The coronavirus pandemic has already caused additional stress, anxiety, and depression in some cases for millions of people. With the changes that winter brings – cold weather, darker days, and holiday stress – people are also facing the challenges of seasonal affective disorder.
The combination of seasonal affective disorder and COVID threatens the mental health of many of us this year. Being aware of symptoms, there are ways to help lessen the impact and promote your wellbeing this winter.
What Is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Seasonal affective disorder, often shortened to SAD, is an annual period of depression and low energy experienced by as many as 5% of adults. Shorter days combined with the cloudy skies present in New York during the winter means we get less sunlight throughout the day. Since sunlight helps regulate the production of Vitamin D, melatonin, and serotonin in our bodies, this can cause fluctuations that lead to depression.
Seasonal depression is different from major depression because it is only experienced from late fall to early spring, with January and February usually being the hardest months. Recommendations for treatment include increasing outdoor time when possible, learning coping mechanisms in therapy, and augmenting sun exposure with special lamps that can mimic daylight.
Coping with SAD and COVID Depression
While SAD impacts many people every year, the coronavirus pandemic threatens to make this year particularly hard with depression that affects more people and may be more intense. Those that have had only minor mood shifts during the winter are more likely to experience the full range of SAD symptoms during this winter as Covid and its restrictions leads to :
- Limited Social Interaction – Daily interactions with people, from coworkers at the office to meetings with friends, can distract us from a low mood. Social distancing reduces the time many of us can spend with others.
- Less Time Outside – Stay at home orders and fewer reasons to leave the house places most of us inside for long periods of time.
- Fewer Celebrations – Covid is changing the way we celebrate the holidays. Instead of visiting family, parties, and gatherings, many people are spending the season alone or with their immediate family only.
To minimize the drop in mood, energy, and feelings of hopelessness this winter, take steps to connect with people, even through calls or video chatting by scheduling time to catch with family and friends. When the weather is warm enough, grab a coat and go for a brief walk or sit outside. While you’re at home, keep blinds and curtains open if it’s not too cold, and turn lights on otherwise. Above all, pay attention to your mood. If you notice negative changes, it’s time to reach out or make a change.