How the Pandemic is Ramping Up Seasonal Affective Disorder Symptoms

Do you find seasonal affective disorder symptoms magnified this year?

Do you find yourself down or depressed in the winter months more so than other times of the year? How about feeling little interest in things you usually enjoy? Difficulty concentrating? Changes in appetite? Loss of energy? You may be one of the five percent of adults who suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD). If you’re finding that your SAD symptoms are magnified this year, you’re not alone. In the midst of the pandemic, perhaps unsurprisingly, depression and anxiety symptoms have skyrocketed.

Even if you’ve never been formally diagnosed with SAD or depression, these symptoms can still affect daily functioning. Here are some ways to help manage and treat SAD symptoms in your day-to-day life.

Be kind to yourself!

We are still in the midst of a global pandemic. It only makes sense that your yearly symptoms are worse! The pandemic has been a lot to deal with, resulting in many changes to daily life. Remember that you’re not alone and extend compassion to yourself. The pandemic is a new experience for everyone, and learning how to navigate the unprecedented challenges has been difficult. Self-compassion is key when we’re faced with suffering in any form.

Stay active using the five-minute rule

Staying active is critical when combating depression, and this isn't limited to just physical activity—you should try to do more of the things that bring you joy and meaning. But sometimes, when we're depressed, activities we once enjoyed no longer sound appealing.

A way to counter this is to apply the “five-minute rule.” Promise to try an activity for five minutes. This activity can be anything from reading to yoga to washing the dishes to playing with your pet. Commit to the five minutes. Once five minutes have passed, you can go back to lounging knowing that you’ve accomplished something, however small. Although you'll probably find that those five minutes might encourage you to keep going and continue with your activity. Either way, this creates a positive feedback loop that will enable you to spend less time lounging and more time doing things you enjoy.

Connect with others

Humans are social creatures. Whether you identify as an introvert or an extrovert, we all need social interaction for our mental, emotional, and physical health. SAD and depression often make us withdraw from our loved ones when what we really need is increased connection. Do what you can to connect with loved ones by phone or video calls, socially distanced walks, or even writing letters.

Catch some rays

The American Psychiatric Association links SAD to a “biochemical imbalance in the brain prompted by shorter daylight hours and less sunlight in winter." One of the treatments for SAD is light therapy using a light therapy box for 20 minutes per day. Alternatively, if you’re able to get outside during the daylight hours or arrange your home or office space to be near windows with natural light, sunlight can have similar effects to the concentrated UV rays of a light therapy box. Just don't forget your SPF!

Seek treatment

If your symptoms reach a point where you feel that you may need treatment, both SAD and depression are effectively treated by talk therapy, antidepressants, or a combination of the two. Many people find themselves seeking therapy or medications for their mental health symptoms for the first time during the COVID-19 pandemic. Speak to your doctor or reach out to a mental health therapist. Many therapists are now offering therapy via video calls. Telehealth is a safe, effective way to access ongoing mental health support and is covered by most insurance companies.

Skye White, LICSW is a mental health therapist at Catalyst Counseling, a group practice in downtown Woodinville, Washington. She loves to read, craft, and draw in her spare time. Before the pandemic hit, she loved to travel and see live music, so she now listens to music at home and enjoys cuisine from all over the world from the comforts of her living room.

mental health | SAD | wellness | Coronavirus