If the dark mornings have been making it a challenge to get up in the morning, don’t worry. You’re not the only one. But there’s just been this lingering funk. You know, the one that really sucks the motivation out of you and kills your productivity? Enter: seasonal affective disorder. Chances are, you’ve probably heard of this lingering seasonal depression. But maybe it’s a bit different this year. It’s time to understand seasonal affective disorder, how quarantine can make it worse, and what you can do to combat it.
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Seasonal affective disorder (a.k.a SAD) is a real thing, friends. The Mayo Clinic defines it as “a type of depression that’s related to changes in seasons”. In this case, the dark, cold, winter days really start dragging you down.
But the symptoms can be deceiving. You’re not alone if you feel cranky and perpetually tired. Gobbling down extra carbs or oversleeping more? It could be the dreaded seasonal affective disorder.
In its mildest forms, SAD is mostly just a minor inconvenience. Although you feel less motivated to hit the gym or stick to routines, you still manage to drag your butt out of bed. But you shouldn’t underestimate the power of seasonal affective disorder. It can suck every bit of motivation out of you. Tried all the self-motivation tips in the book? SAD can feel like full-blown depression. Things and activities that you normally love to do no longer seem fun at all. Can’t get out of bed? Calling off and canceling plans can be major indicators that you’re dealing with a severe case of seasonal affective disorder.
Even though it’s less likely, seasonal affective disorder can also happen during the Spring and Summer months. Why seasonal affective disorder happens is still a bit of a mystery. One theory is that the decrease in natural light during the Fall and Winter months is one of the main causes of seasonal affective disorder. During these months, the lack of natural sunlight means the body isn’t producing as much serotonin – a.k.a. the mood regulating hormone. However, just because scientists don’t fully understand SAD yet, doesn’t mean it’s not something you should take seriously.
How Quarantine Can Make Seasonal Affective Disorder Worse
While you introverts might disagree, humans are social creatures. Yes, you read that right. Humans need socialization. From an evolutionary perspective, the odds of surviving were greatest when we grouped together. The more people you have in your social circle, the less likely you were to get eaten by a dinosaur (or other, more realistic, large predators). Quarantine has proven this point.
If there’s only one takeaway from this life of quarantine, it’s that loneliness can really take a toll on you. Even without a history of mental health concerns, quarantine is unbelievably isolating and can cause extreme loneliness and anxiety. While you’re able to spend more time outdoors during the warmer months, the dark, cold Fall and Winter months have pushed us inside, increasing our isolation. Mental health issues are on the rise thanks to quarantine, and now the dreary Winter weather is only making things worse. Seasonal affective disorder compounded with quarantine anxiety and depression is one toxic cocktail.
Combatting Seasonal Affective Disorder
Wondering if there’s a way to work through this? Because Winter comes around every year, and with it comes seasonal affective disorder. The good news is that there are a few ways that you can help combat the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder. While they might not be as ideal as escaping to a tropical island somewhere, they’ll do just the trick.
One word: phototherapy. Sounds like nonsense, right? Well it turns out that your body (and your brain) really need good, ol’ fashioned sunlight. That sweet Vitamin D. One reason that SAD can be so much worse in the Fall and Winter is because the short, cold days just don’t hit the spot like that bright, summer sunshine. Even if you have to bundle up, getting outside for just a little while to feel the bright, sunny rays. If you can’t get out, try swapping out some of your light bulbs to imitate the warmth of the sun. Instead of those bright, bluish-tinted LED lights, opt for a warmer, Edison-style bulb to help your brain relax.
Self-care is also a must to beat the SAD blues
If you’re not regularly active, incorporating a bit of physical movement into your day can help offset the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder. But half the battle against it is a mind game. Practices like yoga and meditation can help create a deeper sense of connection and mindfulness. This increased mind/body awareness can help reduce the symptoms of SAD.
If you’re still struggling on your own, that’s perfectly normal. Don’t feel anxious if you can’t get out of this rut on your own. If you need more help to break through seasonal affective disorder, you can always consult the help of a professional. There are apps like Talkspace, BetterHelp, and 7 Cups of Tea. These apps facilitate personal and confidential conversations with licensed therapists – all from the comfort of your home. With Talkspace, you even have the option to text with a therapist.
Seasonal affective disorder is no laughing matter. Combined with quarantine, it can suck the wind right out of your sails and leave you without a trace of motivation. Even if you’ve never struggled with mental health before, this year might look a little different thanks to quarantine. From self-care rituals to licensed therapy, there are options available to help combat the Winter blues.
This world needs you. If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health or contemplating self-harm or suicide, please call the National Suicide Hotline (1-800-273-TALK) or National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) Hotline (800-950-NAMI).