Rainy season is here. And most of us know there’s no good in carping about it. But this year, the wet season brings days when it’s going to be hard to go out for that daily walk that many of us have come to rely on during the pandemic.
The walks that, from the start, were one of the few activities approved by Gov. Jay Inslee. The walks that provide a sense of routine and comfort during the constant uncertainty of the pandemic.
It’s just that it seems so cold and wet out there, and it’s nice and warm under the covers, right?
And it’s perfectly fine to stay inside some days and drink tea, play board games, read books and generally embrace the concept of hygge (hue-gah), a Danish word that suggests coziness and conviviality. (Seattle was rated the most hygge city in the U.S. three years ago by Sperling’s Best Places, and Portland was No. 2.)
In fact, in the coming days, staying in will be the safest option, with strong winds, rain and power outages all possible in Western Washington.
But we know, and mental health experts tell us, that staying inside for a whole long rainy season is too much. We need to get outside. We need routines.
When routines are disrupted, we are forced to stop and think about things that used to be automatic, said Dr. Salene M.W. Jones, a Puget Sound-area psychologist whose private practice is focused on people with disabilities and chronic illness.
Do I take the coat with the hood? Do I take the umbrella? Each decision we have to make can be a barrier between us and the door, she said.
“Have a coat and an umbrella at every door. Have them in the car, too,” she said. “And take the clothes off your exercise machine. Make it as easy for yourself as possible.”
While on some drizzly days, a raincoat and the right footwear mean you can still make it outside for a walk, we asked Seattle-area psychologists for recommendations on what to do when rain or winds lead to unsafe conditions and the last thing you want to do is trudge through the wet.
Maintaining daily habits and rituals is important to people, said Dr. Sheppard Salusky, a Seattle psychologist who said studies of people in captivity show they did best if they had those routines.
“Humans like predictability and control and spend all their time trying to create it,” he said. By brushing their teeth, doing Pilates or praying every day, people in captivity were able to create measures of structure, predictability and control in circumstances in which they had no other control.
Rituals and habits work by deluding us into thinking things are just fine, Salusky said. But they do work, and that’s why the loss of a seemingly small one can have big consequences.
“Losing the little things makes everything completely chaotic,” Salusky said.
When established rituals are interrupted, people experience biochemical reactions and “straight-out withdrawal,” said Dr. Wallace Wilkins, a Seattle-based psychologist.
It can be helpful to acknowledge the loss and the “void in time and space” created by it, then fill it thoughtfully and intentionally, he said.
Some of the time, however, people make things worse for themselves by “demanding that things be other than what they are. This is Seattle. It rains. Get into acceptance mode rather than going into negative judgments.”
He said he tells his clients to keep it really simple.
“If you can’t fix something, it’s not a problem; it’s a condition,” he said. “Rain is a condition. Smoke is a condition. Negative self-talk and complaining create more distress. Do what you can with what you have where you are. When you accept it without struggling, it becomes temporary.”