VOICES: Here’s how to cope with coronavirus during winter

This guest opinion column by Community Contributor Ray Marcano appeared on the Ideas and Voices page Sunday, Dec. 6.

It looks like we’re in for a double whammy this year. The National Weather Service projects a warmer, wetter winter in the Dayton area. And some experts predict COVID will get so bad we could hit 500,000 deaths across the country by the end of February.

Spending time inside to avoid the cold, wet, dreary weather will cause a challenge for a segment of our population that suffers from anxiety disorders. These disorders effect nearly 1 in 5 Americans.

COVID adds an extra layer of unpredictability. The Centers of Disease Control has a long list of COVID precautions, including not allowing people in your house if they’re sick. It’s tough to tell the difference between cold, flu and COVID symptoms, and some doctors even have trouble telling them apart.

Think of the people you know who get a sniffle, cough, chills, sore throat and body aches over the winter. Who knows what they have? That uncertainty can make anxiety even worse. (The CDC has a page with tips on coping with stress during the pandemic.)

“People with anxiety disorders might especially struggle this year,” Dr. Jeremy Schumm said. “Research that has been done during COVID shows that it is negatively impacting people’s mental health.”

For example, someone with obsessive-compulsive disorder who worries about getting the virus and becoming ill could struggle with leaving the house, said Schumm, a psychology professor at Wright State University.

The potential just doesn’t impact people who have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. The holidays, wondering if you can see loved ones, the uncertainty surrounding vaccine availability is enough to make anyone stressed.

Schumm suggests keeping “up on hobbies and interests, along with a healthy diet and exercise” in order to alleviate any symptoms. Stay away from negative news and don’t spend too much time on the internet, and take advantage of telehealth services, Schumm suggests.

You can also take advantage of technology and video call family or friends. While you might not be able to see and hug them, seeing a smiling face and hearing their voice isn’t a bad option.

Ray Marcano, a former Dayton Daily News editor, is a media lecturer at Wright State. He’s the former national president of the Society of Professional Journalists, a two-time Pulitzer juror and a Fulbright fellow. Community contributors are people who frequently submit fact-based guest columns.

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