COVID-19 has left us feeling exhausted and isolated, giving way to depression and anxiety breaking records this year. As the holidays approach and we hit the 10-month mark of living in a global pandemic, many feel the collective dread this season will bring.
Whether you battle depression all year long or only during the winter months, there is likely a chance that COVID-19 regulations and holiday changes will impact your mood even more this season.
Depression, Anxiety and COVID-19
One of the glaring truths about COVID-19 is the fact that the pandemic has transformed our daily lives. We are now spending more time at home, both during working and free time hours, seeing fewer friends and family members, and traveling has become all but nonexistent. We carry our worries with us as we shop in our local grocery stores or when we visit our doctor’s offices for annual check-ups.
In turn, COVID-19 has left us feeling exhausted and isolated. The perfect combination for an emotional storm. Depression and anxiety are breaking records this year. Research led by Brown University suggests that depression has increased more than three times in the U.S. compared to the pre-pandemic statistics. Adults who have never experienced depression before have suddenly found themselves in uncharted territory.
Many of us found ourselves isolated from our usual positive outlets. Suddenly activities such as going to the gym, having lunch with friends or gathering with our local communities were risky, filling us with anxiety. We have also faced new stressors at home, such as remote work, homeschooling our children or maybe even getting sick ourselves.
Because of this, COVID-19 restrictions have provided an ideal environment for depression to thrive. When we are asked to stay home and isolate, it is suddenly a little easier to stop calling our friends or make plans to go out. Isolation, it turns out, is not only one of the main symptoms of depression, but it is also one of the significant indicators of a decline in mental health and suicide.
Even if you haven’t experienced depression so far this year, you may be one of the millions of Americans that suffer from “the winter blues.” This season can be difficult to get through, even during a typical year, but seasonal stressors could be more challenging this year as holiday expectations change.
What is SAD and what does it mean for my mental health?
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), better known as “the winter blues,” is generally a time during the colder season when you may feel sad or less like your usual self. SAD is an extension of depression, which means you may feel all the symptoms of depression, such as:
- Losing interest in activities you love
- Feelings of irritation or apathy
- Experiencing changes in weight
- Problems with sleeping
- Feeling fatigued
- Withdrawing from friend and family
- Feelings of hopelessness or unworthiness
Generally, SAD only lasts as long as the winter season. As the time changes and the daylight hours begin to extend, we begin to feel more like our normal selves again. But this year may put a little more pressure on our SAD feelings.
The holidays will look different, and you may be inclined to skip seeing family and friends in order to stay safe at home. These are completely valid approaches, but it will mean that you need to safeguard your mental health.
What Can You Do?
So how can we maintain both our physical and mental health this season and curb some of the impacts of COVID-19 on depression?
Talk to someone
One of the most effective tools to come out of the pandemic is access to mental health care. Many therapists and counselors now offer virtual services and apps to help people stay connected to getting the help they need.
Even if you decide not to seek out therapy, you still need to connect with friends and family regularly for support. It is essential that you don’t fall into the cycle of loneliness. You may even want to check out your local communities to find virtual gatherings that suit your needs.
Work on maintaining a healthy diet
When you are feeling depressed, food is generally the last thing you want to think about. You are either eating too much or too little and the food you choose usually lacks nutritional density. And it’s okay to reach for these food during times of stress and sadness. But it is important to remember to add foods, such as fruits and vegetables, when you can and work towards a more balanced diet.
Find a safe and enjoyable outlet
Your favorite activities most likely are already very different from last year. But as winter comes, spending time outdoors becomes a little less appealing, and bingeing Netflix for hours can get very old, very quickly. But the world is full of interesting and creative ways to relieve stress.
You may want to start painting or writing regularly. There are now creative, virtual workshops that can help facilitate this type of outlet while still meeting new people. Or maybe you decide that you are going to enjoy home yoga for the next 30 days, or perhaps you ask your best friend if you can be pen pals for a while, just to be able to give and receive written letters.
Whatever you choose, look for something that can help you stay connected with others and help bring you out of depressive cycles and anxiety.
Get some sun (or bring the sun to you)
One of the main things we as humans crave during the winter months is sunshine. Winter hours make us long for the days when we can gather again at beaches or simply sit on our porches and soak up the sun. Sunlight deficiency is also a large reason so many people struggle with their mental health during the winter.
Getting outside on clear days, even if the temperatures are chilling, can be very beneficial to both physical and mental health. If you are the type who hates the cold, there is still some hope for getting your daily dose of light.
Researchers at Loyola University Chicago found that one hour of light therapy every day and an increase of vitamin D helped relieve some of the symptoms of depression. It may be worth it to invest in a light-therapy machine this winter or a nice coat for those are willing to face the elements.
Move your body
Articles telling you should burn fat and tone your body are going to be coming up a lot in the next few months. But when you feel depressed, you lack the motivation to even get out of bed some days.
Instead, find a type of movement that you love and commit to it. It could be a 5-minute stretch in the morning, a mini walk at lunch, or maybe you just dance around the room with your kids. Whatever makes you feel alive in the moment and gets your blood pumping.
Affirm your self worth
Depression compounded with COVID-19 is hard. Especially when we can’t be close to the people we love, there may be days that you just can’t do everything you want to. And that’s okay. But there are little things that can help affirm that you are always—and have always been—worthy of love, time and attention.
It could be something as simple as getting out of bed and taking a shower, changing into fresh, clean clothes or picking up your room. These small things are all an active affirmation that you will get through this difficult time.
The pandemic may have impacted you in ways you never thought possible this year. Maybe you have found yourself in a period of depression that you have never experienced before, or perhaps you are worried about the cooling temperatures that will bring on your seasonal depression. No matter what the case is, you are not alone and you don’t have to navigate this season by yourself.
This winter, lean a little harder on your support systems, tune into your mind and body and place some safeguards down to ensure that you are moving thoughtfully through this season. And if you feel like you need a little extra help, just remember, we always have your back.