Essential Conversations with Dr. Amy: How do I get through the second wave of the pandemic?

Many of us feel like we are caught in an endless pandemic loop, where every day feels like the one before. Even with vaccines on the horizon, it can still feel like there is no end in sight. We know we need to practice good physical self-care, but as we continue to hunker in the months ahead, how do we get through this second wave with our mental and emotional health intact?

Changing weather—and perspectives

First, ask yourself what helped you cope during the fist wave last spring. Think back about what helped you during March, April and May. Some people might answer, “Well, I knew there was good weather coming, so I was able to get through the first few months. But wow we are entering winter and it will be harder to be outside.” I’d be apt to nod along with that sentiment because I’m someone who loves hot and sunny weather and would be happy to skip winter altogether; however, I have lots of people who remind me that my feelings about winter can be moderated by my perspective. For example, I have a friend who likes to tell me that, “There is no bad weather, just the wrong clothes for the weather.” I reminded myself of this today when I chose to bundle up and go out for a walk, despite the temperature. And—no surprise—I felt better and more energized for having done so!

In addition to being aware of the impact of your perspective, what else made it easier for you to cope last spring? It may sound silly, but it will help if you make a list of these things and keep it handy so you can refer to it when you are having a tough day.

Here are some more ideas that can help you cope during this uncertain time:

Create a bit of a routine to your day

This doesn’t have to be anything complicated, just a few things that add some structure. The benefit to some routine or rhythm is that it helps us feel more in control; and this is especially useful when so many things are restricted.

Make sure you have something that signals to you the day has begun; perhaps reading the morning paper and having a cup of coffee or taking a shower. This may motivate you to move into some activity. Then having some marker for mid-day, like a call to a friend or devoted time to reading, can add to the feeling you are designing your days rather than just drifting through them. Eating meals at similar times and maintaining a bedtime routing can offer the same benefits.

Do at least one thing every day that gives you pleasure

What are some of the things that make you feel nurtured or that add enjoyment to your day? Again, you might want to make a list of these as a reminder when you are feeling like there is nothing to do and you are encouraged to be indoors for a long period of time. Sometimes when we get into a bit of a rut, it’s easy to let go of the things we like.

Whether it is baking, arts and crafts, puzzles, engaging in a hobby, reading, or chatting on the phone or FaceTime with a friend, there are many things you can put on that list that you can do while indoors in the next few months. Then make sure you spend time every day doing one or more of these activities.

Keep your social contacts close

Although we may not be able to spend time with friends in person the way we would like, we can definitely spend time with them virtually! Thankfully this pandemic has hit at a time when most of us have access to either phones or computers that let us see each other in addition to hearing each other. And it is true that we feel more connected when we can look into each other’s eyes and see each other’s smiles. It’s very important for our emotional wellbeing that we have social contact on a regular basis. This is one of the most important things you can build into your daily routine.

Reach out for help if you need support with maintaining your mood

If you find that you are regularly feeling depressed or anxious, it’s important to reach out for help. You can start by talking to a good friend, but if that doesn’t help, consider talking to your doctor or a counsellor. There is no weakness in needing support during these very challenging times. Make sure you tend to your emotional and mental health needs as much as your do your physical needs.

If we all do some good self care, we may find this winter passes more quickly than we expect. And we know that eventually the vaccine will be readily available and the days will get longer and warmer. Until then, we need to be very good to ourselves and to each other so we can thrive during this challenging time.