As I write this post, Canada is seven months into the COVID-19 pandemic, and at the beginning of the second wave. While the virus remains the same, there are differences between the two waves–medical experts’ knowledge of how COVID works, the time of year, government responses (I’m speaking of Ontario) and our experience of COVID fatigue.
As we move into the upcoming Winter of COVID, how are ways we can successfully ride this wave?
I’ve Been Reading…
Over the summer months, a very good friend (and researcher) has been sending me articles about COVID experiences worldwide. Many of them have discussed how the pandemic has negatively affected mental health (increased levels of anxiety, depression and loneliness).
Another common theme is that many of us are attempting to cope in unhealthy ways such as increased alcohol and drug use, poor diet and lack of exercise. These strategies can lead to a vicious downward cycle of addiction and poor mental/physical health. For a few of us, extreme exercise has been our tool of choice. As one person I know wisely said, “At the end of COVID, we’ll either be a hunk, a chunk or a drunk”.
A final group of articles speaks to how our grief has been affected by restrictions around being with loved ones at their time of death, changes in funeral practices and lack of in-person support. An October 11, 2020 NBC News article suggested that, “The Covid-19 pandemic will be outlasted by the grief pandemic.”
However, while the situation is dire, I suggest that it’s important not to bury our heads in the sands of avoidance, or to float in the waters of despair. Instead, let’s take stock to get a clear picture of where we are–somewhat like weighing ourselves after the early pandemic baking extravaganzas. We may not like the ‘number’, and we know where we’re starting from.
It’s About Having a Plan…
We are no longer ‘COVID innocents’. Because of our experience we know what’s coming. As one news article stated, “Winter is Coming.” no longer relates just to Game of Thrones! We lived through the tail-end of last winter, and it was hard (and short). After a three-seasons of socializing outside, we’re staring down the tunnel of potentially five months of weather-induced, minimal human contact.
Now that we have an idea about what the game board looks like, let’s plan our strategy using Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs as a template.
Be prepared: take care of the ‘bricks and mortar’ stuff.
There is a sense of safety knowing that our basic needs (food and shelter) are covered. It’s hard to function when we’re concerned about how we are going to get to the store during a possible lockdown if our furnace will stop working requiring someone to come into our home, or we are running low on prescription medications.
If possible make sure that you have some extra staples (food and medicines) on hand if stores move to limited hours, or there are shortages as the wave continues. I’m not suggesting building mountains of toilet paper in your home! Also, think about your physical space and what you may need to do to prepare.
Establish or re-establish social networks.
Once our physiological and safety requirements are met, next comes our need for human connection. While many of us were able to see more of our loved ones and expand our ‘bubbles’ during warmer weather, those bubbles burst once children went back to school and limited contact became much more difficult. Cooler weather is also becoming a factor (though many of us are extending the Fall season by using patio heaters, fire pits, etc.).
Think about who you would like to be connected to, and then talk with them about ways to spend time together. We know what helped (and didn’t) last time, so we’re not recreating the wheel. Maybe Zoom calls didn’t work as well due to technical challenges or ‘Zoom fatigue’. Is the use of FaceTime apps (if possible) or shorter Zoom calls the answer? In some cases, can small in-person bubbles be kept in place or restarted? A friend of mine has started to write letters by hand to her friends and family. Not only is she using this as a mindfulness practice, but enjoying the anticipation of checking the mailbox for replies. For some of us, sending holiday greeting cards is making a comeback.
One way to continue to see people in-person is to come to terms with the cold of winter. A podcast on “The Big Story” talks about how people in far northern communities deal with cold and near-darkness for several months of the year. The answer–change their mindset about winter. Embrace the colder, cozier months. You can listen to this podcast here. Personally, never having been a fan of the cold, I’m investing in warmer winter clothing so that I can see friends and family outside.
Spend time this Winter developing a new skill.
Maslow’s next level is “Esteem”–not only the respect that we feel for ourselves but also the respect we feel from others. Now can be a great time to think about how we would like to grow and develop.
While there are many websites that list activities/hobbies to take on while in lockdown, I’m suggesting that we go deeper. What kind of human do we want to be going forward? When we look back at this time (5, 10 or 20 years from now), what will we see? And it doesn’t have to be all serious–play is important as well. In my new snow pants, I’m planning to build some monumental snow people, that may be the talk of the neighbourhood!
Relax and give back.
Self-actualization. Now that our other needs have been met, we can relax while having a sense of reality. Because we are in a safe and clear place we have the energy to provide support for others. Based on the research on how mental health is being negatively affected by COVID, it is clear that the need is great. Providing help can be as simple as taking the time to really listen to others when you sense that all may not be well with them, or waving at others on your physically distanced walks.
This BBC video talks about how one person’s life was changed by randomly receiving a bunch of flowers. It’s not difficult to do–even in these times.
Some things are in our control and some are not. The fact that the second wave is a reality is beyond our control. However, we can attempt to influence its progress by wearing masks, washing our hands, practicing physical distancing, and following other guidelines recommended by public health officials. We also have the choice of how we frame our experience. This is an opportunity to grow our resilience. Me….I’ll be making snow angels.
And now…because so many of us are adopting Pandemic Puppies, here’s some puppy love! Enjoy!