There might not be a more appropriate acronym to exist than S.A.D – aka, seasonal affective disorder, the specific type of depression that sets in as winter approaches, and stays with us through the cold, gloomy months.
Roughly 5 percent of the U.S. population is affected by S.A.D, and another 14 percent has a lesser form of seasonal mood changes (“winter blues”). For those of us who are already grappling with mental health struggles in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, S.A.D feels even more prominent this year.
So what is S.A.D and what makes it different from regular depression?
The symptoms are the same – low energy, sleep problems, change in appetite, loss of motivation or concentration, feelings of helplessness or worthlessness, etc. These behaviors and feelings are triggered by the change in seasons – specifically the reduced level of sunlight during winter months. This disrupts your circadian rhythm, as well as serotonin and melatonin levels, which drastically impact your sleep and mood.
If you have been struggling to get out of bed or feeling like you’ve been living on autopilot the last few months, you may be experiencing S.A.D for the first time.
That being said, if these symptoms are unlike anything you’ve experienced before, it’s possible that they’re a result of fatigue from COVID and quarantine. We’re approaching the one-year anniversary of a year when we have all been asked to withdraw, stay indoors, and avoid social gatherings, so it’s increasingly hard to differentiate between regular depression, COVID depression, and S.A.D.
Medical professionals have shared that it’s hard to say exactly how the pandemic will affect those with S.A.D this year, but it’s safe to assume there will be an impact, particularly since this is the first winter we are collectively experiencing this level of uncertainty and fear. They recommend regular exercise/movement and maintaining social connections (virtually) as the best coping mechanisms for getting through this winter.
Knew Health has written about how to cope with depression and anxiety, and we still stand by those tips to help cope with S.A.D. However, one S.A.D-specific tip not included in that list is light therapy (phototherapy), which can directly help combat the lack of sunlight that contributes to depression.
Light therapy lamps can be used to replace your daily intake of sunlight – these are small boxes that emit white fluorescent light from behind a screen that filters out ultraviolet rays. Experts recommend sitting in front of the lamp for at least 30 minutes every morning, but the actual amount of light therapy that a person needs can vary, so it’s worth spreading that out throughout the day as well.
To sum up, the Venn diagram of regular depression, COVID depression, and seasonal depression has significant overlap – regardless of where you fall on that map, Knew Health is here for you. Whether you’d like to work with one of our licensed Health Coaches to work on your emotional and mental health and wellness goals, or looking for access to excellent Behavioral Health services, Knew Health has the resources to help.
We care about our Community, and we know that the only way we will get through our current situation is together. Schedule a call with a member of our team to let us know how we can best support you.