I fear summer time. Every year, as the November weekend approaches, I prepare for the return of my Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a type of depression that usually occurs every fall and lasts through winter (a smaller percentage of people have SAD- Symptoms).
I am in the estimated 0.5% to 3% of the population with SAD, which, according to the National Institutes of Health, is characterized by lack of energy, loss of interest in usual activities, difficulty sleeping, and weight gain.
And this year, when the COVID-19 pandemic was still in full swing, I was more concerned than ever about my winter sanity. Now that we’ve been in a few months, I realize that I was right to be concerned.
My normal ways to deal with SAD, including coffee dates with friends and day trips to cities chosen at random on a map, have been interrupted this year due to the pandemic. To find new ways to manage SAD in winter, I reached out to Dr. Rena Ferguson, psychiatrist at TMS Hope Center on Long Island, Associate Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Stony Brook University and a member of the HealthyWomen’s Women’s Health Advisory The Council and Dr. Ani Kalayjian, psychotherapist and founder of Meaningful World, an NGO focused on treating trauma, discuss ways to treat SAD during the pandemic.
“Even people who were well before COVID have a hard time,” said Ferguson, who has seen an increase in patients with pandemic-related depression and SAD since late August.
One of the reasons is that events like Christmas parties, weddings, and other personal gatherings are off the table due to the pandemic.
Ferguson pointed out that if you aren’t sure you can get through it can be difficult to make plans. “It’s been very difficult and people get this fear, this indolence,” she said.
However, there are steps you can take to keep SAD at bay. Here are five of them:
1. Train and secure contacts
Don’t let the fading sunlight or cold temperatures stop you from getting outside.
“You can still go out in winter,” said Ferguson. “You don’t have to stay huddled.”
Clinical studies have shown that exercise can help people diagnosed with depression. Kalayjian recommends reaching out to a few friends, banding up, and taking a socially detached walk.
“This is how you get the socialization, physical exercise and ecological connection,” Kalayjian said. “It’s three goodnesses in one trip.”
She also suggests practicing yoga, which a 2018 study found may help women suffering from stress, anxiety, and depression.
2. Light therapy
Bright light therapy, which uses a light therapy box that mimics natural light, can be effective in treating SAD.
People with SAD can overproduce the sleep hormone melatonin in response to the increasing hours of darkness in winter. This can make them feel more tired and sleep more. Light therapy can help regulate a person’s circadian rhythm and improve their sleep schedule.
“You can have it turned on in the morning when you are dressed and ready to go to work or school,” Kalayjian said. “During these 20 minutes you will enjoy this extremely bright light and feel energized.”
3. Take Vitamins, Eat Better
Sunlight helps our body build vitamin D levels. In winter, when sunlight is scarce, these stores are lower. Some studies have shown a link between low vitamin D levels and depression, although researchers suggest that more evidence is needed to establish the link.
“Definitely the vitamin D,” Ferguson said, adding that this could be achieved through daily intake or by consuming foods that contain vitamin D. Salmon, sardines, egg yolks, mushrooms, and fortified milk are good sources of vitamin D.
Kalayjian also recommends increasing vitamin B12; A 2016 study linked vitamin B12 deficiency to depression.
“It’s very important to have a blood test and speak to a psychologist and nutritionist or someone who does both,” she said.
Watch Your Diet: Studies have shown that there is a plausible link between diet and mental health. In particular, a 2018 study found a link between the Mediterranean diet and lower rates of depression.
4. Advice and medication
If you can’t wake yourself out of bed and isolate yourself from loved ones (beyond what’s required for COVID-19) in the colder months, it might be time to speak to a psychologist.
“”[Often]It takes people a long time to realize that their depression has a seasonal component, “Ferguson said, adding that people may attribute this to the holidays or their children’s back to school.” It’s one thing to be blue, it’s another thing to isolate yourself. “
A therapist can help people determine when their SAD is taking effect each year and develop treatment strategies, including drugs to treat depression.
“We’ll often manipulate their drugs for the part of the year they have SAD and then we’ll decrease them or change them for the rest of the year,” Ferguson said.
Kalayjian also suggests joining a support group for people with SAD or depression.
“We suffer alone and don’t have to,” she said.
5. Set up a routine, look for positivity
Both Ferguson and Kalayjian emphasized the importance of sticking to daily routine, including sleep, exercise, hobbies, and diet.
“You have to be disciplined and take it seriously,” said Ferguson.
As rising COVID-19 numbers weigh on you, limit the amount of messages you consume each day, Kalayjian said. Take time to meditate and journal about the good things that are happening in your life.
“If you can’t think of anything positive, start with a gratitude list,” said Kalayjian. “If we continue to focus on the negative, we will create walls around us.”
National Alliance for Mental Illness
National lifeline for suicide prevention