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10 Tips for Handling Seasonal Affective Disorder, COVID-19 and Post-Election Aftermath This Winter

Editor's Note

Any medical information included is based on a personal experience. For questions or concerns regarding health, please consult a doctor or medical professional.

There is a lot going on in the world, to sum it up in one sentence. Regardless of your location, age, gender, race and other identities, everyone has been impacted by the events of 2020. As winter approaches, the American Psychiatric Association estimates that 5% of adults in the United States experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD). If you do the math, this is over 16 million people! This winter season will be more challenging due to social distancing, the projected increase in coronavirus (COVID-19) cases, and the aftermath of the 2020 election cycle.

While it looks like a bleak winter, we can still have hope. What is certain is that the sun will still come out as it has done for millions of years. As the months go by, the light will incrementally increase. Similarly, in the oncoming months, the COVID-19 infection will go down. Although the sun may reach the solstice before the pandemic is over, we know that things will eventually get better. Before we get there, here are tips to help manage seasonal depression and anxiety.

1. Practice gratitude daily.

Even just writing down three things you are grateful for daily can affect your mindset. You may feel like everything in your life sucks right now, but there is always something to be thankful for if you look hard enough. Here are three of mine to start: I am thankful for the beauty of fall outside my window. I am thankful for having internet access. I am thankful to be alive and healthy today.

2.   Limit social media.

Major media sites such as Facebook have algorithms that make you see certain posts and ads regardless if you didn’t want to view them at all. That being said, sometimes social media becomes a never-ending echo chamber. Although I generally appreciate my friends posting about politics, it can be too much at times. The Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology recommends limiting yourself to 30 minutes daily. In a study from the University of Pennsylvania, they said that cutting down to 30 minutes a day created a “significant improvement in well-being.”

I personally use social media for a variety of reasons (including business), therefore my purpose dictates how much time I am logged on. Perhaps you could limit yourself to 30 minutes per platform and log into up to three platforms per day. If you want exact accountability, most smart devices can calculate your screen time.

3.   Limit news consumption.

The past 10 months have felt like a constant cycle of bad news. Whether you turn on the TV, scroll through your newsfeed or come across a YouTube commercial, the news is ever-present. Previous studies have found a correlation between news consumption and lower morale. Similar to social media, it is wise to give yourself a time limit of news consumption as well as sources. This could be anything from reading the paper for 30 minutes and watching the nightly news for another 30 minutes. Another way to prevent the news from disrupting your day is to not view it first thing in the morning or right before bed. Chances are, that news could put your day in a negative mindset or your mind won’t be able to fall asleep.

4.   Connect with friends and family.

Human connection is one of the most vital aspects of life and wellness. Even the introvert needs to connect with people. Although we might not be able to spend time in person, there is technology that keeps us together. People have been social with weekly family Zoom calls, checking-in texts and even Facebook virtual events like trivia nights.

5. Find a counselor or life coach.

I have personally found so much benefit in speaking with a counselor. Although talk therapy doesn’t benefit everyone, there are other types of therapy such as music therapy and even light therapy. Regardless if you decide to seek a counselor or not, it’s still good to have someone who will support you during the tough times and to motive you when you’re down. If you are ever in a crisis situation and need someone to talk to, the Crisis Text Line has trained counselors available 24/7.

6.   Celebrate holidays to the fullest extent.

Although the holiday season is “the most wonderful time of the year,” it’s also the darkest season when considering how short an amount of time the sun is out. Christmas is four days after the darkest day of the year, but to me, it is one of the brightest days I look forward to every year.

This being said, the next fun holiday after New Year’s is Valentine’s Day. (It might be a holiday some people don’t want to celebrate). To keep your morale up this November to March, why not celebrate holidays the whole month? Even just decorating your living space every month brings joy. There is no law that makes you take down your inside holiday lights, so why not keep them up every month?

7. Celebrate the obscure holidays.

My previous workplace used to celebrate national food celebrations a couple of times a month. Receiving a treat like a doughnut made the day fun. Keep track of what food and other holidays are coming up and get the whole office (or household) a little treat. Nationaltoday.com has a list of national days and food and beverage related holidays.

8. Get outside.

The winter months are cold, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be outside. Just going out for a 15-minute walk will boost endorphins and give you a break from the hustle and negativity life sometimes brings.

9. Exercise and eat healthy.

With gyms being closed and the weather too cold for outdoor exercise, it can be tricky to get moving. However, people have been getting clever when it comes to fitness. If you are hesitant to exercise, there are some fun Zumba (even Disney) workouts online you can do. Even doing reps with grocery bags is still exercise. Because SAD can cause depression, we want to increase neurotransmitters like endorphins and dopamine through exercise.

Likewise, you want a healthy diet to complement your physical activity. Research has shown us that healthy eating correlates with lower depression levels. Try to stay away from sugary and processed foods and stick with fruits, veggies, lean proteins and whole grains.

10. Participate in activities regularly.

Many times, in the chilly months, all we want to do is stay at home and snuggle up with Netflix. While this is perfectly fine to do, it’s important to not isolate. This is especially so for people who work at home and live alone. To prevent depression and isolation, plan out activities to do throughout the week and stick with them. This could be a weekly Zoom hangout and volunteering another day of the week.

Winter is coming, folks, and SAD likes to be a part of it too. Making a plan to stay positive in the midst of a year of pessimism is vital for everyone’s well-being. May the force of positivity be with you this season.

Photo by Daniel Frank on Unsplash

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