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When pandemic blues and seasonal depression collide

By Zachary Newcastle | October 30, 2020 | 4 min read | Healthy Lifestyle, Coronavirus, Mental Health

Woman sits at window with her head in her hands

The fall season brings cooler temperatures and changing leaves. But the shift from summer to fall also brings an adjustment for our bodies and minds: the end of daylight savings.

For all my non-Americans, or if you live under a rock (in which case you don’t see the sun anyway), daylight savings is when clocks are set an hour ahead in warmer months and set an hour back on colder months.

The end of Daylight Savings (which happens on November 1, 2020) means that it gets darker earlier in the day. This shift can place extra stress on people who are prone to seasonal depression.

Seasonal depression is a mood disorder primarily brought on by harsher weather and limited daylight. Some common symptoms of seasonal depression are:

  • Lack of energy
  • Sleeping too much
  • Losing interest in hobbies
  • Difficulty making decisions

If you struggle with seasonal depression, these tips can help you be proactive in keeping your mental health in check.

Get outside

Try to get outside when you can. It’s way too easy to stay inside all day when you work from home, like many Americans do right now. But it is important to take some time every day to disconnect and get some fresh air.

Our body clock is based on exposure to sunlight. So if you’re sitting a dim room in front of a computer all day, your body does not know when to wake up. Getting outside early and taking advantage of the sun rising earlier is crucial in regulating wake up schedules. It may be difficult to take a brisk walk when the temperatures begin to drop, but it will be worth your while.

Invest in a Seasonal Affective Disorder lamp

With a doctor’s approval, light therapy can be extremely helpful when conditions may be too harsh to go outside. These lamps can help treat and prevent seasonal depression and can be found at many online retailers for $30 – $100.

With daily usage ranging from 20 minutes to an hour, this is an easy way to help supplement the light you would otherwise get from being outside. Experts suggest using the light first thing in the morning can help you wake up. The lamp simulates the sunlight and helps your body release serotonin, a chemical that helps regulate mood.

Reach out to others

Mental health experts have been preaching this since the quarantine first started in March, but staying connected to friends and loved ones is great way to counteract seasonal depression. The winter months can make us feel like we live in a bubble, but a call to a family member or a video chat with a group of friends can help.

By putting anxieties out in the open, you can begin to take positive steps in reclaiming your mental well-being. You shouldn’t be locked up inside all day, and neither should your worries.

Dr. Ish Bhalla, associate medical director at Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina, says it’s not uncommon to experience anxiety spikes as the seasons change.

“It’s common to have a lower mood in the winter months. We anticipate that this winter will be especially difficult since our support systems – interactions with loved ones and communities – are limited due to the pandemic,” he said. “If you are feeling overwhelmed or like your mood is affecting your ability to function day to day, please talk to your primary care provider. There are a variety of effective treatments for seasonal affective disorder, from talk therapy to medications to light therapy.”

Along with an extended quarantine, this winter could be especially challenging for some. But getting fresh air and sunlight and reaching out to others will be vital to maintaining mental heath in this trying time. Equipped with these tips and a positive outlook, we can help each other get the most out of this coming winter.

Blue Cross NC covers of variety of mental health services. Call the number on the back of your card for more details.