Winter and pandemic stressors could be 'double whammy' for mental health

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - JANUARY 6: Ice crystals form on the inside of a window as the area deals with record breaking freezing weather January 6, 2014 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. A large area of low pressure is sweeping across the Northern U.S. and with it ((Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images) / Getty Images)

So far during the pandemic, Minnesotans have been able to get out and enjoy the weather to take a break from the day-to-day stresses. Now, experts are worried about the added impacts winter will have on mental health.

Whether it be the stresses of health concerns, social distancing, the economy, online learning, working from home, or possibly not working at all COVID-19 has been impacting many for nearly seven months now. According to Dr. Kaz Nelson of the University of Minnesota Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, those stressors are taking a toll on mental health.  

“We are seeing it day-to-day,” said Dr. Nelson. “The toll the mental health rates, people talking about suicide, thinking about suicide, those of us caring for patients, and people in the community, we are definitely seeing this first-hand.” 

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 53% of adults in the United States have reported negative impacts to their mental health due to stress surrounding COVID-19 - stress that for many has gone on longer than originally anticipated. 

“A lot of people can do anything for one month or two or three, but there is this fatigue, this exhaustion component that goes along with needing to persist with these changes and expectations and change in life patterns,” said Dr. Nelson.

Now as the days begin to shorten and colder weather starts forcing many back inside, experts say they feel this winter will be particularly tough. 

“This is clearly a double whammy here because we are facing COVID,” said Dr. Nelson. “We are facing the isolation that necessarily brings and our daylight is limited because of our latitude, and we know there is a relationship between daylight exposure and mood and mental health.”

For those facing stresses now and those anticipating what winter will bring, Dr. Nelson recommends compassion for yourself and others as we work though yet another month in the pandemic. 

“What we all need to do is give yourself, give others a break and say, ‘You know what, it is probably not going to meet expectations.’ And that is okay, we are in a pandemic. We are all trying to survive this together,” she said.