2020-21 winter

by Dr. Samuel G. Oltman, ND

The upcoming 2020-21 winter is going to be a doozy. Each and every one of us needs to plan and prepare ourselves for a long, hard winter. This is not meant to be a pessimistic or “doom and gloom” warning—I am optimistic about the long term—but rather a reality check for the time between now and whenever a vaccine and/or more effective treatments and preventive measures are developed for COVID-19.

The spring of 2020 caught most of us by surprise. Few regular citizens were prepared materially and psychologically for what an economic and social lockdown entailed. The summer of 2020 was a slow reckoning that this pandemic isn’t going to go away soon. Now we are in the fall and there are likely no more surprises regarding the pandemic as we head into the 2020-21 winter.

2020-21 winter

What we have to our advantage now is the ability to plan for the worst and hope for the best. Now is the time to prepare yourself mentally, emotionally, and psychologically for this 2020-21 winter. It will still be difficult, but preparation and mindset are what allow for making lemonade out of lemons. What does this preparation look like?

The first is simply digesting the above information and perspective. This is the reality we are all facing and it is a marathon, not a sprint. Denying these simple facts will only result in unnecessary suffering. Conserving mental and emotional energy to prevent burnout is a key part of the following strategies.

Coping strategies range from healthy to unhealthy. What I strongly recommend you do not do is to barrel into the 2020-21 winter wishing all of this will go away and use sugar, alcohol, and Netflix binging to assuage you when it doesn’t. By planning ahead, we can set ourselves up for engaging in behaviors that lead to flourishing and wellness rather than self-destruction. You are in control of how you respond.

2020-21 winter
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  • Create boundaries from “work-from-home”. If you are fortunate enough to have a space for a separate office in your home, physical separation is very useful. If you do not, ritual separation is a great method of creating a boundary. Do something that creates a break in your day when work is finished and you put away your work items: leave the house for a walk or exercise, take a shower and change clothes, light incense, etc.
  • Minimize or eliminate engagement in the news and social media. News and social media is fueled by controversy, fear, and division. It is captivating precisely because it leverages deep-seated psychological mechanisms built around urgency and tribalism. Knowing the minutiae of matters that you’re not directly involved in just so you can be angry, offended, or self-righteous about them is not a good use of your energy. We know that social media algorithms feed us content that is more likely to make us upset. Why waste your time in that space? Give yourself 5-10 minutes per day maximum to scan headlines and social media if you want to stay up to date. Even better, catch up with social media and the news weekly instead of daily.
  • Move your body. Physical exertion is one of the best ways to decompress and we need to do it regularly. There is no shortage of workout videos to guide you and you don’t need any equipment.
  • Find ways to get outside. A primary component of seasonal affective disorder is decreased time spent in nature. It’s not all about sunlight. Even when the days are shorter, getting outside when there is daylight is crucial. When it’s dark in the morning and evening, go for a walk during lunch. Try an inexpensive snow activity like snowshoeing or cross country skiing on the weekends as a way to get out into the forest during the 2020-21 winter months.
  • Start projects or hobbies. We could all likely use more creative time in our lives. Dive into activities like crafting, knitting, puzzling, writing, playing music, singing, painting, etc. When will there ever be a better time to recommit to a creative endeavor that you’ve been putting off?
  • Cook good food. Take the time to create tasty and wholesome dishes. Try new recipes that may be challenging or that you haven’t had time to prep before. Cook for other people and share ideas. Involve your children and teach them how to cook. Strongly engaging in your food will help curb cravings for unhealthy foods as you deepen your sense of “you are what you eat”.
  • Prioritize relationships, social connections, and touch. We need social connection to thrive as humans. Even though our social circles have contracted in quantity, this doesn’t mean they have to contract in quality. Putting extra intention into the relationships and connections you are able to maintain in-person will help you stay grounded. Pets can be a key source of physical contact too. Within the group you’ve determined to stay in physical contact with, hug, laugh, cuddle, Love, and share meals often.
  • Be Kind (including to yourself). Nobody is perfect, including you, and we are all fighting our own battles both internally and externally. Forgiveness, gratitude, and grace are powerful ideals we can all strive for and are all in need of especially in times like this. Meditation, prayer, and gratitude practices are all ways to embody these principles and keep them front-of-mind as you move through your life. Simple acts of kindness help remind us of our common humanity and can change a stranger’s day. We could all use a little extra kindness.

None of this is to say that it will be easy. Even by doing all of these things, you will surely experience difficulties. But you can steel yourself ahead of time in anticipation of difficulties to come, making them transient and surmountable, rather than life-swallowing downward spirals.

In the broadest sense, these strategies are simple healthy life habits. The uniqueness of our situation however, is that as unpredictable as 2020 has been, the 2020-21 winter will be abnormally predictable in the ways outlined above. I do not know the specifics that the future will bring but the big picture seems clear. We all wish things were different, but they aren’t. Accept, adapt, and thrive. We are truly all in this together.