The COVID-19 pandemic is proving to be a marathon, not a sprint, but people are adapting, which takes true grit. The colder, darker months of winter will bring additional challenges, making it more important than ever to prepare for managing stress and anxiety so we can move our lives forward. Here are some tips for preparing emotionally for a COVID-19 winter.
Tip #1 – Cope with Grief and Loss
It’s normal to grieve a loss, and COVID-19 has dealt us plenty of them: the loss of togetherness with friends and family, loss of financial security, loss of special events, and soon, the loss of warm weather which has allowed us to socialize more safely outdoors. Grieving a loss is an individual experience and can involve a wide variety of emotions and physical symptoms. Accept how you feel without embarrassment or judgment, acknowledge your grief and express how you feel (to others or in a personal journal or scrapbook) – these are all part of the healing process. Planning activities you enjoy and that connect you with others can help you feel better. Taking care of yourself physically each day also helps with coping emotionally: eat healthy, get enough sleep, exercise, and avoid using alcohol or other drugs to cope. If you are struggling, seek the help of a professional counselor who can help you work through obstacles and intense emotions.
Tip #2 – Prepare for the Outdoors this Winter
COVID-19 spreads best in closed-up, indoor spaces, which is exactly where people tend to spend most of their time during Wisconsin winters. Spending more time outdoors this winter can reduce the risk of contracting the virus and provide positive mental health benefits. With less daylight and colder weather just around the corner, now is the time to prepare for being outdoors to socialize, exercise or simply ‘be.’ Check out these suggestions to prepare for COVID winter and set yourself up for better mental health.
- Dress for duration: Invest in a warm winter coat, long underwear, insulated boots, hat, mittens, and hand- or toe-warmers. Layer loose, light-weight clothes: air trapped between layers acts as insulation.
- BYOB: Bring your own blanket. Wrapping up in or sitting on a blanket will make socializing outdoors much more comfortable.
- Warm-up your insides: Eat or drink warm foods and beverages while outdoors. Hot baked potatoes, chili and cocoa can buy you more time outside. Myth buster: Alcohol does not actually warm a person up. Alcohol causes the blood vessels to expand, sending blood away from the core to the skin. The redistribution of blood to the periphery tells the brain, ‘I’m hot!’ This interference with the skin’s function of detecting and alerting us to cold conditions reduces our ability to protect ourselves from frostbite or hypothermia.
- Keep moving: Brisk walks, bike rides, snowshoeing, cross country skiing and even shoveling snow are ways to maintain regular exercise during winter and get direct sunlight, which benefits physical and mental health. For safety, wear bright colors and layers; protect your extremities with a hat, face mask, and gloves; wear footwear with traction; avoid icy surfaces, and drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.
- Stay social while protecting yourself and others: People need companionship. Accepting that holiday parties and family gatherings will need to be different this year to protect against spreading COVID allows us to start to plan safer alternatives for staying connected.
Tip #3 – Creating Your Social Bubble
As we approach colder weather and outdoor socializing becomes limited, our social bubble becomes much more important and should be much more defined. It’s important to find a small group of people you can count on to keep everyone’s safety a main priority. Keep in mind, the people in your bubble are the only ones you’ll socialize with (without practicing physical distancing), so it’s key to lay down some ground rules, establish some routine check-ins, and discuss what needs to happen if someone breaches the pact.
Things that should be discussed when creating your cohort, pod, or quaranteam:
- When you are outside the bubble, out on campus, at work, or engaging in other activities, are you wearing masks, watching your distance, and washing your hands?
- Are you participating in outings that may boost your exposure risk? What are the group’s expectations to decrease those risks?
- Are you accessing campus COVID testing and sharing results?
- How to handle the +1s to be sure everyone is comfortable if expanding the group at times?
Missing those not a part of your COVID crew? That’s to be expected! This is why it’s important to find meaningful ways to interact with family and friends virtually. Be creative – cook a meal with a friend over zoom, play charades with a group of friends by muting one another in a virtual hangout, plan a virtual crafting session or paint night, organize a streaming move teleparty, or try a virtual study session!
Tip #4 – Negotiating Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving break is coming up quickly and the number of COVID-19 cases are rising rapidly. With that in mind, it’s time to start thinking about your plan for Thanksgiving and how we can all approach the holiday safely. The CDC says to consider celebrating virtually or with members of your own household to lower the risk of spreading COVID-19. Doing so and staying on campus this Thanksgiving eliminates the risk of bringing COVID-19 home to your family or bringing it back to campus when you return.
