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How Seasonal Changes Can Impact Your Mental Health

Updated: Nov 19, 2020

Winter is coming, and with it comes colder weather and shorter days. Although many people embrace the snowy days, there’s a reason it’s called the winter blues. Each year, roughly 5% of adults in the US face seasonal affective disorder (SAD)


With COVID-19 cases rising in Colorado and many cities moving to “Safer at Home” mandates, many people wonder if this means worsened SAD symptoms. While we may not have extensive data on this subject, as this is the first COVID-19 winter, it is safe to say it is more important than ever to take extra care of your mental health this season. 


WHAT IS SEASONAL AFFECTIVE DISORDER?


Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is different from normalized feelings of sadness or unhappiness. SAD is a type of depression related to seasonal changes. While scientists haven’t entirely unearthed the cause of SAD, they believe less sunlight and shorter days are directly linked to a chemical change in the brain. Anyone is at risk of SAD, but it usually starts during adulthood and typically affects women more often than men. 

Here are some signs of SAD to look out for:

  • Feeling depressed most of the day, almost every day

  • Feeling of worthlessness, helplessness, and/or hopelessness

  • Low energy and fatigue

  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities

  • Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much

  • Overeating

  • Changes in weight, especially weight gain

  • Irritability

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Isolation and social withdrawal

  • Carb cravings


HOW CAN YOU FIGHT SAD?


It’s important to remember that symptoms of SAD may look like other mental health conditions. Always see a healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

Self-care looks different for everyone, and there are ways to keep SAD at bay during the winter season. Here are some helpful tips from Jefferson Center’s Colorado Spirit Team:


SCHEDULE TIME OUTSIDE DURING THE DAY (or try light therapy)

Although winter brings colder days, it’s extremely important to get outside. Spending time outdoors or even near a window with great light exposure can help relieve SAD symptoms. Regular vitamin D intake is believed to promote serotonin activity, so even a quick walk once a day can do wonders! Unfortunately, outdoor time isn’t always accessible to everyone. The good news is there are new forms of light therapy if increasing sunlight naturally is not possible. Light therapy can be done from your own home using a special lamp to increase vitamin D intake and light exposure. 


MAINTAIN A REGULAR SLEEPING SCHEDULE

Shorter and darker days can affect melatonin levels throughout the body. For many, this fluctuation in both melatonin and serotonin can disrupt sleep cycles, so try and maintain a regular sleeping pattern. Going to bed and waking up at scheduled times can help sustain balance throughout the winter.


MOVE YOUR BODY

Get regular exercise throughout the winter to help keep SAD at bay. Increased endorphin levels can help combat feelings of depression and sadness. Exercising looks different for everyone. Whether it’s a light jog outdoors, lifting weights in the garage, or morning yoga, try and fit in 30-minutes of exercise per day into your routine. 


TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF

Mental health and physical health often go hand in hand. Taking care of your body is imperative when fighting SAD. Eating well, getting ample sleep, and regular exercise are just some of the ways to take care of your physical health this SAD season. For those with increased carb cravings, it’s especially important to monitor your intake. Supplementing root vegetables for carbs is a great way to maintain a healthy balance. 


CREATE YOUR BUBBLE

With COVID-19 cases rising, and cities and counties retreating to stricter mandates, it’s necessary to create or reestablish your bubble for the winter season. Not only are social bubbles believed to help flatten the curve, but they are a great way to maintain safe social interactions throughout the winter. Everyone’s level of comfort is different, so always recognize and respect people’s boundaries. 


CROSS THINGS OFF OF YOUR TO-DO LIST

Still need your flu shot? Do you need to swap out the tires on your car? The pandemic combined with colder days means much more time indoors, so these next few weeks are the perfect time to get your mind, body, and home ready to hunker down. It’s best to not put off those necessary to-do list items until the last minute.


DO THINGS THAT MAKE YOU FEEL BETTER

Give yourself some grace this winter, and be kind to yourself and others. Make a movie theater in your home, take part in religious or spiritual activities, build a garden, or do whatever it may be that brings you joy.


Remember, winter won’t last forever. Daylight starts to increase after the winter solstice, so hang in there, take care of yourself, and reach out if necessary. Jefferson Center’s Colorado Spirit Team is always here for you. Offering free and confidential support, we can help you with counseling tips and strategies to cope successfully and referrals to additional mental health resources. Call us if you need to talk at 720-731-4689


If you or someone you know is in a crisis, please call 1-844-493-8255 or visit our 24/7 crisis walk-in center at 4643 Wadsworth Blvd, Wheat Ridge, CO 80033.

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