Dealing With Seasonal Depression During A Pandemic

Seasonal depression, also known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is a form of depression that typically occurs in the winter due to the cold, lack of sunlight, and a decrease in outdoor activities. With activities already limited and an increase in depressive symptoms onset by the pandemic, it is expected that many more people will experience SAD this winter. Below are some tips from the Washington Post to help cope.


Line Up Things That Help

Joshua Gordon, director of the National Institute of Mental Health, advises: “If you know today is okay, but winter may be harder, lay the groundwork.” Gordon says this can include ensuring you have a steady supply of medication in case it becomes harder to get out, having a therapist lined up, and scheduling weekly calls with loved ones. If exercise helps, make a plan to work out safely indoors during wintertime; Mark Riechers, a 34-year-old radio producer with an affinity for cycling, says that can provide structure and normalcy.

Know Your Triggers
Be aware of what might trigger a depressive episode. Hornickel says recognizing her triggers helps her know when it’s time to seek more help; for her, that’s when she takes less care of her personal hygiene, including not brushing her teeth.

She recommends writing down in advance the warning signs of when depression may be deepening — for example, when you stop taking care of yourself or your home.

Get a Light Box or SAD Lamp
These are lamps specifically created to mimic outdoor light. Ken Duckworth, chief medical officer of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, says people with SAD should use one for a couple of hours in the morning during the winter. Wright agrees but says if you can’t get your hands on a lamp, plan your day around maximizing sunlight: running errands during daylight hours or spending 10 minutes drinking coffee by the window. Emily Pfenning, a 26-year-old in Portland, Ore., who has experienced both clinical and seasonal depression, uses one frequently, both because she lives in an area with less sunlight and because she is fearful of going outside because of a lack of mask-wearing in her area.
Figure Out Ways to Stay Connected
Wright says the instinct of some people with depressive symptoms may be to isolate, but she advises fighting against the urge, especially now, when isolating is easier to do. “Even during the darkest months, we know that human connection is really critical to managing our anxiety and depression,” she says. So, it may be time to get back to using Zoom or other remote ways to connect with people — popular at the start of the pandemic, but abandoned by some when fatigue set in

Try to broaden your support network beyond your loved ones. “Reach out to the people around you, find your online communities, just to know that you’re not alone,” Pfenning says.

Gordon says talking to someone else about your feelings can also help you gauge whether you’re just feeling off or whether there’s something more serious going on. “For people who are thinking of harming themselves, talking to someone really helps,” he says.

Take Advantage of Online Therapy
Barb Foy, a 58-year-old retired social worker and mental health activist in Northern California, sees a therapist twice a month to treat her clinical depression, but to do so safely, they speak over FaceTime. It’s one of the tools she’s using to prepare for the winter months and to stay out of what she describes as a black hole.

Telehealth, or virtual health care, is revolutionizing mental health care and making it more accessible, Carlson says. It can also make therapy a little less daunting for new patients because it can be accessed directly from home.

Preparing coping mechanisms such as this will do more than help mitigate depression; it will make people more prepared to handle new crises, Gordon says. “While the pandemic is a challenge to all of us,” he says, “it’s also an opportunity to build resilience.” 

Backline offers free support groups and for personalized individual help, consider scheduling a call with a case manager to discuss the options that Backline can provide for your mental health and wellness journey.