Get A Flu Shot, Start Therapy: Get Ready For Winter During COVID-19 : Life Kit The sun is going down earlier and temperatures are dropping. We know we're not the only ones getting worried about winter during a pandemic. Rachel Miller of Vice joins Life Kit to talk about ways we can all prepare to make the coming months a little easier.
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Prepare Now For Your Pandemic Winter. Your Future Self Will Thank You

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Prepare Now For Your Pandemic Winter. Your Future Self Will Thank You

Prepare Now For Your Pandemic Winter. Your Future Self Will Thank You

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ANDREW LIMBONG, BYLINE: Hey, LIFE KIT listener. I've got a pop quiz for you. Do you love a good takeaway? Do you enjoy flexing that self-help muscle or how about some friendly competition? If you answered yes to any of these questions, join us for LIFE KIT's first ever trivia night. That's right - virtual trivia all about tips and tricks for personal finance, health and much more. It'll take place on Wednesday, Sept. 30 at 8 p.m. Eastern. You can learn more and RSVP at nprpresents.org. That's Wednesday, Sept. 30 at 8 p.m. Eastern. Sign up at nprpresents.org.

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ELISE HU, HOST:

This is NPR's LIFE KIT. I'm Elise Hu. During this pandemic, I've been seeing a lot of my friends outside. We've been planning distanced walks and having a lot of backyard gatherings, always limited to a handful of people. I live in Los Angeles, so the weather here is pretty much always perfect. But many of you don't live in Southern California, and it's fair that we're starting to get very worried about the winter, what it's going to be like when it gets cold and we're still in the middle of a pandemic.

Rachel Miller has been thinking about that, too. She's a journalist at Vice and the author of "The Art Of Showing Up: How To Be There For Yourself And Your People." She recently wrote a piece about how to get ready for the winter if you're already dreading it.

RACHEL MILLER: We are reaching a point where we're almost there. We still have time to plan for ourselves as best we can or for our neighbors, our families, our communities. So what can you do to make sure that you can be as healthy as possible, that you're well-fed, that you're well-clothed, that you have social connections?

HU: That sounded like advice we could use, so we talked to her.

Rachel, thanks for doing this.

MILLER: Thank you so much for having me. It's my pleasure.

HU: Well, let's start by talking about why anyone might want to even start thinking about these things because it's only September. What are we trying to get ahead of?

MILLER: So I think for me, it's about getting ahead of kind of all of the little things that can make your life better, smoother, easier in the wintertime. We know that winter can be a hard season in general for people. When it starts getting dark at 5 p.m., that's rough. Like, people have a hard time with that.

HU: For sure.

MILLER: But now we have the added stress of - well, it's going to be potentially too cold to see friends in the park or on a rooftop to hang out. So how do we prepare for that? You know, people are losing jobs and losing healthcare and losing their homes. So what kind of steps can be taken now if any to sort of brace for just a coming bad season? Just thinking through all of the things that could go wrong, which I understand is kind of a stressful exercise - but if you're already thinking about it...

HU: Right.

MILLER: If you're already dreading winter, like, take that thought process, and sort of point it in the direction of something a little bit more helpful, useful, productive.

HU: Yeah because I was going to say things already feel pretty bad as it is. And you're having us prepare for things getting worse, but you're arguing that it gives us a sense of control.

MILLER: It does. And I think - I remember, you know, over this summer, my co-workers were already saying, I'm really dreading winter. And that was when summer had barely set in. And so I think that was sort of the first clue that, like, people are already thinking about this, but they're thinking about it in really abstract terms and really stressed out terms. Everybody's afraid. So to me, it's sort of like, let's flip that and think of it as, like, oh, we have an advantage here. We have the ability to plan ahead. We know what's coming. What will you wish you had done come December or January? Do that thing now. Like, do future you a big favor.

HU: What are the things that we should be doing now? What should we be thinking about already?

