The last eight months during the pandemic has certainly tested our resilience, and with winter approaching, the need to continue to adapt is at an all-time high. According to Yahoo Life mental health contributor, Jen Hartstein, even if you're not diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder, there's a good chance you've experienced the 'winter blues' that it often brings. “Serotonin levels tend to drop and serotonin is one of the neurotransmitters we need to help boost our mood and keep us feeling more up,” she says. “We also know that our melatonin levels change and melatonin is really impactful in how our sleep cycles work…[it] will impact our mood and our feeling sad and anxious.” With the darkness setting in earlier and earlier, our biological rhythm is thrown off, and our bodies may feel that it’s time to go to bed early in the day causing us to feel lethargic. Hartstein offer some tips for coping with feelings of despair that the cold weather may bring on while we deal with fears surrounding the pandemic. “Get outside and get that natural light as much as you can, even if it's just walking around the block,” Hartstein says. When we’re exposed to sunlight, our bodies naturally produce Vitamin D which combats the negative effects of seasonal depression. “This is a challenging time. We're still uncertain, we're still worried, and then add to it that it's going to get dark and cold and more challenging to be with the people you care about,” Hartstein says. “So validate that that's frustrating and that you're feeling overwhelmed by it, and then slow yourself down to figure out what you can do about it.”
DR JEN HARTSTEIN: We're eight months into the pandemic, and many of us continue to struggle with the stress, anxiety, and depression that comes with that. Now, we're heading into winter, where the days are shorter, the darkness is longer, where we shut down, we insulate, we isolate, and it's a perfect storm of feeling overwhelmed, feeling stressed and not always feeling like you know how to handle your emotions in the best way. Some people might be diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder as the fall and the winter come. And seasonal affective disorder is a subset of depression, and it usually occurs around the same time for everybody, so kind of fall into early winter, and then it lifts as we head into spring and summer. So we have a seasonal issue where our mood is changing, and for many of us, we might be struggling with the winter blues.
There's a chemical reason why our moods change in the winter. First, we know that serotonin levels tend to drop, and serotonin is one of the neurotransmitters we need to help boost our mood and keep us feeling more up. We also know that our melatonin levels change, and melatonin is really impactful in how our sleep cycles work. And lastly, our biological rhythm is off. When it's darker, our bodies think it's time to go to bed, so we might be more fatigued and more tired, which can impact our mood overall.
So let's talk about some tips on how to help ourselves. First, we want to figure out how to maintain connection. We've been told to maintain social distancing, stay outside, keep some space, and that's going to change for many of us who are in cold environments. So figure out how to keep that going. Can you bundle up, wear lots of layers and still go for a walk? Can you go back to that idea of Zoom cocktail hour or making sure you just have consistent phone contact with people? We don't want to lose the community we have, because we know what a protective factor that is.
Get outside and get that natural light as much as you can, even if it's just walking around the block. You can get a pretty inexpensive lightbox, and that you can use in the morning and at night for 10 or 15 minutes, and that kind of replicates the idea of natural light. You also got to be kind to yourself. Let go of some of these coping skills. You don't have to keep making the bread and doing all the workouts and engaging in all of this stuff. If you just need a break, take a break, but be careful not to get too stuck in the break that it actually adds more to your depression than helps you feel better.
And validate your feelings. This is a challenging time. We're still uncertain, we're still worried, and then add to it that it's going to get dark and cold and more challenging to be with the people you care about, so validate that that's frustrating and that you're feeling overwhelmed by it, and then slow yourself down to figure out what you can do about it.