Medical City Healthcare - December 08, 2020

Every year, as the days shorten and skies turn gloomy, nearly half a million Americans experience symptoms of winter-related seasonal affective disorder (SAD). According to the American Psychological Association (APA), SAD is more than just the winter blues; it’s a type of depression that lasts for a season, typically during the winter months, and goes away during the rest of the year. In addition to managing seasonal depression, this year we’re also dealing with the demands of life during a pandemic — and the stress that comes with them. For those already having a hard time coping, and especially for people who suffer from SAD, the winter months may be even tougher. Here’s what to know about seasonal depression during COVID-19 and when to seek help.

The APA says you may have SAD if your winter blues are severe and you’ve experienced them for at least two winters. The symptoms of SAD, which can vary in severity and interfere with personal relationships,  are the same as those of depression:

  • Persistent sadness
  • Feelings of hopelessness or despair
  • Lack of energy
  • Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Cravings, often for carbohydrates and sweets
  • Weight gain
  • Suicidal thoughts

Doomscrolling through COVID-19

Doomscrolling, a new term that was coined during the pandemic to describe a practice that’s been going on for a long time, describes the process of surfing social media through an endless stream of negative information. Clicking link after link of depressing content can become addicting and ultimately change how you view the world. It can also cause doomscrollers to become frightened and anxious.

Watch the video for tips to avoid doomscrolling, then check out How to avoid doomscrolling during COVID-19 to learn how to activate your happiness hormones.

Tips to help manage SADness

The APA offers these tips to help manage seasonal affective disorder:

  • Let the light shine in. Gray winter days with little or no sunshine are partly responsible for SAD. Get as much daylight as you can by taking walks outside, opening curtains and blinds or investing in a light therapy lamp.
  • Practice healthy behaviors. Choose fresh, unprocessed foods when possible, aim for 30 minutes of exercise on most days and get plenty of sleep .
  • Stay connected. Keep in touch with family and friends virtually if you can’t be there in person. Consider adopting a pet. Look for community volunteer opportunities, consider joining a club or start a new hobby.

When to seek professional help for seasonal affective disorder

If you’ve tried unsuccessfully to manage depression symptoms on your own, consider reaching out to a professional for help. A psychologist can help determine if someone has seasonal affective disorder and how best to treat it. According to the APA, research shows that psychotherapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, is an effective treatment for SAD.

Some signs that you should seek professional treatment, any time of the year, include:

  • Feelings of sadness or hopelessness lasting longer than 2 weeks
  • Struggling to be around people or participating in once-loved activities
  • Changes in sleep patterns, appetite or weight
  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • Negative thoughts, including self-harm or suicide

If someone is in immediate danger of harming themselves or others, always call 911. Hospital emergency departments can also provide help for people having suicidal thoughts.

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