If you do decide to go home, here are some tips for keeping everyone safe:
- Try to isolate yourself from others in the two weeks before Thanksgiving.
- Get a COVID-19 test before you go home. (They’re available on campus for all students!)
- Limit close contact with others when you’re at home and wear a mask whenever possible. Also, remember to wash your hands often!
- Get tested again (twice) when you return to campus.
Alternatively, if you decide to stay on campus this Thanksgiving, you could try hosting a ‘Podsgiving’ (think Friendsgiving, but with your social bubble!). The idea is that you still get to eat great food, you just enjoy it with the pod with whom you’ve already been limiting your social interactions. People across the country have been getting creative with new ways to celebrate this old tradition, and you can too!
Focusing on the things that are within your control this holiday can help you feel good, knowing that you are doing your part to keep everyone safe, and that’s something to be thankful for!
Tip #5 – Prepare a Cold & Flu Care Kit
With cold and flu season upon us, it is important to assemble a Cold Care Kit so you’re ready in case you come down with a cold or flu. Taking steps now to prepare a two-week supply can provide peace of mind and save you from having to go out when you’re not feeling well.
Here’s what we recommend you put in your Cold & Flu Care Kit:
- Thermometer – very important!
- Acetaminophen or Ibuprofen* – to reduce fever or pain
- Over-the-counter cold & sinus meds* – may relieve cough, congestion and sinus pressure
- Saline nasal drops or spray – to help relieve stuffiness and congestion
- Sore Throat Lozenge (A.K.A cough drops) – to soothe a sore or scratchy throat
- Salt – Gargling about ¼ teaspoon diluted in a cup of warm water can soothe a sore throat
- Liquids like water with lemon and honey, warm tea, clear broth or apple juice – keep you hydrated, loosen congestion and can be soothing
*Take only as directed. Some OTC medications have multiple ingredients and so it is important to read the label to avoid taking too much of any medication.
If you don’t want to shop around for all these items, you can pick up a Symptom Relief Kit at the Norris Health Center (NHC) for $10. This may be more convenient and affordable than buying everything separately at the drug store. You can pick one up at the NHC front desk, or you can buy the individual items from the NHC kit if you do not want to buy the whole thing.
The NHC Symptom Relief Kit comes with:
- Choice of Tylenol or Ibuprofen
- Guaifenesin DM liquid
- Sore throat lozenges
- Saline nasal spray – mist
- Hand sanitizer
Hand washing and getting a flu shot can help prevent getting sick this season. If you do come down with a cold or flu, take care of yourself. Rest, drink plenty of liquids, keep the air around you moist and call your health care provider.
Tip #6 – Coping with Loneliness
This year has been incredibly lonely for so many people, and everyone is experiencing loneliness in their own way. Human beings are social creatures. On average, we spend 80% of our waking time with others! If you are feeling like your social needs are not being met, you are not alone. Loneliness is a common experience — even when we are not living through a pandemic. The pandemic-related limitations on social contact make feelings of loneliness even more prominent in our lives.
Loneliness is distressing and can increase feelings of being vulnerable, anxious and a strong desire to connect with others. Not being able to see family, friends and other loved ones in person is hard. And let’s be real, digital connections with loved ones can never replicate a hug, a shared meal, or a room full of laughs and good times.
We may also forget how impactful the little interactions throughout the day are in how we feel connected. It’s now rare we get to share a smile or a hello with fellow students, staff and faculty in the hallways. We can’t have those side conversations in lectures with the people who sit next to us or chat with the baristas at the Grind every morning.
It’s important to know that whatever kind of loss you are feeling in this time, no matter why you feel lonely, you are not alone. While not quite the same as pre-pandemic connections, there are still ways to connect to help us feel less lonely:
- Create opportunities for meaningful digital connections. Sick of Zoom calls? Try calling just one person and focus that one conversation. Consider setting up a time weekly or every other week call. Chances are, it is helping them too.
- Join a campus organization that meets weekly or frequently throughout the semester. You can check out all of the campus organizations and make a plan to connect next semester.
- Connect with one of the many resource centers on campus. Here’s a list! These centers often have virtual events, resources, presence on social media, and people you can reach out to if you need anything.
- Set intentional time to hang out with housemates or roommates – eating dinner together on certain days a week (Taco Tuesday, anyone?), study-break dance parties, bundling up for outdoor excursions, or phone-free check in chats – make the time together meaningful. These are likely the people you see the most, so take advantage of those connections!
