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 Janice Schreier, behavioral health specialist, Mayo Clinic Health System in La Crosse Wisconsin. “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,” Schreier states.  “Social time is incredibly important for people so attempt to do fun things with friends like setting up book clubs, game nights, class reunions, or coffee dates to meet that basic need for social interaction.

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. News coverage can significantly affect your mood, especially if you consume news that tends to highlight suffering and emphasize feelings of fear or sadness.  “Overexposure to news may exacerbate anxiety or depression for those who already have a history of mental and emotional health issues.  Our goal is to find a balance between being informed and becoming overwhelmed,” Schreier recommends less than 30 minutes per day of news exposure, be this through social media, print, or television.

3. Find a way to get Physical Activity Daily

Exercise is an all-natural way to fight low mood and covid-19.  Twenty to thirty minutes of physical activity is comparative to taking an antidepressant, thus it is a natural way to boost mood through the release of, “feel good” hormones.   Daily physical activity also helps us to build our immunity, which is important as we fight covid-19.  “Winter is a great time to try some new outdoors activities and to get Vitamin D, which is also important for mood and health,” Schreier explains  “We are lucky to live in an area where there are plenty of opportunities for outdoor activities including snow shoeing, skiing, cross-country skiing, and sledding.  Long walks, running, and biking are also activities that can be done outside, as long as safety precautions are taken.  For those who prefer to workout inside, there a number of great programs being streamed that can lead people through a variety of workouts.”

4. Plan ways to give back.

Look for ways to help your community, such as blood donations, delivering meals and checking on, 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,” adds Schreier. “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.”  Schreier says by starting the conversation with your health care provider or establishing care with a licensed therapist you can find support and solutions as we go through winter with COVID-19 in our communities.

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