With the end of daylight saving time, daylight arrives earlier in the morning while darkness falls earlier in the day. For many people, this stretch of shortened days, extended nights and colder weather triggers a condition called seasonal affective disorder, or SAD. Combined with all the uncertainty connected to employment and the COVID-19 pandemic, SAD season could be more difficult than usual this year.
Except for its seasonal pattern, the symptoms of SAD are similar to those of clinical depression: pervasive sadness, undue fatigue, difficulty concentrating, excessive sleep, lost interest in normally enjoyed activities, and cravings for starches and sweets and its attendant weight gain.
About 6% of the US population is diagnosed with SAD, and of that, women are diagnosis four times more often than men. Younger adults have a higher risk than older adults and those with existing depression may experience more problems during the winter season. This year we are expecting even more people to experience symptoms.
The anxiety and stress provoked by the pandemic will increase the risk and severity of seasonal depression for everyone, especially with restrictions limiting what we can do to stay well, even if we normally have good coping resources.
So what are some practical things to do this winter to help seasonal depression?
- See a professional – book an appointment with a therapist or psychiatrist
- Get some sunlight – a morning or midday walk gives you the benefit of both daylight and exercise
- Finding joy in the little things around you – for example, take notice of the beautiful birds on your daily walk)
- Taking classes online – follow tutorials on youtube for free or sign up for local classes
- Online social groups – sign up for the WCGL Social Group here
- Maintain a regular sleep schedule – regulating your body rhythms helps manage SAD symptoms
- Stay connected with people – call one family member or friend every week
- Exercise regularly – any type of exercise will work!
- Structure in daily activities – establish and maintain structure by doing things in a set pattern every day
A number of therapies, medications, and behavioral modifications can be used to effectively manage SAD symptoms during the COVID-19 pandemic. Also, keep in mind that the symptoms of other mental health conditions may be nearly identical to those of SAD. Always visit a health care provider for a proper diagnosis.