Seasonal Affective Disorder During COVID-19: Tips to Manage an Isolated Winter

COVID-19 stress and seasonal affective disorder may be a double whammy for some.

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For some people, winter is always a struggle. People with seasonal affective disorder experience depression symptoms during the cold months with fewer hours of sunlight. Unfortunately, seasonal affective disorder during COVID-19 has the potential to be a “double whammy” for some people.

Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is a subtype of depression that occurs during fall and winter months. (Rarely, it affects some people during the summer months.) People with SAD may see their mood and energy plummet in the winter. Additionally, they may have changes to their appetite and sleep, and they may lose interest in activities they usually enjoy. Learn more about seasonal affective disorder here.

How the Pandemic Affects Mental Health

The most important thing each person can do in the fight against COVID-19 is to stay home as much as possible. Minimizing contact with people outside your household is the most effective way to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

The downfall of this effective stay-at-home strategy is that some people are feeling isolated, lonely, or depressed. Additionally, the stress of the pandemic is causing some people to report insomnia, hopelessness, or difficulty concentrating. All of these are also symptoms of SAD. As a result, the combination of the two may be devastating.

Managing Seasonal Affective Disorder During COVID-19

If you feel like symptoms of SAD are beginning to control your daily life, you might want to give these coping tips a try:

1. Avoid “hibernating”

Social withdrawal is a common tendency among people with SAD. Unfortunately, it may make symptoms worse. Remember, social distancing doesn’t have to mean loss of connection with others. Make use of virtual communication to connect with others. (If you have “Zoom fatigue,” don’t forget that regular phone calls and handwritten letters also get the job done!)

Depending on the weather, you may also be able to bundle up and meet a friend for a socially distanced chat outdoors. Of course, being outside in the cold can sometimes make SAD symptoms worse for some people, so it depends on you and your triggers.

2. Try light therapy

Light therapy for seasonal affective disorder involves a therapeutic light box with 10,000 lux. Generally, experts recommend sitting in front of the light for around 30 minutes a day—especially in the morning. It may improve mood and reduce SAD symptoms by compensating for the lack of natural sunshine. Learn more about light therapy for SAD here.

3. Talk to a therapist

Many people have begun to see therapists during COVID-19. With so many therapists offering telemedicine visits during COVID-19, going to a therapy appointment is easier than ever (you can do it in the comfort of your own bed).

A therapist can help you talk about your feelings, even the ones you feel silly or guilty about. They may help you find validation in some of your concerns, as well as ways to deal with them. Plus, therapy is a great place to learn healthy ways to manage stress and negative feelings.

4. Find ways to move your body

Seasonal affective disorder may make you feel lethargic and sluggish. Unfortunately, inactivity may make these symptoms worse. That’s why exercise—as unappealing as it may be when symptoms are flaring—is so important. Even small amounts of exercise can improve mood and energy levels.

It’s a stressful time, but don’t leave yourself out in the cold. There are people who can help you weather the season—not to mention the pandemic.