Many of us are familiar with the “Sunday Scaries”—that roiling porridge of anxiety swirled with dread that creeps in before the work week. But in winter, those so-called scaries can happen all season long. We’re stuck at home, the weather is harsh, it’s dark earlier, and now there’s an extra wallop of unease that comes with heightened isolation due to the pandemic.
Approximately six percent of people suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a form of depression that typically occurs during the winter months. But even people without SAD have been knocked sideways by the pandemic.
“It’s a double-whammy with winter plus the pandemic,” says Sid Pani, MD, an internal medicine physician based in Sudbury, Massachusetts. He’s seen an increase in patients coping with pandemic-related concerns—worries about aging parents, job loss, and loneliness—that are only exacerbated by shorter, darker days.
But you don’t have to sing the winter blues—even this year. In fact, it’s possible to melt those scaries into an opportunity for restoration and creative growth. Here’s how.
1. Ground yourself in the present.
Sunday Scaries occur because people don’t know what the next week will bring, an uncertainty that’s also true of this winter season. “A lack of control makes us anxious,” says Jennifer Kahnweiler, PhD, author of “Creating Introvert-Friendly Workplaces.” “We end up looking to the future or being triggered by the past. So ground yourself in right now: What am I feeling? What part of my body is tense?” When you begin to spiral into what-ifs—what if you lose your job, what if you get sick, what if you feel restless—pull yourself back to the current moment.
2. Stay the course.
Although it may seem like we’ve been living in our new normal forever, it’s been less than a year. Remember that the pandemic is a marathon, not a sprint. As tempting as it may be to cut corners when it comes to safety, now is not the time to give in to pandemic fatigue—what the World Health Organization calls the lack of motivation to continue following safety recommendations. Stay the course with approaches that help stop the spread of COVID-19, like wearing a mask, washing your hands, and practicing physical distancing.
3. Treat alone time as sacred.
Fend off anxiety by blocking off time in your schedule for decompression. Wintertime can feel like one long slog, so carve out time for appreciating solitude instead of running from it.
“Introverts don’t have as hard a time with this,” Kahnweiler says. “Just notice a tree. A leaf. Be in nature. We have to feel our feelings when we’re alone.” That makes us better able to cope with whatever life throws at us once we’re back on the clock.
4. Become a social archivist.
Use winter as a time to dig into your social treasure trove and reconnect with pals you haven’t touched base with lately: high school friends, college roommates, old colleagues. This can be low-maintenance: a quick text, an email, a trivia game on Zoom. Just as we spend cozy Sundays cleaning out drawers or closets, the same can be done with friends.
5. Indulge a dormant hobby.
Pani rediscovered a love for painting during the pandemic; he does it to relax, but he donates profits from his work to charity. Instead of using your time to solely zone out on Netflix, balance it with an old (or new!) pastime that reminds you of who you were pre-pandemic, and who you’ll be again.
6. Make a list of future plans.
“Next winter won’t be as bad,” Pani predicts, thanks to the development of COVID-19 vaccines. Remember how temporary this limbo is, and plan for future excitement: Bookmark vacation destinations; make a list of restaurants you want to try; think about new adventures you’d like to pursue.
7. Exercise your observational muscles.
“Quiet observation is a strength that introverts bring to the table. All people have it, but maybe they aren’t leveraging it enough,” says Kahnweiler. Now’s your chance to flex those dormant skills. Look around: What do you love about your kids or spouse? What do you appreciate about your home? When you’re not on the go, you can take time to appreciate things you usually take for granted—and treasure them long after Daylight Savings Time begins again.