How to Manage the Winter Blues This Year Amid Covid


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Seasonal depression is more common than you might think. It affects as much as 3% of the general population. And people with a major depressive disorder are 20% more likely to suffer from seasonal depression, while also affecting up to 25% of those with bipolar disorder. 

“For some, this coming season may be accompanied by illness in the family,” says Dr. Bruce L. Thiessen, Ph.D. “Perhaps a family member is in the ICU with COVID-19, making the season heralded as ‘the most wonderful time of the year’ a worrisome winter and replacing merriment with misery.”

If you suffer from seasonal depression, don’t despair. There are ways to successfully navigate the holiday season without falling susceptible to this syndrome. Why is depression common in the winter months? Many stressors come with the holiday and winter season that can cause serious disruption to your regular moods and activity. 

Dr. Thiessen explains, “Excessive and prolonged stress produces an overabundance of the stress hormone, cortisol, which in turn, triggers the release of excessive levels of the neurotransmitter, glutamate. This attack on the brain, triggered by stress, further depletes levels of neurotransmitters, serotonin (the happy molecule) and dopamine (considered the motivation molecule).” 

“This could crush the most resilient of Christmas spirits,” Dr. Thiessen adds.

Many people suffer from seasonal depression, known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), and many more are distraught from the relentless onslaught of COVID-19. These are a few of the common factors that influence and impact seasonal depression and SAD.

Social isolation

Even before COVID, people were lonely. A record-breaking number of nearly 20,000 people reported feeling some form of loneliness in 2018, and that was before coronavirus. With social distancing and quarantine commonplace, Americans are now, more than ever, craving the physical touch and companionship of our loved ones.

Holiday stress and anxiety

Unemployment is also up around the country, with Americans having less to spend this year. That can add stress and pressure during holiday shopping because many shoppers will find their purse stringers much tighter than they are used to. There’s also the added absence of loved ones. “With restrictions on hugs and kisses,” says Dr. Thiessen, “some may find family gatherings to be stark reminders of their own pandemic-induced touch deprivation.”

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)

Finally, there’s no ignoring seasonal affective disorder. Although possible in warmer months, SAD is more commonly attributed to fall and winter. Symptoms vary from person to person but may include any of these.

  • Frequent or daily depression
  • Little interest or feelings of agitation
  • Low energy or oversleeping
  • Insomnia and trouble sleeping
  • Weight gain or changes in appetite
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness and guilt 
  • Suicidal thoughts 

“As a psychologist, I have already noticed a marked rise in cases involving depression and anxiety,” says Dr. Thiessen. “As the daylight hours shorten, I fully expect to observe a marked increase in SAD diagnoses.” 

While serious, these feelings do not have to be permanent. You can treat and defeat SAD so that you can once again find the happiest parts of the best time of the year. 

Coping with the social stress of the holidays

It can be tempting to snuggle in bed and block the world out, but much as you try, the holidays are still coming to town. Instead, try adopting some new techniques that can infuse a little more strength, stability and warmth into those difficult days. 

Reach out

The ideal solution is to spend time in the company of a loved one. The reinforcement of good feelings and happy chemicals in the brain can transform your holiday spirit as you are enveloped with the comfort of someone you love and trust. Despite social distancing, you can still use modern technology, like FaceTime and Zoom, to connect with your favorite companions.

Create new traditions

Treat the 2020 holiday season as an opportunity to make new memories and adopt new trends. If you normally see family, let family come to you on your computer or TV screen as you relax comfortably in your quiet, clean living room. Keep an eye on the positives and treat the holidays as an opportunity to indulge in the kind of celebrations you have always wanted to have.

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