MILLER: So I think the best place to start is just thinking about your physical and mental health. So that can be things like getting a flu shot. That's a really big one. Do that now before, you know - before case numbers go up or anything like that. Just get that out of the way. It could also be starting a workout routine or finding a way to move your body regularly. That's one of the things that I'm doing because I don't want to have to start that when it's already cold and dark. I want to have that routine kind of locked in before winter hits. So that's one.

It could be figuring out a few healthy meals that you're going to make for yourself. Or kind of on that front, you know, instead of trying to stockpile a bunch of groceries in three months, what can you do right now? Like, can you add a few boxes of pasta or cans of beans to your grocery order every week so that you're not stockpiling in a way that's taking away from other people but you're also making sure that, come winter, you'll be able to make, you know, a pasta dish with some frozen broccoli and some canned beans very easily and you won't be as stressed out about having to go to the grocery store?

So thinking about your physical and mental health, I think, is a really good place to start because ultimately, this is a pandemic that is putting our physical health and also our mental health at risk. So to me, that's, like, one of the easiest things to knock out while you can.

HU: So what about our mental health? What should we be doing on the mental health side of things?

MILLER: So I think one thing to do is if you have health insurance that would cover therapy or any sort of access to therapy, if you've already got a therapist but maybe you've fallen off with going regularly, now's the time to either find a therapist or get back to your regular sessions. You know, I think this is good advice in general. Don't wait to start looking for a therapist when things are really bad.

And I actually was talking to my therapist about this a couple weeks ago, and he said that a lot of therapists he knows are actually pretty full with clients, that they are doing pretty well during this pandemic, surprisingly. So he kind of made the point of, don't wait because they might just not have space for more people in a few months. Like, now is a good time to get in. But I also think it's just good to start that habit before you feel like you, quote, unquote, "need it." That's how I started therapy - in good times. And I'm really glad that I did instead of waiting for something bad.

So that's one thing you can do. If you don't have access to therapy or you can't afford it, what are some other options, whether that's joining a support group online or looking at some sort of therapy workbooks that are sort of a self-guided experience? Obviously, lots of people can't access therapy, and that's totally understandable. But just thinking about that as a concept and - what could you do that would get you sort of closest to that experience right now might be the way to do it.

HU: Yeah. Have you read any good books, or do you recommend any?

MILLER: Yeah. I have talked to Andrea Bonior several times for articles. She's a really great therapist, and she just released a new book over the spring called "Detox Your Thoughts." If you look her up, Andrea Bonior, her book is great. And it's a really great thing to start with.

HU: Great.

MILLER: I think it's kind of like finding the thing that'll help you in this moment doing your best with whatever you have, which might not be much right now. But if you can get that book from the library, that seems like a great place to start.

HU: Well, so far, for most of us in many places, the weather has been on our side, and it's helping us see our friends because we can do outdoor distanced gatherings. But for those listeners who aren't like me and they aren't in Southern California, how can we maintain our social connections when the weather does get really cold and difficult to be outside?

MILLER: So I think you kind of have two options, and I think you can do both depending on your personal comfort levels. And one is if you can get better winter gear or if one of your friends is willing to invest in a heat lamp or a fire pit that you can gather around and you can put on, you know, a scarf and a really good winter coat and go hang out with them that way, I think that's a good idea.

I read about some experts in The Atlantic who were saying we should think about, you know, socializing with all of our windows and our back patio doors open in the winter if we need to see people that badly - so just, like, really changing your conception of what a hangout can look like. And be willing to say, you know, being cold while I hang out with my friend is my best option, so I'm going to do that. And it's not ideal, but it's better than getting sick, getting them sick or not being able to see anyone.

So I think figuring out how much sort of cold and bad weather you can tolerate reasonably is one option. And then I think the other option is to just get back in the habit of doing Zoom hangouts and doing phone calls and setting up regular check-ins with people, which I think people kind of let slide in the summer, when they could see each other more often in person. And I think now is the time to start tending to those again so that they become part of our routine. And it doesn't feel - like, once you fall out of the habit, I think it can be harder to get back into it.

