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Jan 6, 2021

Navigating Seasonal Affective Disorder During a Pandemic

Seasonal Affective Disorder

For most, new seasons serve as a collective exhale of the old and an inhale of new opportunity. The blooming buds of spring bring forth the excitement of growth and rebirth, the first day of summer marks the start of barbecue season, beach vacations and long hours in the sun. The shift of color into autumn brings about sweater weather, pumpkin spice lattes, and finally the start of winter and daylight savings time is a time for the holidays, family, and time spent enjoying indoors activities.

However, the shortening of daylight hours and an increase in colder, bleaker weather can trigger a condition known as Seasonal Depression or Seasonal Affective Disorder. This condition, according to the DSM-5, is officially classified as Major Depressive Disorder with Seasonal Pattern. The depression tends to rise during fall and reaches its peak at winter, typically at its worst during the months of January and February.

This condition affects approximately five percent of the adult population of the United States and is not to be taken lightly. Symptoms of SAD include but are not limited to: Increased fatigue, lack of focus, varying degrees of sadness, changes in eating habits and increased sleep. The main cause of seasonal depression is a decreased photoperiod, otherwise known as a decrease in the level of light an individual is exposed to throughout the day. Although thousands suffer from this disorder every year, this year the impact of seasonal depression may be far more severe when coupled with life during a pandemic.

When coronavirus first emerged in the US early in the year, there was the entirety of spring and summer to look forward to. Warm weather and sunshine lit the days even when in isolation, yet as winter approaches and COVID-19 cases continue to surge, we must prepare ourselves for the long and difficult dredge through winter.

What does one do to combat a depression that thrives on dark days and loneliness during a pandemic where social interaction and outdoor activity is risky and limited? Most treatment options for seasonal depression like socializing, exercising, and getting outdoors have now been compromised by the global state of crisis we are currently enduring. Now more than ever, we must find ways of establishing deeper human connections and maintaining high energy levels. Mental Health practitioners recommend the following pandemic safe options:

Establish Connections with Family and Friends:

There’s nothing like the power of a good chat with a friend or family member during a trying time, even if it’s virtual. Large, indoor activities are still strongly discouraged, so get creative about nurturing and maintaining a strong support network that you can rely on to help with battling the emotional changes seasons bring. Small, outdoor gatherings are still allowed but must be executed with caution. Consider reaching out to a neighbor for a friendly, socially distanced game of ‘over the fence’ badminton or frisbee. If the weather permits, have a small gathering of family and friends for an outdoor hot cocoa and chat. If 2020 has taught us something, it’s how essential the people in our lives are to our wellbeing.

Shed Some Light on the Problem:

It’s difficult to get outside, and when we do, we’re forced to distance. However, when combating the seasonal blues, it’s important to try to take in some rays whenever the opportunity arises- even if it’s just a brief walk around the neighborhood. The chemistry that goes awry during the darker months relates to light exposure and considering so much of our time is spend indoors now, it may be worthwhile to look into a light therapy box. Natural light is always preferred to artificial light, but when the seasons change, light rays get weaker and the days get darker. An artificial lamp programmed to replicate natural light will not only brighten up your home but may also lighten your mood.

Try to Take News in Small Doses:

The state of the world as we know it is unprecedented and this has resulted in alarm and anxiety for many. When battling the effects of seasonal depression, exposure to negative news can sometimes augment feelings of hopelessness and a lack of control. Therefore, while staying updated on safety and current events is recommended, if you notice a negative effect on your mental health, try limiting exposure to news outlets. Reduce your news intake to only once per day or even just a couple of times per week to safeguard against sneaking negative feelings. Taking a social media or news break allows time for our mind to refresh and build positivity in the meantime.

Don’t Be Afraid to Seek Professional Help:

Finally, it’s important to seek help from a professional counselor or psychologist if things become too overwhelming. If the seasonal blues start to feel much bigger or worse than they have in years before, reach out to a professional. Additional treatment options may be needed to combat Seasonal Affective Disorder and a mental health professional can guide you through the process of living a healthier life during quarantine in winter.  

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