Various factors, primarily those related to the COVID-19 pandemic, have taken a heavy toll on the mental health of many people over the past year.
Health experts are concerned the more common effects of the pandemic—stress, anxiety, social isolation—will make seasonal affective disorder (a form of depression typically brought on by the shorter daylight hours and gray skies of winter) worse this winter.
Oversleeping (hypersomnia), overeating, social withdrawal and decreased energy are some of the main symptoms of this depression.
But even in these challenging times, there are ways you can cope with what is also known as the “winter blues.”
If you struggle with persistent sadness, low energy or an overall worsening mood during wintertime, Drew A. Pate, M.D., chief of psychiatry at LifeBridge Health, offers these seven tips:
Let the sunshine in
Brighten your day, and your environment, by allowing as much sunlight into your home or workspace as feasible.
“Open your curtains and blinds in the morning and position yourself near windows at work if you can,” Pate says.
“Exposing yourself to natural light early in the day, even light on a cloudy day, can help improve your mood and energy level.”
Also, you can sit outside during breaks (if weather permits) to soak in more natural light.
Try to engage in activities like outdoor walking (stick to social distancing guidelines and stay at least six feet from others).
“Regular exercise and activity can be especially powerful in combating low moods and low energy,” Pate says.
Maintain a consistent schedule
Plan to go to bed and wake up at the same times daily. Also, stick to consistent, healthy mealtimes throughout your day.
“Consistent routines will help keep your mood on track and ensure your mind and body’s need for appropriate rest and nutrition is met so that you can address other potential causes of worsening mood or low energy,” Pate says.
Consider using a light therapy box
If you find that you need additional exposure to light, a light therapy box may be an option. But make sure it is approved by your medical provider and that it provides a full spectrum of natural light.
“Using a light therapy box in the morning soon after waking up can have dramatic effects on your mood and energy level throughout the day,” Pate says.
Stay connected to your loved ones
Isolation “can be a major contributor to worsening mood and energy level,” and greater social isolation and disconnection “are harmful to our overall well-being,” Pate says.
Yes, the COVID-19 pandemic, with health experts cautioning against large gatherings and encouraging social distancing, is impeding upon quality time spent with loved ones outside your household. But when in-person interaction isn’t possible, call or text your loved ones, or have video chats with them.
Find activities you enjoy
Discovering and pursuing activities that bring you some enjoyment can help you manage your daily stress. Set aside time for daily relaxation and self-care.
“These can be brief times and otherwise routine activities that you find enjoyable, but if they allow you a break from the stresses of the world, the result will be that they will benefit your overall sense of well-being,” Pate says.
Seek professional support
If following these steps and taking care of yourself do not seem to be improving your mood or energy level, some therapies and medications used for depression can be very helpful in treating seasonal affective disorder, Pate says.
“Your primary care provider can help guide you to appropriate mental health support services,” he adds.