Shayna Simeone Fendley, LCSW

November 2019: You have carefully planned a Thanksgiving menu that manages to balance traditional fixings with great-aunt Susie’s husband’s allergy to corn. Family is flying in, and everyone looks forward to a few days off work with the people they love. While the turkey is roasting, you sneak a look at the Black Friday ads, mentally preparing for the stampede of holiday shopping at sunrise tomorrow.

November 2020: The CDC is begging you to stay home for Thanksgiving. You are on the phone with the airline trying to get a refund for a plane ticket you bought in June, when you just knew all of this would be over by now. Somewhere you heard the term “Zoomsgiving” and it made you want to scream. You stare at your smartphone, wondering what to click next that will make any of this make sense.

Earlier in the year, as the pandemic ramped up but the cold weather subsided, many of us developed a workable rhythm to stay healthy and connected. We planned distanced backyard barbecues, took long walks, and dined on outdoor patios. The colder months, however, hearken us back to the earlier days of the pandemic, when the cold and rain kept us indoors for a few brief weeks. But with the promise of a vaccine still months away, the holiday season has many of us wondering how to plan for the “dark winter” ahead of us.

Because the hallmark of self-care is good planning, we at Cardinal Counseling have a few tips for you to weather the COVID winter:

1. Rethink the holidays. Meeting all the Hallmark expectations is hard enough during a good year. This year, take time to grieve what you’ll miss about the season. Be flexible enough to think of new ways to carry on old traditions (Zoomsgiving!). And consider making room for new traditions- for instance, maybe this is the year your family realizes that none of you actually like turkey.

2. Find a way to move. We have known for years now that exercise helps to boost your mood and reduce anxiety, especially during the winter when daylight hours are short. Outdoor walks in the cold may be daunting, but they are still an option. YouTube yoga, bodyweight workouts, and high intensity interval training (HIIT) are all great home workout routines when the gym feels a little too crowded for comfort.

3. Find a healthy way to wind down. For a better night’s sleep, create rituals and routines that bring structure to your day and help you transition to nighttime. Mindfulness meditation, relaxation exercises, journaling, soothing music, and aromatherapy are all effective ways to decompress. Try to limit alcohol, which disrupts your sleep and can make your anxiety worse .

4. Pay attention to your screen time. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter (brain chemical) that our brains produce when we learn something new or exciting. It’s why we feel so good when we get notifications on our phones or hit the refresh button on our social media pages. Too much of this, however, can exhaust our brains- leaving us feeling oversaturated, anxious, and annoyed. We can reduce Zoom fatigue by setting boundaries with our screen time (no staying on the computer after the work day is over) and switching to print (like books, magazines, or journaling) whenever possible. Consider a phone call the next time you think you need to send one more text or e-mail. Which leads to our final tip…

5. Talk to someone. Pacing your screen time allows you energy to spend on tech that really matters, like work meetings, video chats with loved ones (Zoomsgiving!), and telehealth appointments. The key is to focus on meaningful connections where you can give and get support. At Cardinal Counseling, we offer a HIPAA-protected web platform for therapy visits so you can get the support you need from the comfort and safety of your home.

We wish you a safe and happy holiday season, with hopes for a new story in 2021.