- Celebrate the time you get to spend time with yourself. Try a new recipe, jam out/dance, get dressed up, go for a walk or drive somewhere new, start a new hobby, check off those “to do” list items you never seem to have time for. The idea is to change your mindset from feeling stuck with yourself to seeing it as an opportunity to hang out with the coolest person around (that’s YOU).
- Loneliness is known to impair sleep quality, and this is important because quality sleep is restorative and it helps us meet daily life challenges, including emotional and social challenges. Practicing good sleep habits is more important than ever if you are feeling lonely. You can find some sleep quality tips here.
- Consider how you might be able to help others. Connecting with someone in this way can be mutually helpful.
- Finally, if feeling overwhelmed with loneliness or other feelings of depression, anxiety, or excessive stress, reach out to a mental health professional. It’s okay to need a little extra help these days!
While this year has presented many challenges in connecting with others, remember that you are not alone!
Tip #7- Getting Involved on Campus
With classes mostly online again this semester, it might be difficult to feel connected to campus and other students. This may lead to feelings of loneliness, isolation and anxiety. Taking steps to try new activities and meet new people (virtually or not) can help! Here are ten ways you can get involved on campus and meet people with similar interests and who also want to connect:
- Join a Student Organization
- Visit the Union Art Gallery – Virtually
- Keep an eye out for events from CAB (Campus Activities Board)
- Stop by the Studio Arts and Crafts Centre
- Check out the UWM Manfred Olsen Planetarium – Virtually
- Get outside with Outdoor Pursuits
- Engage with the Student Association
- Volunteer with the Center for Community-Based Learning, Leadership Office (CCBLLR)
- Try a Group X Class
- Check out the Cultural & Advocacy Centers
For updates and more ways to get involved, head over to Student Involvement’s website.
Tip #8 – Exploring Milwaukee This Winter
Making plans and exploring new hobbies can help us move forward at a time when we feel stuck. There are lots of ways to safely get out and have fun exploring Milwaukee this winter! The city has lots of parks, trails and outdoor activities that you can explore. If you don’t like braving the Wisconsin cold though, there are also lots of ways to explore the city virtually. Either way, being connected to the city reduces feelings of isolation and loneliness, and it’s a great boredom buster!
- Milwaukee Riverwalk
- Lakeshore State Park
- Black Cat Alley
- Virtual Tour of Milwaukee Public Museum
- Sculpture Milwaukee
- Red Arrow Park Ice Skating
- Virtual Cooking Classes with Milwaukee Public Market
- Lake Park
- Virtual Tours of Milwaukee Art Museum
- Oak Leaf Trail
- Lynden Sculpture Garden
- Swing Park
- Watch a virtual performance (First Stage, The Rep)
- Milwaukee Film’s Sofa Cinema
- Milwaukee City Tours (Offered virtually too!)
Tip #9 – Goal Setting to Keep You Going
As we continue into another primarily online semester, goal setting is a great way to help keep the momentum going. Goal setting can provide a focus and bring more clarity about what we want in life at a time when the pandemic can make things feel disjointed and confusing. It’s understandable that long-term goals might seem difficult to imagine and hard to work toward in this time of uncertainty. Breaking down your goals into manageable steps can help them seem more achievable and tangible as you go. Setting short-term goals that you can achieve within the semester or the year also might be best for you right now. It’s all about what feels right for you in this season. When thinking about a goal, reflect on what’s important to you and where you want to grow. It might be related to self-care, relationships, academic performance, career, health. You name it!
Here are some tips from YOU@UWM to keep in mind when setting strong goals:
- Set a goal that motivates you.
- Make the goal specific.
- Make it attainable and realistic.
- Break it down into smaller goals if needed
- Set a deadline.
- Write it down.
- Make a plan and stick to it.
- Put in the work.
- Use YOU@UWM (you.uwm.edu) to create and track your goals
- If your goal becomes too stressful or causes unhealthy side-effects, give yourself permission to rethink it.
You’re five times more likely to achieve a goal if you write it down. YOU@UWM helps you write down your goals, create meaningful steps and track your progress.
Relevant YOU@UWM Articles:
Tip #10 – Love Yourself First: Practicing Self-Compassion
Self-compassion “involves treating oneself as one would a friend, being more mindful, and understanding our situation in the context of a larger human experience,” according to Stanford Medicine. Self-compassion leads to empowerment, learning, resilience, and inner strength. It also helps decrease stress and allows us to remain calm when experiencing failure and mistakes.
