As we creep closer to colder weather, seasonal depression (also known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD) might be on your mind. Seasonal depression occurs when you experience at least two annual, consecutive episodes of depression that follow a seasonal pattern, said Vania Manipod, DO, a psychiatrist in private practice in Southern California. (Here is the full list of SAD symptoms.) And even if you haven't experienced SAD in the past, things might be different this year.
The pandemic and its effects on society haven't shown signs of letting up, and that's put a heavy burden on our mental health. Among other things, it could contribute to more people experiencing SAD, or struggling with more severe bouts of it. As we transition into fall and winter, Dr. Manipod told POPSUGAR, "people who already experience seasonal depression may have a more difficult time, but also people who generally don't experience seasonal depression might be more vulnerable to a decline in mood." Keep reading to find out why and what you can do if you're struggling with seasonal depression.
Will the Pandemic Make Seasonal Depression Worse?
There's a good chance that the pandemic will affect your seasonal depression. Why? "One of the main contributors of seasonal depression is the change in circadian rhythm and shifts in our daily routine," Dr. Manipod explained. Our daily routines have clearly shifted over the course of the pandemic and will likely continue to do so as the seasons change. Even areas that have had some relief from the virus during the summer might experience a second wave when colder weather comes, which could lead to a resurgence of anxiety and another shutdown of businesses and "normal" life. These thrown-off routines are a big reason why we might be more vulnerable to SAD this year.
Another factor: some typical SAD treatment methods might be not be accessible. Those with SAD are often encouraged to get outside more, exercise, and stay connected with friends, Dr. Manipod explained; "Participating in these activities is more difficult as a result of the pandemic."
On top of that, our experience of the holiday season - a time many people look forward to during fall and winter - will likely look different this year. "Traditional forms of big gatherings to celebrate will be much more limited," Dr. Manipod explained. On the other hand, some people dread this part of the season for a number of reasons: lots of social interaction, time with people you might rather avoid, and other factors can cause holiday depression in their own right. "In some ways, the pandemic might alleviate depression associated with the usual social pressures," Dr. Manipod noted.
How to Combat Seasonal Depression During the Pandemic
Stay connected as much as possible. Dr. Manipod recommended keeping in touch with loved ones, no matter how that looks: virtual hangouts, meeting up with a small group of friends or family while taking necessary precautions, or planning an activity outdoors with a friend.
Exercise. Research shows that exercise can be just as effective as antidepressants for some people who are living with depression. Continue to take any medication you already use for depression, but also "try to maintain an exercise routine as much as possible," she explained. Try this at-home fitness plan if you're not sure where to start.
Prioritize sleep. "Our circadian rhythm plays a large role in the maintenance of mood," Dr. Manipod said. "Despite the temptation to stay up late or sleep in, try your best to maintain a regular sleep schedule, as variations (especially lack of sleep) contribute to irritability, increased anxiety, and depression." Here are more tips for creating a healthy sleep schedule.
Get support from a mental health professional. This is especially important if you know you struggle with seasonal changes, or if you're already having a tough time coping with pandemic-related stressors and changes to your lifestyle. Get started with this guide for finding a therapist.