Coping with Seasonal Depression During a Pandemic

3 min read

Well, folks, it’s here: winter. The days are shorter, the nights feel darker, and the holiday season has brought along with it plenty of stressors. Inclement weather, travel, family, and a long list of end-of-year obligations to name a few. If you’ve been feeling down in the dumps lately, you may be experiencing the first signs of “winter blues”, a colloquial term for the dip in mood many people report at this time of year. And, if you are feeling a more intense slump, it might be Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

What’s the Difference between SAD and the winter blues?

The winter blues are not a diagnosable medical condition, but they can have a powerful effect on well-being. Perhaps this time of year reminds you of a loved one who has passed, or a strained relationship you wish was more fulfilling. Your calendar is more than likely filled with holiday parties, bake sales, travel reservations, and other events that leave you little time to recharge. Maybe scraping ice off your windshield puts you in a bad mood every morning or trouble driving in the dark means you can’t go out at night with friends as often. All of these are perfectly normal responses to an abnormal time of year, but that doesn’t make the experience of winter blues any less unpleasant.

On the other hand, SAD is a recurring response to the change in season, in particular the change in exposure to sunlight. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, classifies it as “major depressive disorder with a seasonal pattern.” Criteria for diagnosis are similar to those for major depressive disorder–consistent decreased mood and concentration, impaired sleep and appetite, lack of motivation, increased fatigue and feelings of guilt. SAD requires a pattern of impairment during specific seasonal rotations. For most people, this period occurs during the winter.

What About The Pandemic?

The continued COVID-19 pandemic also impacts folks experiencing the winter blues or SAD. You likely weren’t expecting a second holiday season to be impacted by COVID-19, and that disappointment and frustration aren’t helping you feel any better! Travel restrictions, event cancellations, politicization, and fears about the health of you and your loved ones are just some of the effects of the pandemic that can exacerbate symptoms of seasonal distress.

How can you feel better?

If you’re experiencing the winter blues, consider setting aside some time for self-care. You can pick activities that highlight what is enjoyable about winter–warm beverages, the smell of firewood, holiday traditions. What might that look like?

  • Make a cup of hot tea, crack open a good book, and read next to a warm fire.
  • Go for a brisk walk–put on some layers and get out and move! Exercise is a great way to feel better quickly, even when it’s cold outside. Don’t waste those sunny days!
  • Try mindfulness. Think about the seasons and how each one contributes something important. What is the purpose of winter to the earth, to the plants and animals, to the traditions and stories in your culture? What might the purpose of winter be for you then? Journal about it.
  • Decorate the house. This is a great way to add some joy to your home base, especially since the pandemic means we’re spending a lot more time inside. If you live alone, use the opportunity to think about the colors and textures you love most. Purchase or make decorations that feel representative of you. If you live with other people, make it a fun group event with snacks, music, and maybe even a decoration contest!
  • Come up with your own self-care. Nobody knows what you enjoy most like you do! Look for activities that are nourishing and try to limit avoidant coping mechanisms like binging on too much TV, sweets, alcohol, and other things that might make you feel better temporarily but are best in moderation.
  • Talk it out. Therapy–especially cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT)–is great for making peace with unpleasant experiences. Just because you don’t like winter doesn’t mean you have to suffer all season long! We at Lifeologie are here to help you through it.

We Are Here To Help

If you suspect you’re experiencing SAD, symptoms will likely dissipate as the seasons change. Even so, the intensity of SAD is greater than the winter blues and can be heightened by the experience of the pandemic. The pain you’re feeling might not be something you want to “wait out.”

In addition to the tips for self-care listed above, consider consulting with a physician. There are treatments that may help, especially light therapy. If you are unsure about where or how to start feeling better, please don’t hesitate to give us a call or click here to book an appointment. We want to be part of your support team and live your best life, no matter the season!

About Anna Sutton

A poet and former educator, Anna's creative approach is rooted in genuine regard for your humanity and unique perspective. Anna's counseling style is a Person-Centered, Strengths-Based approach that utilizes interventions from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), and Expressive Arts Therapy.

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