During a regular fall and winter season, approximately up to 10% of the US population is impacted by seasonal depression, also known as the seasonal blues, winter depression, or more officially as Seasonal Affective Disorder. This winter season will be far from regular, as our lives have been significantly impacted by COVID-19 and will continue to be into next year. The Coronavirus has already caused a significant uptick in a variety of mental health related issues including depression, anxiety, trauma, substance abuse, gambling addiction, family discord, relationship issues, suicide, and many other psychological and psychosocial issues. If you are one who falls victim of seasonal depression or who has been negatively impacted by COVID-19, be prepared as best you can for the coming fall and winter season of 2020 and 2021.
What causes seasonal depression?
Some of the primary reasons individuals become depressed in the winter season are the cold weather, less natural sunlight, less vitamin D, reduced natural production of serotonin, disruption of melatonin levels, increased isolation, less physical movement, increased alcohol consumption, weight gain, and less social and leisure activities. All of these are correlated with a lower mood. Many of these contributors have already taken hold due to COVID-19 due to less time spent outdoors (not for everyone, but also think back to March, April, May), less time socializing (and subsequent increased isolation), less physical movement, etc.
What are symptoms of seasonal depression?
Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder include feeling depressed on most days, losing interest in activities that you once found enjoyable, sleeping too much, low energy and/or constant fatigue, changes in appetite (eating too much or too little), changes in weight (weight gain or loss without intent), difficulty concentrating, a decreased interest in social activities or sex, and thoughts of suicide. If you are experiencing these symptoms please seek out a mental health professional, especially if experiencing low mood on most days and/or thoughts of hurting yourself.
Furthermore, if you find yourself coping by consuming more alcohol, turning to drugs such as opiates (Fentanyl, Oxycodone, Heroin, etc.), benzodiazepines (Xanax, Klonopin, etc.), amphetamines (Adderall, Vyvanse, etc.) or other drugs, or gambling and other potentially addictive and unhealthy coping mechanisms, please seek out help and guidance from an addiction professional such as an addiction therapist, addiction psychiatrist, addiction psychologist, sober coach or recovery coach, addiction treatment center, or other such addiction specialist.
Who is at risk for seasonal depression?
Women are more impacted than men by seasonal depression, and those living in northern latitudes are more affected than those living in the south. If you have a history of mental health issues in your family, especially depression or Seasonal Affective Disorder, you are more prone to developing seasonal depression or other mental health issues yourself.
What to do if you are experiencing symptoms of seasonal depression?
Do your best to get outside when there is natural light to help support natural production of vitamin D3. Exposure to natural light is positively correlated wight improved mood, energy, sleep and overall quality of life. Conversely, lack of natural light is correlated with low mood, irritability, and poor sleep.
In lieu of natural light, light therapy is a way to treat seasonal affective disorder through exposure to artificial light. This type of therapy involves using a high-powered light system within a confined area for a certain period of the day for approximately 20-30 minutes.
Exercise is the most effective natural mood booster. Even 10 minutes of walking or doing something simple such as 10 squats in place can make a difference. If you are not yet ready to go to the gym with COVID-19 still circulating, you can get just as good of a workout in at home with no equipment. Ideally try to get exercise outdoors which will help you kill two birds with one stone (natural light + exercise). Try running or winter sports such as skiing, snow-shoeing, or ice-skating.
Eat well, feel well. Although it may not always be that simple, nutrition plays a fundamental yet often underutilized and undervalued role in supporting our mental health. Various natural vitamins and minerals that come from whole foods such as vegetables and fruits can help stabilize and improve mood. Also, stay away from over-eating or binge eating. Many individuals gain weight during the winter season (again, compounded by COVID-19) which can exacerbate low mood and feelings of low self-esteem.
Make sleep a priority. Proper sleep-hygiene is another fundamental component of good mental health, as well as energy, performance, concentration and overall quality of life. Aim for 8 hours of sleep per day. Over-sleeping or under-sleeping are both symptoms of depression, as well as potential contributors of it.
Various vitamins, minerals, herbs and hormones are essential to stabilize our mood, and for our overall well-being. During the fall and winter seasons, certain supplements such as Vitamin D, 5-HTP, Tyrosine, Melatonin, omega-3, and St. John’s Wart, among others, can be very beneficial. Consult with your physician about what supplements may help you and find out which ones you may be deficient in through a full-spectrum blood test.
Socialization and support groups:
Although socializing or attending support groups may be challenging during the winter months and compounded by COVID-19, both can be beneficial to combat seasonal depression. Although in-person engagement is most effective, online video chats are a great tool during this time, and will be more effective than a phone call, text or email.
Don’t turn to alcohol
It is very common for individual to turn to alcohol to cope with a low mood. It is also common to consume alcohol to cope with stress and anxiety, all of which have been heightened by COVID-19. Although alcohol may help to relieve unwanted feelings in the moment, alcohol is a depressant and will subsequently leave you feeling worse in the long-term. Alcohol also contributes to poor quality of sleep, which can further exacerbate feelings of depression. If you find it challenging to reduce your alcohol consumption or completely stop your alcohol consumption, seek out help from an addiction professional such as an addiction psychiatrist, addiction therapist, sober coach or recovery coach, addiction treatment center, or other such addiction specialist.
Although we encourage individuals to first attempt natural remedies to their depression, many individuals have a neurochemical imbalance for which they require antidepressant medications to help stabilize their mood. If you’re already on antidepressant medications but experience an increase in low mood during the fall and winter seasons, consult with your prescribing psychiatrist, nurse practitioner or other medical prescriber about an increase or change in medication.
Seek out a mental health professional:
One of the most effective things you can do is seek out a mental health professional if you are feeling depressed or experiencing any other mental health issues such as anxiety, or addictions such as to alcohol, drugs, or gambling. If you are unsure of what kind of therapist to see, try to find one that specializes in the exact area you are seeking help for. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy has been found to be highly effective for many mental health disorders and addictions and can be very beneficial for seasonal depression. Your therapist may have you keep a mood log which can help you analyze what is triggering your low mood, and then create solutions to help you cope such as helping you change your thought and belief patterns.
For more information on addiction treatment, therapy and mental health, sober coaching, sober companions, addiction psychiatry, or to inquire about our private concierge therapy services and/or our teletherapy services (online therapy/virtual therapy) in New York City please contact our undisclosed therapy office location in the Upper East Side of NYC today at (929) 220-2912.