For many of us, winter means shorter days, longer nights and less time outside – and if you suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), lack of daylight can lead to lack of energy or decreased interest in your favorite activities. Some people experience insomnia, anxiety or even depression as a result of the change of seasons.
Seasonal affective disorder would be severe enough on its own, but this year we are also dealing with a global pandemic and continued civil unrest. Many of the activities that got us out of the house during the summer ̵
How can you deal with the negative thoughts, sleep disorders and low mood associated with this seasonal depression while navigating COVID's constant stress? We reached out to Meredith Prescott, a licensed clinical social worker who helps young adults and couples navigate relationships, anxiety and chronic illness. and Anjani Amladi, a board-certified psychologist who recently authored a picture book for children, When the World Got Sick, to help children and their parents talk about the difficulties COVID has brought into their lives.
So, what is seasonal affective disorder and how can you avoid it during COVID? This is how these experts suggest to ward off seasonal depression and practice self-care during what might otherwise feel like the darkest days of the year.
In this article:
Let natural light into your home
"Seasonal affective disorder is linked to light changes during the autumn and winter months, especially shorter days, which means a reduction in sunlight," said Amladi. To get the most out of the limited exposure to sunlight that many of us experience during the winter months, your first priority should be to let in as much natural light as possible into your home.
Both Amladi and Prescott recommended opening blinds and curtains in daylight. hours to avoid winter blues. If the weather is warm enough, Prescott suggests that you also open some of your windows – that way you get the benefits of both sunlight and fresh air.
What happens if the weather does not look particularly sunny? Open the blinds and pull up the window screens anyway. Our bodies respond to sunlight even on a cloudy day and getting natural light into your home is one of the best ways to increase your daily sunlight and help combat the effects of SAD symptoms.
Going Out During the Day
In addition to getting as much natural light into your home as possible, you can also maximize your exposure to sunlight and ward off SAD symptoms by going out in the daylight. Yes, the weather gets colder (and in many cases wetter) – so you want to dress properly when you go out. In addition to your mask, remember to wear cold weather equipment that can be stored. For example, if you plan to spend your outdoor time exercising, you want things that can be unpacked or removed as your body heat rises.
By the way, our experts recommend both to prioritize exercise – especially outdoor exercise in daylight, if you can go out safely. It can be difficult to balance daytime training with the demands of work, parenting and online schooling, but if you can go out and be active even for a short period of the day, the results should be worth the effort as you battle winter SAD.
"Exercise regularly even if it's only 15 minutes a day," Prescott recommends. Qualified Haven Term policyholders who have access to Haven Life Plus can use the fitness and meditation app Aaptiv to find workouts at home that can be done outdoors and / or indoors – and if you plan to exercise indoors, consider exercising in a room with a lot of natural light.
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Invest in light therapy tools
If you can not get much natural light in your home, can not go outdoors during the day and / or continue to experience the effects of SAD even after exposing yourself to daily sunlight , it may be time to consider light therapy. "Light therapy, also known as phototherapy, mimics sunlight," says Amladi, "and can be used to replace a decrease in sunlight during the fall and winter months." Prescott agrees: “Buy a light box. This light mimics sunshine and can help recover from SAD.
You are probably already familiar with the term 'SAD lamp', but you may not realize the specific requirements associated with an effective light therapy tool – or how to maximize the benefits of phototherapy. "The way lightboxes work is that light passes through eye-stimulating retinal cells in the process, connecting to the hypothalamus in the brain, which helps regulate melatonin and serotonin levels in the body which are helpful for sleep and mood," Amladi explains. "You need a light box that is 10,000 lux to be effective."
Once you have your 10,000 lux light box, sit near your box in the morning to mimic sunlight exposure. Amladi suggests that you sit two meters away from your light box and see it from an angle. "It is not necessary or recommended to stare directly at the light."
