How the Ongoing Pandemic Could Impact Seasonal Affective Disorder
Plus, experts weigh in with tips for coping.
Seasonal affective disorder—otherwise known as SAD—is a form of seasonal depression that individuals get during late fall and winter as the days shorten and darkness falls earlier and earlier each day. Fewer hours of sunlight during winter can cause serotonin levels, which are the chemicals in your brain that regulate your mood, to drop, which can also affect one's overall well-being. According to the American Psychological Association, we also rely on sunlight to help stimulate the production of melatonin, which helps us sleep. Due to the anxiety and stress caused by the global pandemic, experts expect that more people will feel seasonal affective disorder and the symptoms could be even worse.
"Seasonal affective disorder could be worse this year given how much we've relied on the outside as this sort of respite," Vaile Wright, the APA's senior director of health care innovation, told CNN. And the tools we need to stay safe from the pandemic such as social isolation, working from home, and traveling less can make symptoms of SAD appear stronger and more frequently. And while it was both safer and easier to spend time outdoors in nature and in blue spaces during the warmer months, cold temperatures are forcing everyone to stay inside. "Some of the measures we've had to take to protect ourselves against the coronavirus aren't good for us," said Jaime Blandino, a clinical psychologist and co-founder of Thrive Center for Psychological Health.
If you experience feelings of seasonal affective disorder, consider trying a new hobby such as cooking (Blandino recommends cooking healthy, nourishing meals in advance for those times when you may not feel like cooking); take early morning or late night walks; schedule time to video chat with family and friends; listen to music; and seek natural light, even if it's as simple as drinking your morning coffee or tea by a window.
In order to be formally diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder, individuals must have episodes of major depression that coincide with a specific seasons for at least two years, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. About five percent of the total US population experience SAD and the condition is more common in women than in men.