Seasonal Affective Disorder and a Pandemic

It’s that time of year again. The days are shorter, the weather turns gray where I live. I know this winter is going to be especially challenging as our Governor just announced we need to limit our movement and has placed restrictions on public spaces and social gatherings.  I understand that this is very necessary amidst the current pandemic we are facing. Given these responsibilities, I am concerned about the impact this will have on the mental health of our population.  So, I am revising my “Seasonal Affective Disorder” blog with some new tips to try to encourage everyone to actively work to guard their mental health this winter. I would be remiss if I did not mention that this may not be possible for everyone reading this blog. There is significant personal suffering. I am only trying to offer some help to anyone who might be looking for it.

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Symptoms of seasonal affective disorder can include feelings of being depressed, loss of interest in things, low energy and other related issues.  This can happen with the change of any seasons, but it may become more likely as there are restrictions on socializing and gathering with loved ones.

Holiday Blues

The “holiday blues” refer to fatigue, sadness, a sense of loss, and feeling down around the holidays.  For anyone who has experienced any or all of these issues, hopefully they are temporary, winding down or wearing off after a short period of time.  I’m sure there are many of you that may also find this time of year to be particularly hard if you have lost a loved one.  I can relate to this.  It’s important to first recognize how you are feeling so that you can take some steps to address it.

There may not be an effective way to prevent these things, no matter what you do.  However, it might be worth trying some of these things to lessen the symptoms and find a way to survive a pandemic winter.  

Your Gut Influences Your Mood
source: Harvard Health

  • Eat whole foods and avoid packaged or processed foods, which are high in unwanted food additives and preservatives that disrupt the healthy bacteria in the gut.
  • Drink plenty of water. Instead of juice, increase your intake of fresh fruits and vegetables. Frozen fruits without added sugars/additives work too.
  • Eat enough fiber and include whole grains and legumes in your diet.
  • Include probiotic-rich foods such as plain yogurt without added sugars.
  • To reduce sugar intake at breakfast, add cinnamon to plain yogurt with berries, or to oatmeal or chia pudding.
  • Adding fermented foods such as kefir (unsweetened), sauerkraut, or kimchi can be helpful to maintain a healthy gut.
  • Eat a balance of seafoods and lean poultry, and less red meat each week.
  • Add a range of colorful fresh fruits and vegetables to your diet, and consider choosing certain organic produce.

Lifestyle Tips

  • Keep routines as best as possible, including sleep.  This helps your body’s natural circadian rhythm, which might be out of sync due to the change of season.
  • Get outside. If you live where it’s cold, you may be avoiding the outdoors. Fresh air and sunlight can be an instant mood booster.
  • Exercise.  A little bit goes a long way to boost mood.  This might have to be indoors sometimes for safety, but when possible, get outside if you can.
  • Don’t drink alcohol or do so in moderation.  Alcohol is a depressant.
  • Check-in with a health care provider to make sure you don’t have any deficiencies or hormonal issues.  Low vitamin D, iodine, and other micronutrients can influence mood.  Lack of sunlight can also impact these things which may require some supplementation.
  • Journal. This can help you process your feelings.
  • If you have lost a loved one, talk with friends and family. They are likely feeling the same way.
  • Don’t hesitate to get counseling support to process your feelings.
  • Don’t isolate yourself.  Use the phone or technology to reach out to others.  You can mask up and go for a walk with a friend, keeping some distance.
  • Be reasonable with holiday plans and expectations.  It’s going to be different this year.
  • See if you can help others. This is known to boost mood.
  • Look ahead. Work to be hopeful. A vaccine is on the horizon and will help us move back towards our normal lives.

I feel fortunate in that my seasonal symptoms and holiday blues usually go away once the calendar flips to January 1.  However, I also know it might be more difficult this year given our circumstances. In the meantime I am going to work to do my part to avoid catching the virus. I am also making plans to actively guard against seasonal depression. I may not be able to prevent it but taking a proactive approach gives me a small sense of control in the midst of very stressful times.

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