Michigan Association of Health Plans

How Will We Cope With the Pandemic Fall?

Abby Guido is dreading the winter. The cold will force her family back into the same kind of lockdown they faced in the early days of the pandemic. “It’s constantly on my mind,” said Ms. Guido, 41, an assistant professor of graphic and interactive design at Temple University.

Ms. Guido’s husband, Chris, has lymphoma, so the family needs to be particularly careful. He’s in remission, but since chemotherapy has weakened his immune system — potentially elevating the risks of Covid-19 — the family stayed in lockdown until the weather grew warmer in late May, allowing safe outdoor activities. At last they could ride bikes with their two children, explore the park and picnic with friends.

Soon this will end. The isolation will return. Ms. Guido recently began taking the antidepressant Lexapro to calm the looming anxiety, “kind of in preparation for the feelings I know will be coming this winter.”

Millions can relate. The summer brought relief for many — outdoor brunches, rambling walks, beers on the stoop — yet in the latest of 2020’s cruel twists, the plunge in temperature may cause a surge in infections and stress.

“This is going to be brutal. I think it’s unprecedented on every scale,” said Kim Gorgens, a professor of psychology at the University of Denver. The stress of heading back indoors does not exist in a vacuum, Dr. Gorgens said, but is part of a bleak mix of concerns — anxiety over the presidential election, economic uncertainty, wildfires, protests over racial inequalities — and that all of this, collectively, is “reaching a kind of fever pitch.”

This is especially true for underprivileged and marginalized communities, where large multigenerational families are often crammed into one home, said Dagmawi Dagnew, a psychologist with the Department of Veterans Affairs and co-founder of a volunteer organization providing mental health resources to the Ethiopian-American community in Philadelphia. “Some of us have the luxury where space is taken for granted,” said Dr. Dagnew, but for low income people, the stress is “related to basic needs” such as ventilation, child care or helping older parents.

And all of us, in every circumstance, are dealing with the cumulative toll of six-plus months of the pandemic. “We’re moving from sprint mode to marathon mode,” said Bethany Teachman, a University of Virginia psychologist specializing in anxiety. She added that since stressors tend to pile up over time, we’ll be “going into winter feeling depleted and exhausted.”

So how can we handle the stress of heading back indoors? What are the best strategies?

Dr. Teachman recommends a three-step approach: Acknowledge, find alternatives and then make a plan. Start by recognizing that it’s OK, and even helpful, for people to “grieve what they have lost,” said Dr. Teachman, “because there are real losses.”

This article was originally featured in the New York Times, read more here.