Smoke-darkened sky causes new anxieties, latest test of Bay Area resilience

The ominous skies are adding to some people’s stress and anxiety and the darkness in daytime can even disturb sleep patterns. Experts said normalize and don’t make it worse than what it is.

Adding to the list of hardships of 2020, people in the Bay Area struggled to find the sun through Wednesday’s orange haze.

“It’s crazy,” said Faramarz Mohammadian of Oakland. “It’s scary and it’s almost like the apocalypse.”

The apocalyptic-looking sky made some people feel on edge, out of balance and unhinged.

“I thought I was in the Twilight Zone which was interesting,” said Matt Schreffler of Oakland. “This year hasn't been short on terrifying things.”

The doom-and-gloom sky is following a storm of calamities, including a pandemic, then raging wildfires, blackouts, and record-breaking heat. Everyone is asking: What else can go wrong this year? 

“It’s almost surreal and you’re in a bad dream you can't wake up from,” said Mohammadian.

“I think people are freaked out, discombobulated,” said Dr. Thomas Plane, psychology professor at Santa Clara University.

Plante said the smoky conditions can contribute to people’s anxiety, angst and depression on top of everything else and it can also disrupt sleep.

“Light serves as important function to help regulate our sleep,” said Stanford Sleep Medicine Physician Dr. Sumit Bhargava. “It wakes us up.”

Sleep experts said the dark skies can make you feel more sluggish and tired but advise sticking to a sleep schedule to stay healthy.

“This is probably the time you should be watching the clock and if I wake up at 7 a.m. I’m going to wake up at 7 a.m. even if the sun is shining or it isn’t,” said Bhargava.

Experts also said it’s important to connect and check in with others, find humor where you can and look at what you can control and what you do have.

“How do people have it worse than you can help us feel more empathetic, sympathetic and I can cope with this,” said Plante.

“I can't complain,” said Liz Justinson of Oakland. “I have my health. I have a job. I’m pretty lucky.”

It’s also important to remember through disasters comes a sense of strength and camaraderie.

“I hope so we have a lot more that’s common than different,” said Schreffler. “I really hope people recognize we are stronger together.”

Mental health experts also remind people the smoke will pass and hopefully by week’s end, there’s some relief.