As summer sets with the end of another year of the pandemic, we look forward to autumn and the gifts of a new season ahead. We welcome the wonderful range of bright reds, yellows, and purples in the transformation of the leaves, along with the cooler, crisp, northern breezes. It’s a season of warm tea and comforting apple crumble. My favorite time of year.

In the cooler months, we tend to seek out the warmth and familiarity of friends and family members. We have established “bubbles” of people we feel safe with during this pandemic, and since vaccines have become available late in 2020, some of our bubbles have grown to include more members. With the approach of autumn and then winter, our social bubbles are likely to shrink again as activities move back indoors. How can we cope with another winter of uncertainty and stress? Here are a few timely tips to help you transition to the colder months ahead.

Establish boundaries

Yes, boundaries are healthy in every relationship. Be aware of when you feel stressed and know when you need to set limits regarding your physical space and the time you spend with others. Make sure you recognize the difference between being alone and feeling lonely.

Expect change

Flow with adjustments. We have all had to learn how to change our expectations of each other, ourselves, and the world around us. Recognize that we have come a long way since the toilet paper panic days of early 2020.

Listen

Be there for each other, fully. Make the effort to be intentional of the time you are with each other. Put down your phones and re-discover what it’s like to be in another person’s presence in real life. If you know people who have differing views than you about the pandemic, take the time to listen to their concerns. We all want to be heard and understood. If you have children, listen to their fears about returning to school during the pandemic. Ask them what they need from you to feel safer.

Accept the gift

You can choose to interpret this time of hibernation as a chance to get to know those you live with on a deeper level. Find out what you love about them, again and again. Instead of dwelling on the toothpaste blobs they leave in the sink, tell them how much you enjoy their laughter, or the way their eyes sparkle with glee in the presence of a hot fudge sundae. If you experience stress or conflict in your home, take ownership of your role in it. Is your response to others coming from a place of love, respect, and compassion?

Enjoy nature

You know, I’m a big fan. Nature has a way of healing and re-settling the soul. Go for a walk every day, especially on those cool autumn days. Be mindful of the changes all around you in this most colorful season. Take your cup of warm tea or spiked coffee and enjoy your apple crumble in the company of our most magnificent trees. They are unaware of the virus around us, and they have witnessed season after season of storms, wind, drought, floods and frost. And they continue to grow and thrive. This is the lesson they give to us, and this is the hope we all need to get through the coming months, together.

Angie Potaczek, LCPC, is a therapist and mindfulness instructor at Thrive Counseling Center in Oak Park.

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