But I think we really need to be looking out for ourselves and each other and just remember that, like, this is going to be a really hard winter for a lot of people. We've got to do our best not to isolate ourselves, and we've got to reach out to the people who aren't going to come hang out in person. Like, OK. Then even if you are willing to do that, if a friend isn't, set up a Google Hangout with them. It's so worth it.

HU: You also recommend in your piece thinking about ways that people can improve their working from home space, especially if we're in it for the long haul. What does that look like?

MILLER: Yeah, definitely. So for me, it looks like a lap desk, which I have got sitting in front of me as I talk to you. That was one of the things that I - as I was working on this, I was thinking, you know, I think that might be nice to have. Like, I stack up pillows every day when I take calls in my bedroom. That doesn't seem like a good idea. So I think it's little things like that, like looking around your home or wherever it is you're working - or, if you're going to school from home and thinking, OK, what are some small things I could do that are going to give me the most bang for my buck? It doesn't even have to necessarily be expensive. It might be, you know - if you can't afford a laptop stand, can you put your laptop on a bunch of books just to make it sit a little higher so that you don't get a headache every day?

Like, thinking about the biggest pain points throughout your day and what are some little things that you can do to solve them - maybe it's time to rearrange your furniture or put your desk nearer to a window so that you're not losing power in your laptop every five minutes. And, you know, if you need to be closer to an outlet or something like that - just thinking about little changes you can make that would solve one problem, I think, will make a huge difference.

HU: For those of us who are kind of despondent and unmotivated, you're giving advice to be proactive, right?

MILLER: Yes.

HU: And so how could being proactive and thinking about more things now actually help this feeling of helplessness later?

MILLER: I think that there's something so satisfying of doing something for future you. And if you've ever done that for yourself, you probably know that feeling well - that you're so glad that past you did that thing. Actually, when I think about this pandemic, I think about things that I did unknowingly in January that just turned out to be the right move. And I had no idea, and I was so glad. And so I think kind of channeling that feeling of, this is going to make me feel so much better in the long run, is something to think about. But I also think, like, if you're not feeling very motivated or if you're really stuck in the anxiety and sadness part of this, that's totally reasonable.

My advice would be to pick one thing. Like, there's a ton of ideas in this list. It can be kind of overwhelming. You shouldn't try to do all of them because that could just be really exhausting, and you'll give up. But what is the one thing that you can do that will solve the thing that is a pain point regularly in your life, that - every single day, you are, you know, frustrated that you don't have a decent laptop charger. And it's really annoying, and you're constantly stressed about it while you're trying to work or take classes.

Maybe the thing for you is getting a better laptop charger, or, you know, maybe it's figuring out how to connect with your family more regularly because texting isn't working. Like, what is the one pain point that you've been frustrated by for the past six months? Like, just focus on solving that. And if you have more motivation afterward, great. But if not, at least you did the one thing for yourself, and you can know that you're a teeny bit more set up for winter than you were before.

HU: Rachel Miller, the author of "The Art Of Showing Up: How To Be There For Yourself And Your People." Thanks, Rachel.

MILLER: Thank you so much for having me.

HU: For more NPR LIFE KIT, check out our other episodes. We've got a deep dive into how to set up your home office and another about how to find teletherapy during COVID-19. You can find those at npr.org/lifekit. And if you love LIFE KIT and want more, please subscribe to our newsletter at npr.org/lifekitnewsletter. We also want to hear from you if you've got a good tip, so leave us a voicemail at 202-216-9823 or email us a voice memo at lifekit@npr.org.

This episode was produced by Clare Lombardo. Meghan Keane is our managing producer. Beth Donovan is the senior editor. Our digital editors are Beck Harlan and Clare Lombardo, and our editorial assistant is Clare Schneider. I'm Elise Hu. Thanks for listening.

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