Since the beginning of this pandemic, there have been warnings that the upcoming fall and winter could be far worse than spring and summer were. CDC director Robert Redfield said it in April and again in July; several public health experts echoed this in The Atlantic in August; and we’ve all seen the 1918 pandemic graphs. In a few months, flu season will have begun, outdoor gatherings will be fairly unrealistic or just flatly impossible in much of the U.S., and the direct and collateral damage of mass unemployment will have deepened. While widespread rapid testing or the election of a new president could set us on a new, better, course, it’s still a good idea to plan for the worst while hoping for the best.
While thinking about all of this is fairly bleak, one thing gives me hope: This time around will be different—both because we won’t be blindsided by it, and because we know so much more about the coronavirus now. We have an opportunity to say to ourselves, “What, in four months, would I absolutely regret not doing when I had the chance?” and “What small-ish things do I wish I had done in January 2020, that I can do some version of now?”
And small-ish really is key here. Obviously, it would have been great to, say, not book a non-refundable April trip to Europe, or to know in December that you were going to suddenly get laid off in March, but that doesn’t exactly help you here. Instead, think more specifically about your day-to-day comfort, habits, and health. What were/are the biggest pain points? What might be exacerbated by cold weather, being indoors, or an unforeseen catastrophe (like a job loss or illness)? And what, if anything, could you do (or plan to do) now to feel a little bit less bad come January?
If you’re filled with dread about the coming winter and want to do something about it, here are some questions to consider. Two tips, before you start, though:
- As you think through this, you may want to make a mega list of all of the things that could possibly be helpful… but then do a second pass and choose the 3–5 things that stand out to you as the highest priorities. You can always revisit the list in a month or so and choose a few more to work on. But try to resist the urge to do everything all at once; it’s too easy to get overwhelmed and give up that way.
- If your cash flow and resources are limited at the moment, it might still be worthwhile to think about this stuff now—because then you can keep an eye out for good sales, try to save a little money here and there, hit up thrift stores or Facebook resale pages, celebrate when you stumble across the exact thing you need in a neighbor’s trash pile, etc.
What can you do in the next few weeks to make sure your physical and mental health are as good as they can possibly be?
This might look like…
- Getting a flu shot
- Taking care of That One Nagging Issue—bad allergies, birth control, contact lenses, the tooth that’s been feeling not quite right, etc.
- Finding a therapist and starting sessions, getting back into therapy if you’ve let things slide, and/or joining a support group
- Getting a thermometer, some non-expired cold and cough medicine, cough drops, ibuprofen, tissues, etc.
- Finding one style of face mask that really works for you—comfortable, a good fit, protective, easy to wash/sterilize, etc.
- Setting a boundary with a friend, coworker, or family member
- Learning to prepare one low-fuss meal that leaves you feeling nourished
- Starting an extremely low-pressure workout routine or coming up with a plan to move your body somehow regularly. (I have taken my own advice in this regard and, based on a Swole Woman reco, started doing an at-home 20 minute bodyweight workout a couple of times a week. Catch me flipping full suitcases in November!!!)
If those points don’t resonate with you, here are some other questions that might spark ideas for ways to be good to yourself or others…
Is there something you can do in the next couple of weeks that will solve one (1) recurring problem in your life?
If your time, money, and energy are super limited and you can’t do much between now and December, look for one seemingly small but wildly irritating source of frustration in your life, the thing in your home or your room that pisses you off every few days, if not more—e.g, a too-small trash can, the absence of blinds or curtains, or socks that are always slipping down.
Is there anything that would help you deal with cold and wet weather, practically speaking?
Even though a lot of people are mourning the end of summer and its attendant outdoor hangouts, I suspect that masked hangs are going to continue in parks, even as the weather gets worse. Because, as the Norwegian phrase goes, “There's no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing." While there is absolutely such a thing as bad weather (wind!! horrible!!!), this phrase still makes its point. So: do you need an actual winter jacket, actually good gloves, waterproof boots, or those pocket hand warmers? If you are lucky enough to have a patio or backyard, would an outdoor space heater or patio string lights make a demonstrable difference in your life? Take note and start researching your options.
If you’re working or studying from home, are there any changes you could make that would help you focus or feel good?
If you’re regularly feeling like a garbage slug at the end of the day, it could be time to re-think your setup. That might look like stacking up books to create a standing desk; buying a used monitor on the cheap; getting a lap desk that would change your working-from-bed life; moving your desk near a window; or downloading a white noise app and shutting your door to better drown out your housemate’s calls. Or it could just mean finally figuring out lunch—freaking lunch, my nemesis—once and for all.
What can you do to ensure that you stay social?
I think a lot of people are, reasonably, worried about feeling extra lonely and isolated this winter. While you may not be able to easily make new friends IRL or, say, go to packed and sweaty house parties, there might be some other options that would at least help.
One suggestion: if you have a few not-super-close friends who you really click with, and who you could invest a little more time and attention in, that might be a good move right now. (Going this route can be easier than trying to make a bunch of new friends, or attempting to stay in touch with everyone you’ve ever met.) Also, if the standing video hangouts you were all about last spring have fallen by the wayside, get them back on the calendar ASAP so they become part of everyone’s routine. This might also be a good time to find a pen pal, connect with your neighbors, or get in the habit of calling people on the phone.
Is there anything that would help you feel more comfortable and more like yourself?
It’s fall—time to start dressin’… whatever that means to you, during a pandemic. Maybe you’d thrive in a monochromatic sweatsuit that makes you feel like at least you tried, or some cozy socks that’ll actually keep your feet warm, or a couple of bright beanies that happen to look great on webcam. And if you haven’t figured out haircuts yet, it might be time to start watching YouTube videos and making a plan.
When monotony sets in and you feel bored as hell, what can you turn to for entertainment?
Hobbies are great, but if you know in your heart that you’re never going to get into knitting, that’s also perfectly OK. Think about what slightly-structured or repeatable activities might be fun to do when you’re stuck at home. Some ideas to get you started: work your way through a TV series, read one book each month, sell stuff on eBay, learn to play a tabletop or card game, do a daily crossword puzzle, attend virtual film festivals, keep one plant alive.
Are there any small things that would bring you huge amounts of delight, pleasure, and/or joy on a regular basis?
Think: a cozy blanket, sheets in your favorite color, a new sex toy, a beautiful mug (or a novelty mug), a few good playlists, or some pics of your loved ones printed and taped up on your walls.
How can you literally brighten up dark days?
If you are resisting getting string lights for some reason that is slightly snobby, I implore you: get the damn string lights! They help so much when it gets dark at 4 p.m.!!!! (Honestly, if you take one thing away from this list, I hope it’s the transformative power of string lights.) I’m also a fan of unscented taper candles, this $25 IKEA lamp, and a mini clip-on ring light for video calls.
Is there anything you can do now to feel a little less anxious about gestures tiredly everything?
Look, what we’re not going to do with our collective fear this time around is stockpile toilet paper… but it’s certainly not a bad idea to add a few extra frozen, dried, or canned items to your grocery list each week, so that you’ve got a small emergency food stash but aren’t leaving the shelves bare for others. And if there’s something you’ve been putting off—making a will, coming out to your family, getting a printer, registering to vote—maybe do it ASAP, in relatively OK times.
Whatever problem you decide to solve, give Future You your very best, and then do what you can to make the most of the good season before it’s gone.
Rachel Miller is the author of The Art of Showing Up: How to Be There for Yourself and Your People. Follow her on Twitter.