SAD during the holidays

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For most people, December is a month of joy, festivities, and cozy winter days, along with two weeks of freedom from the G2020 programme to  celebrate the holidays.  However, this year this festive month is different from previous years. We are amidst a pandemic and because of that, most of us are not able to celebrate December as we normally would (with parties and drinking).

Not only that, millions of people are also experiencing loneliness because of the restrictions put up by the government. It is even expected that this coming winter will intensify the depression that some people experience during the colder months: seasonal affective disorder.


Seasonal Affective Disorder

So, what is seasonal affective disorder? Well, it’s not just a “rough patch” or the winter blues. In the Diagnostic Manual of Mental Disorders, seasonal affective disorder (or SAD) is identified as a type of depression that occurs during the autumn and winter months (although uncommon, SAD can also be experienced during the spring and summer months).
Way back in the 1980s, Dr. Norman E. Rosenthal was the first to describe this subtype of depression. He estimated that 5 percent of the population had SAD. In other words: about one in 20 people has it (which is about 390 million people worldwide!).
Besides the seasonal pattern, clinically SAD is similar to depression. Symptoms such as weight gain (due to eating more sugars and carbohydrates), feeling lethargic, excessive sleep, and irritability are common alongside a low mood, and a loss of interest in activities that normally bring pleasure. The strongest trigger of SAD is the change in the length of day from dawn to dusk. The most popular explanation as to why people develop SAD as a response to the decrease in daylight is because they are in a “jet-lagged state” during winter due to their biological clock running slower in response to the later dawn.
The most known treatment is light therapy, in which people are exposed daily to artificial light. Light boxes simulate sunlight that people normally miss during the cold and dark months in winter. It is thought that the light encourages the brain to produce more serotonin, which improves your mood, as well as reduces the production of melatonin, which makes you sleepy.


SAD during the season of COVID

Dr. Kelly Rohan, who is a professor of psychological science at the University of Vermont, was studying patients with SAD when the pandemic first hit during March and noticed an extreme change in their scores during interviews. Typically, patients experience full remission during the summer months, but this year they noticed that this was not the case. This leads her to believe that this coming winter will be especially hard for people who have SAD since the stress and anxiety caused by the pandemic will only increase the severity.


Coping strategies

Many people are affected by SAD every year and over time they have developed ways to help them cope with their seasonal affective disorder. If you are someone who identifies with the symptoms of SAD, or maybe you are feeling more gloomy than normally due to Covid, some coping strategies that might help out are:

  • Trying out a hands-on hobby, like dancing, drawing, or painting.
  • Clearing your thoughts by writing them down, which helps you process them.
  • Creating a “SAD box” with your favourite things inside.
  • Trying to get as much sunlight exposure as you can.
  • Making sure to get enough vitamin D. You can take dietary supplements or incorporate more foods with vitamin D into your meals. It is important that you start doing this already during the summer!


You are not alone

The past few months have been rough, and the coming months will be tough, but know that you are not alone. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned in this article, there are many resources online you can look at for more information. A website that contains a lot of resources is “Beat The Winter Blues”. Lastly, you can always seek medical help by contacting your general physician. You will get through this!