Practicing self-compassion can look like many things, including:
- Notice negative self-talk and stop it. Remind yourself and accept that everyone makes mistakes.
- Spend time with yourself and try to get to know yourself. Journaling or meditating are great ways to do this. Try to put your phone away during this time for some distraction-free “me time.”
- Take care of your body through exercise and eating healthy.
- Do simple things that you enjoy. Try making a “joy list” where you write down all the things (people, places, activities, songs, etc.) that bring you joy.
- Try not to put yourself or others down. Instead, think of compliments that you can give yourself and others.
- Accept that we all make mistakes.
- Keep a journal of your accomplishments, compliments people pay you, things you are proud of, etc. Refer to it when you need a little boost.
- Bring positive affirmations into your daily consciousness. This could be repeating a mantra, hanging a poster with a positive message, or writing one on your mirror in dry erase marker.
Be your own Valentine and show yourself some self-love and compassion during these uncertain times!
Download the Self-Compassion Workbook
Tip #11 – Accentuate the Positive
Focusing on positive emotions can contribute to feelings of well-being and help us recognize personal strengths that we can use when we’re faced with a challenge. People tend to dwell on ‘what’s wrong’ and a lot can feel wrong during this pandemic. While constructive exploration of negative emotions or events can help lead to solutions, a spotlight on the positive can bring a more balanced approach to how we view ourselves and our situations.
If you tend to focus on ‘what’s wrong,’ it might take a little effort to shift the focus to ‘what’s right’ – but you can do it! Accentuate the positive with these questions and practical tips:
- What’s one good thing that happened to or for you today? (Ate good food, beat a level in a video game, saw the sunrise, connected with an old friend, passed the exam, your roommate did the dishes....) Why do you think that happened? How did that affect the rest of your day? How does that make you feel?
- What is one of your strengths? Or what are you good at being or doing? Maybe you are funny, curious, open-minded, a critical thinker, authentic, enthusiastic, organized, kind, patient, generous…. How did you use your strength today? Is there a new way you could use your strength tomorrow?
- Who are you grateful for today? Write down what they said or did and how that made you feel. Call the person or send a text to let them know.
- What did you accomplish today? We can get buried in to-do lists, feeling like we haven’t been very productive or even as though we are always behind on all we have to do. So, try a “tah-dah“ list at the end of your day where you list all the things you did do that day. You might be surprised with all you accomplished!
Allowing yourself a little time each day to recall and reflect on good things is a way to experience them all over again, deepening perspectives and emotions that you can use whenever you need. Enjoy!
Tip #12 – Sorting Fact from Fiction on COVID-19 Vaccines.
There is a lot of information out there about the COVID-19 vaccine. What information can we trust? How can we tell myths from facts? The task of finding accurate information can feel overwhelming!
Research continues to reveal new insights and understanding about COVID-19. We need to accept that recommendations may change to reflect the best, most current knowledge available. So, keeping current with credible information is crucial!
To take an active role in evaluating the health information you encounter, whether it be through social media or any other source, put these tips into practice:
- Consider the source: If the information is coming from an organization, consider its qualifications on the topic and its overall mission. If the source is your Uncle Fred or your roommate, consider their own expertise and the reliability of their sources.
- Read beyond the headline: We can miss the full context of a story if assumptions are made from just an image or a title.
- Review the author’s credentials: Consider if the individual sharing the information has the expertise to be a trustworthy source. Not able to find listed credentials? Red flag!
- Check the date: The scientific process is continuous, always presenting new findings to build on previous findings. An older post or article may present information that conflicts with the most current findings, so check the date of publication to stay up to date!
- Consider your biases: We may be less willing to accept information that doesn’t align with our values and beliefs, even if it is accurate.
- Cross check your sources: If something seems confusing or alarming, take the time to see if similar information is provided by other credible sources.
- Review before you repost: Take the time to ensure the credibility of any information prior to sharing it with others to help prevent the spread of misinformation.
This process isn’t easy and takes some time, but the peace of mind that comes with knowing you can make health-related decisions based on accurate information is well worth it.
Here are some credible sources that can help you stay up to date with COVID-19 vaccine information:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/facts.html.
Dear Pandemic: https://dearpandemic.org/category/vaccines/
City of Milwaukee Health Department: https://city.milwaukee.gov/CovidVax
John Hopkins Medicine: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/coronavirus/covid-19-vaccines-myth-versus-fact
Mayo Clinic: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/coronavirus/in-depth/coronavirus-vaccine/art-20484859