Seasonal Depression Expected to Be Worse — Here’s How to Fight It

People who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) know that it can be brutal in an average year. As the days get shorter and colder, your mental health suffers. This year, with COVID-19, the problem is expected to impact more people and more severely.

SAD causes more than just a feeling of the blues. Usually, one of the best ways to treat SAD is to spend more time around people and get out with folks more. But this year we’re being told to “hunker down.” Spending more time away from people — and away from natural light — is the exact opposite of what we need to ease SAD symptoms.

There are ways to spot if you are experiencing depression or SAD. There has been an uptick in mental health problems this year. In fact, 40 percent of Americans reported that they have been struggling with their mental health since the pandemic began, according to a new survey. If the depression is only hitting you now — months into the pandemic — that may be one indicator that you are experiencing SAD and not just depression. SAD is related to the changing amount of daylight. In some places, the sun isn’t rising until well past 7 am.

If you’re changing the way you eat, having physiological symptoms like complaining of headaches, stomach aches or not having the motivation to get up in the morning,” said psychotherapist Dr. Annette Nunez while explaining what to look out for. “If you start having thought patterns of being negative, but then also it affects your behavior.”

Fewer hours of sunlight cause serotonin levels to drop in your brain. Serotonin is a “feel good” chemical that helps with mood. You also don’t produce as much sleep-regulating melatonin. These two factors contribute to the problem that can snowball into depression.

The winter can also sometimes limit outdoor activities. Fall and spring are great times to get outside for walks, picnics and gatherings. But the cold and perhaps treacherous weather can keep us inside. In a usual year, that might mean more visitors or visits to friends. This year, that might not be as much of an option.   

Some of the measures we’ve had to take to protect ourselves against the coronavirus aren’t good for us,” said Jaime Blandino, a clinical psychologist and cofounder of Thrive Center for Psychological Health. “Our modes of resilience may not be applicable anymore.”

These habits and guidelines we adopted to be safe were meant to last months. We started in March, now we’re having Halloween over video calls. While it’s nice to connect in any way possible, it wears you down. So what can we do to help get on track?

Getting outside as much as possible is step one. If it’s not possible, eat your morning meal or read your morning news by the window. Get as much daylight as you can. You can also make a wellness box before things get rough or as an exercise to feel better. Add nice candles, your favorite music, birthday cards, write a list of favorite things and get out the box when you’re feeling down. Cook favorite foods that can be frozen, like soups, so when you feel down later, you have a great, comforting meal to fall back on.

Make some plans, so you have things to look forward to. Have a special at-home date night, schedule your video call with a theme, have a small, outdoor get-together if possible. Setting a routine can also be helpful. SAD can really disrupt your sleep and life. So, make a routine and stick with it. Right now, with fewer demands on our time, it’s easy to ignore a pattern. But, make a plan and stick to it! Get up on time, do your morning activities, eat lunch, have your planned afternoon and evening and go to bed.

Finally, reach out for help. Your doctor can help you find the right therapist or talk you through any mental health concerns you have. Light therapy may be right for you. It uses a special lamp with a specific type of bulb to help mood. These tricks can help you in the short run, but nothing replaces medical advice.
October 16, 2020
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