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Seasonal Affective Disorder May Hit Harder With COVID-19

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Your emotions deepen your experience of life, and every emotion is valid. But when your feelings are overwhelming, get in the way of your everyday life or worsen from the impacts of COVID-19 — like social distancing and added stress — it’s OK to look for and accept help.

Just like a physical health concern, you need a team of experienced and compassionate people to help you manage and heal from a mood disorder, including seasonal affective disorder.

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as SAD, is a type of recurrent depression that tends to come and go as the weather changes around us. If you wake up to a cold, dreary day and that leaves you in a bad mood, don’t worry, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re experiencing SAD.

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) explains that SAD may arise from a biochemical imbalance in the brain prompted by less daylight and less sunlight, which can shift the biological internal clock, causing a disruption in your day.

Our experts agree that where you live can greatly impact your risk level of developing this condition. So, if you’re further from the equator, living in Ontario compared to Miami, you’re more likely to experience reduced levels of sunlight. Less sunlight can affect your serotonin levels, which impacts your mood. Aside from where you live, other risk factors include:

  • Age, younger adults are more likely to develop SAD
  • Family history of depression
  • Gender, females are more likely to develop SAD
  • Personal history of depression or bipolar disorder

Living in a Pandemic

Right now, we’re seeing fewer family members and friends, we’re having fewer physical interactions, families are skipping out on their winter vacation plans and overall, social distancing and safety guidelines because of COVID-19 are giving added stress to many.

Major life changes, like losing a job or needing to change career paths, as well as trauma from lack of social interactions due to coronavirus, can all play a part in us seeing more cases of SAD this year than we have in previous years.

With the added stressors most of us are living with, it may cause a mood disorder, but knowing if the mood disorder is SAD compared to depression or anxiety can be difficult. The biggest difference, however, is that SAD is predictable and happens at certain times of the year as the seasons change.

Take Care of Your Mental Health

Especially if you are someone who has previously experienced depression or another mood disorder, it’s important to make your mental health a priority as we shift to fall and winter seasons. Here are some things you can check-in on with yourself daily:

  • Did I get a good night’s sleep?
  • Have I had balanced, healthy meals?
  • Am I exercising?
  • Have I connected with loved ones, either by phone or video chat?

In addition to this checklist, take a look around your home. Is it cluttered and disorganized? How’s the lighting? Are you getting enough daylight through the windows when possible? A happy, bright, de-cluttered home can help improve your mood, especially if you are working from home and spending more time there than usual.

These measures can help prevent SAD or keep it from worsening, but if you feel you’ve reached the point where treatment is needed, it’s time to connect with a professional. Your primary care provider may suggest a vitamin D supplement, behavioral therapy or a medication, but together you can discuss what you’re comfortable with.

You may know it’s best to reach out to your physician if you’re experiencing:

  • Excessive fatigue
  • Low energy
  • Overeating/weight gain
  • Social withdrawal

Connect With Your Primary Care Physician

Our team at AdventHealth can help to treat all types of mood disorders, including seasonal affective disorder, so you can start feeling like yourself again. Together, we can find and embrace hope and develop a plan that’s right for you. Talk to your primary care physician to get started on the path towards healing.

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