Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is sometimes called winter depression. This type of depression typically creeps in during the cold and dark winter months. Symptoms of SAD are quite similar to those associated with major depression. The effects of SAD include feeling depressed for a prolonged period of time, low energy and motivation, feelings of hopelessness and loss of interest in your favorite activities. Seasonal affective disorder may affect your eating habits, which in turn leads to changes in weight. Sleep is also affected, with some experiencing insomnia (lack of sleep) and others experiencing hypersomnia (sleeping too much).
Seasonal Affective Disorder During COVID-19
As you can imagine, the symptoms of SAD are exacerbated while living through a global pandemic. If you’ve been feeling especially depressed recently, you’re not alone. Millions of people across the world are currently coping with increased feelings of loneliness, hopelessness and fear.
The pandemic is far from over. COVID-19 can worsen the effects of SAD in a number of ways. Many of us are still unable to have the level of social interaction that we may have grown accustomed to pre-pandemic. Prolonged social isolation will lead to worsening symptoms of depression and feelings of hopelessness. Additionally, the pandemic has caused so much trauma – deaths, loss of jobs, loss of home, loss of relationships. These stressors are sure to have an impact on your mental health. All of this is coinciding with the holiday season, which can be an emotionally triggering time for many people. With all of these variables happening simultaneously,
Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder
Seasonal affective disorder shows itself in many ways. Common signs and symptoms include oversleeping and a change in your eating habits. Many people experience increased cravings for carbs or sweets. Because of this weight gain is another common side effect of SAD.
Those experiencing SAD will feel down for most of the day, on an almost daily basis. It’s common to lose interest in activities you typically and to feel sluggish or fatigued. Feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, guilt or shame may pop up during this time of year. You may have difficulty concentrating, which can impact your performance at work or in your relationships. Some people will experience suicidal ideation as a result of SAD.
Tips for coping with SAD During COVID-19
Self-Care Is a Must
During a long and dreary winter, the days tend to bleed into each other and you may find yourself neglecting self-care tasks. Be sure to keep up with your hygiene routines, stay hydrated, eat healthy foods and prioritize getting a good night’s sleep. Many people are more prone to illnesses during this time, so take extra care of your physical health.
Beyond that, you should also make time for those ‘extra’ self-care activities that just make you feel good. Whether it’s a bubble bath, time with a good book or cooking a favorite meal, you can help manage SAD by doing things that you enjoy. This is known as behavioral activation, and it’s an important element of cognitive behavioral therapy.
Move Your Body
Exercise benefits both our physical and mental health. During the winter months, it can be hard to find the motivation to get moving. But by staying active, you’re helping to reduce the effects of SAD not only by releasing endorphins, but also due to behavioral activation, which we mentioned earlier.
With the right gear, you can go walking or running outside during the colder months. Consider investing in a few pieces of winter exercise wear to encourage yourself to get moving. If you prefer to work out indoors and have access to exercise equipment, the treadmill and stationary bike are great options. If you don’t have access to equipment, there are endless apps, videos and websites that can help you to workout without having to leave your living room.
Give Light Therapy a Try
Light therapy is commonly recommended for treating seasonal affective disorder. During light therapy, you are exposed to artificial light that mimics natural outdoor light. Research shows that exposure to light release a chemical in the brain that lifts your mood and eases the effect of SAD. Light therapy lamps are relatively inexpensive and can be purchased online. Try using the lamp within the first hour of waking up in the morning.
Practice Mindfulness Daily
Mindfulness has been proven to be effective in managing the symptoms of SAD. Mindfulness meditation gives you a moment to be still and calm and to notice our thoughts in a clear and non-judgmental way. We often move through life so quickly that we rarely stop to notice our thinking patterns or negative self-talk.
Meditation isn’t the only way to practice mindfulness. You can incorporate mindfulness into your days in simple, ways. When eating a meal or drinking a cup of tea, try to do it more mindfully. On your next walk, you can be more mindful by making the effort to observe and appreciate your environment.
Don’t Be Afraid to Seek Help
If you’ve been feeling down for a prolonged period of time, don’t be afraid to reach out for help. Let your loved ones know what you’ve been experiencing. Your support system can be extremely beneficial in helping you to manage the symptoms of SAD. Having a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on go a very long way.
Are you able to get help with tasks like cooking, grocery shopping, cleaning and laundry? For many people experiencing depression, these tasks are incredibly difficult to do. Are you able to get help from a partner, friend or family member? If you have the means, consider delegating these tasks to a grocery delivery service or laundry service.
If your symptoms have been present for a prolonged period, it’s worth considering professional help. By working with a therapist, you’re taking a big step towards managing, reducing and even eliminating the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder. Cognitive behavioral therapy has been proven to be an effective method of treating SAD because it teaches you to change the way you think.
The clinicians at Flourish Psychology are trained and qualified in aa number of treatment modalities, including cognitive behavioral therapy. Contact us to schedule your first session.