If you are taking medications that are light sensitive or have health conditions that are affected by light exposure, Amladi recommends that you consult your doctor before using a light box – and if you are planning to buy a light therapy device online, use a trusted review site such as Wirecutter or CNET for to ensure you get a high quality tool.
Taking a Vitamin D Supplement
Outdoor activity can be difficult during a COVID winter, and light therapy boxes can be expensive – but a budget- and quarantine-friendly way to combat the effects of winter-SAD is to take a daily vitamin D supplement. "Vitamin D deficiency is very common, especially in the fall and winter," explains Amladi. Because sunlight is one of our main sources of vitamin D, an over-the-counter supplement can restore some of the vitamin D that you may be missing.
"Dietary supplements are relatively inexpensive and can provide significant benefits in terms of mood and physical health," says Amladi. "As with any medication and any intervention, talk to your doctor to determine which strategies are right for you."
Get quality sleep
Want another cheap but effective tool to ward off SAD during a seasonal change? "Get high-quality sleep," says Prescott. Poor quality of sleep can affect everything from mood to energy levels and staying in a constant state of sleep deprivation can have negative effects on your immune system and your ability to deal with stress – both are crucial during a global pandemic. Increased sleep can help SAD sufferers feel more energetic and alert throughout the day.
Although increased sleep alone does not necessarily eliminate the causes of seasonal affective disorder, it may be easier to manage the effects of SAD by getting good sleep. If you have trouble settling down at night, consider a guided meditation (like the ones in Aaptiv and other apps) to help you get into the right main space for sleep – and don't forget other sleep hygiene recommendations such as "keep your bedroom cool, dark and "and" avoid screens before bedtime. "
Here's another sleeping tip: Since your body's circadian rhythm is already affected by the lack of daylight, it's extra important to stick to a regular bedtime and wake up on schedule, even on weekends." Keep a routine, "says Amladi," including waking up at a decent time. "That way, your body will know when it's time to sleep and when it's time to get up – even without the help of external signals such as sunlight. and you may even sleep better.
Stay in touch with friends and family
Another way to deal with the stresses of both COVID and SAD is to reach out to your loved ones. "It is important to stay in touch with friends and family, too if only it is possible to see them virtually ", says Amladi. "People are connected to interaction and usually do not walk well isolated." Check with the people you care about and see what happens if you give yourself enough time to talk about what's important to you – whether it's your struggles to adapt to the lack of sunlight or how your children shows resilience during these unparalleled times
While many of us do our best to keep in touch with friends and family via Skype, Zoom and FaceTime, some people are also looking for safe ways to meet loved ones in person. "Go for a walk outside," Prescott suggests, "or have dinner outside with the heater waiting for your comfort level." The CDC has guidelines for reducing the risks of outdoor meetings, including distances between chairs at least six meters apart, wearing masks when you are less than six meters away from other people and bringing your own food and drink. If you plan to meet other people outdoors, try to put in as many risk reduction strategies as possible – and remember that these strategies will reduce but not completely eliminate the possibility of transmitting COVID-19.
Apply for mental health support
Our experts offered another piece of advice for dealing with seasonal affective disorder – and that is to seek professional mental health support. "Talking to someone who is an objective party can help create coping skills, provide extra support and can also help identify negative thought patterns that can negatively affect you," explains Amladi.
Finding a therapist can feel daunting, but there are many online resources to help you get started with treatment – and there are plenty of telemedicine services that can help you plan a mental health appointment without leaving your home. . "With the expansion of telemedicine, it is possible to find a therapist online if you do not feel comfortable going to an office," says Amladi. "And you can see them in your own home." It's a way to make the process of getting mental health support less stressful – and a great way to help you get the treatment you need.
When considering your options, keep in mind that seasonal affective disorder generally does not last forever. Although the effects of SAD may feel a little harder to bear this year, remember that the days will soon be extended and that we will all have a little more opportunity to spend time in the sun. Until then, take care of yourself, keep in touch with the people you love and try to get as much light into your daily life as possible.
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