Mental Health

Seasonal Affective Disorder and COVID-19: How Do We Cope?

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Winter always brings a long stretch of darker, colder, and shorter days to the Midwest, leaving many Hoosiers feeling depleted, run down, or just plain melancholy. Although many people have a natural tendency toward a few days of “winter blues” during the colder months of the year, those with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) feel more severe symptoms and even depression. This year, with the added bonus of isolation and quarantine, thanks to the global pandemic, you may be wondering how to cope.

Seasonal affective disorder

SAD is generally characterized as feelings of moderate to severe depression lasting the length of the season, mainly late fall through early spring. Colder temperatures stop us from getting outside in the sunshine for our much-needed vitamin D. Add to that gloomier weather and shortened daylight hours, and our circadian rhythm, which follows light, gets messed up. Thus, many of us feel more tired or run down with the dip in serotonin. Oversleeping, overeating, weight gain, depression, loss of interest in activities, and social withdrawal are just a few of the outward signs exhibited by those with SAD.

Treatment options

Treatment for SAD may involve psychotherapy as well as medication. What each person chooses, however, will depend on the severity of symptoms. For those experiencing “winter blues” or a milder form of SAD, alternative therapies such as supplementation with vitamin D or light therapy may be used instead. Light therapy is gaining in popularity and uses light boxes to mimic sunshine. Aromatherapy is also gaining ground, as our brains are wired to react to scent in ways that can stimulate emotions such as nostalgia or joy.

If you are worried about the isolation from the pandemic causing a worsening of your winter blues or SAD this year, try some coping tips from the list below:

  • R.A.I.N. This emotional technique has been used in many successful therapy settings to help those suffering from mental illness get in touch with their feelings. It can be used by anyone, however, and may be a great practice to add to your COVID toolbox. This is also a suitable practice for children if your kids are experiencing heightened anxiety this season. Find out more by following the link above.
  • Get outside as often as possible! No matter the weather, 20 minutes outdoors every day is best.
  • Keep your relationships strong through virtual chats, phone calls, emails, or even postcards.
  • Get moving! Exercise is a great way to boost endorphins and stay healthy, both mentally and physically, during the winter months. If you’re looking for an indoor workout program, there are endless online options to choose from, including prerecorded workouts and live online classes.
  • Eat well.
  • Rearrange a room in your home or complete a home improvement project you’ve been putting off.
  • Try the practice of mindfulness, meditation, or yoga. Attending a yoga class may have been intimidating before, but now that everything is available online, it’s the perfect chance to dip your toes in the mindfulness pond. Online classes are readily available, and many sites offer a variety of levels as well as both short and long sessions.
  • Learn a new skill. It’s always fun to learn something new. Have you always wanted to play the guitar or learn how to knit? YouTube offers great tutorials on a variety of subjects, and websites like UDemy have wonderful databases of classes.

Winter blues are a milder form of SAD. While both of these conditions benefit from lifestyle changes or alternative therapies, SAD sometimes needs medication or psychotherapy treatment. If you’ve been feeling more down than usual this winter, it may be due to both the isolation from COVID as well as seasonal sadness or depression. Either way, make sure to talk to your doctor or therapist about how you’re feeling and find a treatment that works best for you.