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SAD in 2020: Navigating Seasonal Affective Disorder During a Worldwide Pandemic

Written by: Carol Ann Isbell LCSW, LMFT

Many people annually brace themselves for the return of colder temperatures, less sunlight and the possibility of seasonal depression, officially termed Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). This type of depression typically impacts roughly 5 percent of people living in the United States, but one must wonder how living during a pandemic will impact that number.  The American Psychiatric Association states that SAD may be linked to a biochemical imbalance in the brain that is caused by fewer hours of daylight and less sunlight.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) some of the common signs and symptoms of SAD are:

  • Social withdrawal

  • Decrease of energy

  • Excessive sleepiness

  • Overeating and weight gain

  • Craving carbohydrates

The various impacts of COVID-19 have been felt around the world. Whether you’ve had a positive COVID test or not, you’ve been impacted by the pandemic.  Grief and loss have been frequent visitors during the past several months as we attempt to navigate and renavigate the shifting changes brought on by the virus.  One constant has been the need to socially distance in order to minimize the risk of infection and spread. Considering social withdrawal is one of the signs of SAD, it seems those pondering the possible increase may be well within their rights to do so. 

Here’s what you can do to reduce your risk of SAD:

Find ways to creatively and safely socially connect

Sure, meeting outside for dinner or coffee was awesome while the weather permitted.  You might have to think outside the box but it’s still possible to connect without meeting face to face.  Consider these alternatives:

-Schedule a weekly virtual game night

-Make time for virtual coffee or meal with a friend

-Call, text and/or email your friends and family regularly

-Buddy up for some good old fashioned letter writing

Consider purchasing a SAD light

If the sun isn’t making itself available to you outside, consider bringing the sun inside your house. Light bars, light boxes, SAD lights, SAD bulbs, light therapy, etc.  Although there might be many options, they all aim to do the same thing: Provide the benefits of sunlight in your house.  Make sure you completely read the directions before flipping the switch, most options will tell you how close to sit and for how long to partake.   

Exercise even when you don’t feel like it

Even if you are avoiding the actual gym right now or if the weather won’t allow for outside play you can still exercise in your home without actual equipment.  Search for “body weight” exercises or free exercise videos on the internet.  The options are endless and the benefits are undeniable (#endorphins).

Eat a well-balanced diet

There is more and more evidence to support that what you eat has an impact on how you feel.  Even though these gloomy days may make you want to order a pizza, we know CARBivores typically feel heavy and lethargic after overindulging.   

Perfect your sleep routine

One of the theories as to why SAD typically strikes in the fall and winter months is because the shorter days leads to changes in our internal clocks.  Try to combat this by maintaining healthy sleep habits.  Going to bed and getting up around the same time everyday is a great way to ensure you not only get proper rest but that you’re also doing your part to help your internal clock run smoothly.   

Get your Vitamin D level checked and consider supplementation if needed

Vitamin D plays a role in how we feel both physically and mentally and many Americans are deficient year-round.  One of the ways we get this important vitamin is through sun exposure.  However, before you hit “confirm order” for that bottle of supplements it’s important to have your doctor perform a bloodwork test to determine how much is needed.  Too much vitamin D can have undesirable side effects.

Consider seeing a therapist

If you know that you’re at risk for SAD it may be beneficial to seek therapy.  This past year has been stressful in a multitude of ways.  Having a trained professional to assist you through these challenging times would likely be worth the investment.  #youareworthit

Written by: Carol Ann Isbell LCSW, LMFT

The information and resources contained on this website are for informational purposes only and are not intended to assess, diagnose, or treat any medical and/or mental health disease or condition. The use of this website does not imply nor establish any type of therapist-client relationship. Furthermore, the information obtained from this site should not be considered a substitute for a thorough medical and/or mental health evaluation by an appropriately credentialed and licensed professional.

*Mental Health Louisville did not write this content and is simply a platform for sharing others mental wellness content. Permission was granted permission by original website host and/or author to share this content on MHL platforms.

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