bit more bearable for someone else.
How to Stay Safe
You can take several actions to stay safe and encourage your friends and family to do so too.
If you're concerned that you may have been exposed or contracted COVID, get yourself tested. Symptoms like coughing, a sore throat, sneezing, and a high fever may be more prevalent in winter. However, if these persist, it's best to know your status.
You could also consider getting a flu vaccination to protect yourself and those around you. Getting an annual shot may offer you direct protection and help you develop antibodies. It
further aids in protecting those around you and the community, as it reduces the risk for others who're susceptible and prone to getting sick in winter.
Practicing good personal hygiene can help prevent the spread of COVID infections. Sneeze into your elbow, and avoid personal greetings where you have to touch others.
Washing your hands, regular use of sanitizers, and wearing a mask that covers your mouth and nose offers additional protection. Plan your trips for essential goods too so that you can avoid unnecessary trips to the shops.
Healthy Food and Exercise
Eating healthy, nutritious foods boosts your immune system. Ensure that you stay hydrated and limit the use of alcohol.
Stay active and try to go for walks or a jog outside when possible to get some fresh air. It can improve your overall well being and help you destress too.
Mindfulness and meditation will also help you relax and cope with stress. It guides you to remain focused on the present and not become consumed with worry about what you can’t control in the future.
COVID has brought a lot of uncertainty and changes. Therefore the cold, wet weather and long dark days may affect us differently this year. The status quo of how we usually operate in winter is altered with social distancing and the lockdown, and we'll have to adapt to help stop the spread.
You'll be best equipped to deal with SAD, seasonal affective disorder, when you stay virtually connected with loved ones and limit your consumption of negative news. Make an effort to plan celebrations for the holidays, even if it's smaller or virtual.
Keep practicing good personal hygiene and avoid crowded spaces. Watch what you eat and drink, and don't neglect exercise. A short brisk walk outside will do wonders for your body and mind. It'll help keep you safe and sane during winter.