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Managing Seasonal Affective Disorder in the Midst of a Pandemic

There are two very different trains of thought that can come when thinking about winter. The first are thoughts of holidays, Christmas, Thanksgiving, New Years, time with family, eating delicious foods, participating in traditions, and making joyous and happy memories. The other, less desirable train of thought includes shortened days, less hours of sunlight and more darkness, cold weather, less opportunities to go outside or painful memories of past holidays that didn’t go the way you had hoped. Both trains of thought are equally valid, while one is more desirable than the other. It’s difficult for many individuals to think of celebrating, when seasonal affective disorder becomes more present and harder to ignore. Seasonal affective disorder is a mood disorder brought upon by the changes in climate, lack of sunlight/drop in temperatures, leading to feelings of depression. While seasonal affective disorder is something many individuals, especially those living in a city like Chicago, experience, we have yet to enter the winter months while dealing with COVID-19. This addition adds a new layer of concern to a season already difficult for so many. Before addressing the added factor of COVID-19, it’s important to understand the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder in order to determine if this applies to you and what you’re able to do to combat these symptoms.

Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder:

  • Loss of interest in pleasurable activities
  • Fatigue
  • Weight Gain
  • Craving for sweet/starchy foods
  • Oversleeping
  • Difficulty concentrating and anxiety
  • Withdrawal from social activities
  • Guilt
  • Physical aches/pains
  • Hopelessness

This year, it can be even harder to recognize and combat Seasonal Affective Disorder as many symptoms align with the effects of quarantine. Many of us can’t engage in pleasurable activities or have social activities to attend even if we wanted to, have gained weight and have increased aches/pains from being more sedentary, have difficulty concentrating and anxiety as well as hopelessness due to the state of the world. Whether you’re struggling from Seasonal Affective Disorder, COVID-19 fatigue, depression, anxiety, are feeling down overall, or a combination of all of these things, the ways to begin to make changes are relatively the same and are relatively easy! Below are some ways we can make changes to start feeling better today and prevent the impact of Seasonal Affective Disorder as we enter the winter months, while still suffering a global pandemic. 

There are changes we can make in our daily routines and environment that can lead to a reduction and prevention of potential depressive symptoms.  

  • Sit closer to windows. If your home office doesn’t have windows or access to natural light, it is necessary to take sunshine (or cloudy) breaks throughout the day. 
  • Do what you can to make your environment sunnier. Open your blinds! Maybe even open your window on a nice day. If you have a balcony or a yard, make an effort to go outside every few hours to get fresh air.
  • Spend time outdoors even if it’s cold or cloudy. While it may not seem like it, any form of outdoor/natural light is largely beneficial. 
  • Physical exercise does wonders for stress and anxiety which can largely contribute to depressive symptoms. 

In addition to the above changes one can make, there are alternative remedies that can be used to treat/manage seasonal affective disorder. These remedies are not to be used without first consulting a doctor as they could potentially interfere with other prescription medications. 

  • Melatonin: a natural hormone that helps regulate mood. The changes in season/weather can cause a change in our body’s melatonin levels.  
  • Omega-3 fatty acids: few studies have shown omega-3 fatty acids can relieve depression symptoms
  • Vitamin D: Typically, we get vitamin D naturally from what we eat and sunlight. As the amount of sunlight, we’re exposed to decreases so do our vitamin D levels. Studies have shown that vitamin D can help improve lack of motivation, changes in sleep patterns, increased irritability and sadness. 

If you’ve found yourself struggling with seasonal affective disorder and/or the impact of the pandemic, it may be useful to try online counseling in Chicago. Contact Symmetry Counseling at 312-578-9990 to set up an appointment with one of our very skilled therapists today!

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