Time to prepare for a difficult holiday season, USC experts say

Winter holiday season will be challenging for many Americans. The coronavirus pandemic is surging – California is approaching 1 million cases – as quarantine fatigue grows, short and cold days are coming, holiday celebrations increase exposure risk, and post-election shock waves rock the nation. USC experts examine the coming winter of discontent and how to cope.

Contact: Gary Polakovic (323) 527-7770 or polakovi@usc.edu


Winter of discontent will require changing traditions

Lawrence Palinkas, professor of social work, anthropology and preventive medicine at the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work.

“Call it the winter of discontent, but when it gets cold and dark, in addition to the social and political stresses recently, and the threat of pandemic, we’re up against a lot of challenges,” Palinkas said. “We’re going to need to remain vigilant and prepared, because this winter, the hardest part of the pandemic is yet to come.”

He added:

  • Heed health experts and avoid in-person holiday gatherings that could become super-spreader events.
  • Consider health disparities of COVID-19, which threaten older adults, people in poor health and people of color more.
  • Monitor small children because they may appear healthy but are asymptomatic and could inadvertently spread disease to a grandparent.
  • Make new memories and innovate holiday celebrations, using Zoom for gift exchanges, cook at home instead of going to a restaurant, or downsize holiday gatherings and host people outdoors rather than cloistered indoors.

Contact: palinkas@usc.edu


Take care of your biological clock to overcome winter blues

Steve Kay is director of the USC Michelson Center for Convergent Bioscience and Provost Professor of neurology, biomedical engineering and biological sciences at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. He’s an expert in circadian rhythms and health.

“Lots of factors contribute to affective mood disorder and a lot of people find this a really tough time of year. Our circadian clock is part of it,” Kay said. “A key thing people need to do is go outside and get more sunshine because it’s free and good for you.”

He added:

  • Humans evolved in rhythm with morning light.
  • Our circadian clock affects metabolism, blood pressure, lung function and immune system.
  • Pandemic and winter weather locks people indoors, making it harder to sync biological clocks to a diurnal cycle.
  • Start the day with 30 minutes of sunlight to reset your body clock.
  • The United States should scotch daylight savings time; the one-hour seasonal shift is bad for health and associated with accidents.

Contact: stevekay@usc.edu


Vigilance needed to survive the coming coronavirus onslaught

Paula Cannon is a distinguished professor of molecular microbiology and immunology at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. She is an expert in how viruses are transmitted and controlled.

“We’re seeing COVID-19 skyrocketing across the country, and the levels are getting out of hand,” Cannon said. “The holiday season is the most dangerous time of year, when people are indoors or at holiday get-togethers. The chance of being infected – and spreading it to loved ones – is more than ever.”

She added:

  • Fighting coronavirus is like a marathon; we’re fatigued, but it’s only the halfway mark with hardest stretch ahead.
  • Vaccines remain months away, so it’s important to maintain a regimen of prevention.
  • Limit travel, continue physical distancing, wear a mask and wash hands.
  • Get a flu shot as the inoculation will help reduce confusion over whether an illness you might get is influenza or COVID-19.

Contact: pcannon@usc.edu


Make a plan to help yourself, others cope this holiday season

Ashley Uyeshiro Simon is an associate professor of clinical occupational therapy at the USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy. She teaches courses on wellness, self-care and thriving at USC.

“Winter is coming and it will be challenging. Students are already lonely, mental health challenges are high, a new wave of COVID-19 and more restrictions are coming, so feelings of loss and loneliness at a time when we’re supposed to be celebrating will be incredibly hard.”

She added:

  • Develop strategies for positive action, to remind yourself you can gain control and build positive outcomes.
  • A good plan includes actions that add joy and purpose to your life: worship, family, food, nature, music, shopping, meditation, etc.
  • Build a support structure of friends, families or co-workers to cope with loneliness. Be honest when people ask, “How are you?”
  • Buck political tribalism and reach out to people who are different; the goal is not to agree, but to listen and understand.

Contact: Uyeshiro@chan.usc.edu


Top photo credit: Pixabay