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How to manage your mental health in cold weather during the pandemic

With the colder weather forcing more people inside, the mental health effects of isolation are getting worse. Here are some ways you can stay socially connected and when to seek professional help for mental health issues.

How can you fight isolation while staying indoors as much as possible?
Maintaining a level of social contact is crucial. People who live alone are at great risk, whether they are young or old. One solution is to stay in touch with family and friends, whether that's through social media, video chat, or phone. Maybe you can have a cup of coffee with someone over the phone in the morning. Write letters:sending and receiving them can be very rewarding. If you live with your family, do family activities, such as board games or listen to audio broadcasts, instead of watching TV. Take a walk in the cold with others.

How do you anticipate – and prepare for – a “mourning period” for your normal lifestyle?
This is an appropriate term. Missing out on things that made our lives enjoyable is normal, natural, and to be expected. Suppressing or ignoring the fact that we are grieving can make the situation worse. Recognize that grieving for activities you loved, such as going to theaters, parties, and restaurants, is legitimate, and normal. This is a process. We have to accept that we are in a highly unusual time; a pandemic is something people haven't had to deal with at this level for a century.

You need to realize that grief comes and goes, and other circumstances, such as fatigue, work stress, family conflict, and illness, can make it worse. You should seek the support of family and friends and, if necessary, professionals if you feel that your grief is continuing without seeing any relief after four to six weeks. Grief should soften a little over time.

How can you mentally prepare for a change in the coming holidays?
The traditions of the holiday season will be radically changed. This time is associated with coming together, something that will decrease drastically. This is a time to take refuge in all the customs and cultures associated with it. You don't have to break those eating and collecting traditions. You can prepare food in smaller quantities for your immediate household, even if it is just for yourself.

How can you take good care of yourself?
Go back to basics: drink five to six glasses of water a day to stay hydrated, eat healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables, and maintain a consistent sleep/wake cycle, which is essential for maintaining mood and physical health. Your Monday-Friday sleep cycle schedule shouldn't differ much from your Saturday/Sunday sleep cycle schedule.

Reduce the urge to drink alcohol. While a glass of wine with dinner four to five nights a week isn't something to worry about, resist the temptation to have a glass of wine at three-thirty because you can. You may consume alcohol more frequently, especially if there is no one else in the house to monitor you. Do a self-check:do you use more alcohol than a year ago?

Plan for regular exercise. If you don't like going to a gym and don't have any equipment, you can use canned goods as weights, use YouTube videos to guide you through exercises or meditation. Build in at least 30 minutes of exercise 5 days a week.

Finally, make a list of things that give you pleasure – movies, crafts, reading, puzzles, sports, cooking, board games, listening to music, social calls – and do at least two things every day.

When should you seek professional help?
This is a matter of time and seriousness. If you go into what feels like a slump and lasts more than four weeks without much relief, it's a sign that you're not getting out. Look for disturbances in your life. Do you find it difficult to get to and stay asleep? Are there any changes in your eating habits? Have you lost your sense of hope for the future? Are you not interested in things that used to bring you joy? In more serious cases, do you feel that "it wouldn't be the worst if you didn't wake up tomorrow?" or do you have thoughts of harming yourself or other people? That is a sign to contact a professional.