Thehas caused a sharp increase in mental health problems across the country, with at least 40% of Americans reporting struggling with mental health in a recent CDC survey. As we approach winter, more Americans may also struggle with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) – also known as seasonal depression – a form of depression that can strike in winter as the days get shorter and colder. (SAD symptoms include lack of energy, low mood, and loss of interest or motivation.) Although SAD symptoms can come and go with the different seasons, it is a serious mood disorder that requires professional attention if it affects your life.
Even if you do not have a history of, SAD can still affect you (although it is more common for people with history). Although it is not a permanent condition – it often begins in the fall and resolves in the spring – there are several things you can do to prevent it or cope with it.
If you do not personally experience SAD, learning about it can help you support family, friends or colleagues who may experience it.
What is SAD and who risks developing it?
“Seasonal affective disorder (also known as seasonal depression) is a form of depression that tends to affect people during the winter months. Symptoms are most common November to April and can range from mild to severe,” said Malin McKinley, LCSW, a psychotherapist. specializing in anxiety and depression based in Agoura Hills, California.
Although anyone can experience SAD, seasonal depression in the United States tends to affect people more in the Pacific, Alaska, Northeast, or other places that experience shorter, darker days, and colder winter weather.
The symptoms of SAD
- Depressed mood
- Negative thoughts
- Hypersomnia (sleeping too much)
- Increased intake of carbohydrates / weight gain
- Social withdrawal / sleep mode
If you have a family history of depression, have a depression or bipolar diagnosis or are a woman, your risk of developing SAD is higher, according to the Mayo Clinic.
“Although the causes of SAD are unknown, the disorder has been linked to biochemical imbalances in the brain due to a decrease in both daylight and sunlight during the winter months,” McKinley said, referring to fewer hours of daylight and overcast skies blocking direct sunlight.
COVID-19 and seasonal depression
Due to COVID-19, higherand very general stress and insecurity in the world, says licensed psychiatric counselor Brittany Johnson that she expects depression to continue to increase in the fall and winter.
To make matters worse, many may also experience barriers to treatment, such as not being able to afford therapy due to job losses, or they may not have personal access to their typical support groups or communities that normally help them due to distancing. requirement.
Below, Johnson shares some common obstacles that people may face in getting treatment for seasonal depression and some ways to overcome them.
Lack of available therapists: “This is one of the first times in history that therapists experience exactly the same crisis as their clients. So many therapists cannot provide the same number of hours they normally work, and there is therefore less availability for people to access therapy, Johnson says.
The good news is that many insurance companies have expandedservices due to COVID-19, making it more likely that you can get coverage for one .
Lack of social activity: A common treatment for depression is to engage in social activities and socialize with friends or family. Unfortunately, it is limited for many to be able to see friends and family right nowguidelines. During the summer, it has been easy to have socially distant outdoor gatherings. But when the cold weather in autumn and winter comes, it will not be easy or even possible to socialize outside.
At the moment, it’s important to get the most out of virtual interactions and spend time with a small group – or your quarantine pod – of trusted people who all agree on best practices for security.
Job loss and lack of insurance: If you lost your job due to COVID-19, you can too, which can be a major obstacle to mental health care, especially if you are struggling financially. If you can not afford one-on-one therapy sessions, you have other options that are cheaper or even free.
“Many therapists post more on social media with tips and helpful things to do. Many of us also create YouTube pages to provide some generalized coping skills and things to do,” says Johnson. Another option to explore is group therapy, which many therapists practically facilitate. Group therapy is often cheaper than individual therapy sessions, as more people can be seen together at the same time.
How can you prevent SAD?
If you have a history of depression, bipolar disorder or suspect that you may be susceptible to it, it is good to maintain a healthy and active lifestyle. Science has found that exercise is especially useful for relieving depression.
“Changing certain behaviors that exacerbate depression or SAD will reduce the risk of developing SAD [or] Depression. For example, stay active even though you lack motivation, exercise and eat healthy even when you are not hungry. It is also important to reach out to support, says Amy Cirbus, a New York-based Talkspace therapist.
“Lifestyle changes like exercising 30 minutes a day, going out to get natural daylight [or] Sunlight, getting enough sleep, eating healthy, avoiding drugs and alcohol, reducing screen time, meditating and connecting with loved ones are all great ways to increase emotional well-being and reduce symptoms, McKinley says.
What should you do if you think you have it?
If you think you are experiencing SAD and it affects your ability to get through your day, focus on work and maintain relationships, you should see a doctor. Regular participation in talk therapy with a licensed therapist can also be very helpful. In addition to seeking professional help from a doctor, psychiatrist or other mental health professional, the following tips can also help.
Create and follow a routine
“With SAD, there is a tendency to want to stay home and isolate because the lack of sunlight can make a person less motivated to get out. This can cause other strong emotions, which only contribute to the reason for not wanting to go out and leave a person “stuck in a vicious circle. So creating a routine that ensures a person has activities during the day, support and self-care are all very important,” said Cirbus.
Find your triggers
When you experience depression, you often have common triggers that can send you to a negative place or an emotional low. Find what it is, like flipping through social media or watching the news and limiting it as much as possible. “Find out what your triggers are and be able to have a plan so you know what to do when you are triggered [is helpful], Sade Johnson.
Find a safe community with which you can do socially distant activities
Social distancing and other safety measures can make it difficult to socialize by 2020, but finding a sense of connection and community is important when you are feeling depressed. If you can, try to see friends outside in a safe environment, where you can stay six meters apart. If you can not see friends in person or do not feel comfortable with it, try to arrange regular Zoom or Facetime sessions so that you can still feel connected.
Take care of your mental and physical health
Make an effort to getExercise regularly, stay hydrated and eat healthy, balanced meals will all support your overall health and mental health. Do not be afraid to reach out to friends and family when you feel down. Emotional support, connection and a sense of community are important to help you feel good.
Try light therapy
Getting out at least 20 to 30 minutes a day is perfect. But if you do not have much sun where you live or if your schedule stays indoors a lot, a light therapy device is a relatively inexpensive solution. “Sitting for 20 to 90 minutes in front of a light box specially designed for light therapy has been shown to be effective within a few weeks. The light stimulates pathways in the brain that control sleep and help regulate mood,” said McKinley.
Light therapy is another promising procedure because increased light exposure (even if it comes from an artificial source) can help relieve or prevent symptoms, according to the Mayo Clinic. Light exposure affects the body’s ability to produce certain hormones and helps regulate the circadian rhythm – both are important for overall health, sleep and mood regulation.
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The information in this article is intended for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified healthcare provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health goal.