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Some of us embrace the winter — we bundle up and walk or run under the crisp blue sky. We cook hearty soups and stews to share with family and friends. We curl up and read, cozy and warm in front of a fire.
But many of us dread these months. We hate waking up when it’s still dark, and watching dusk descend in the late afternoon. We feel down, unproductive, and unmotivated. And sometimes, these “meh” feelings are more than the winter blues. They could be symptoms of seasonal affective disorder, or SAD.
Also called major depressive disorder with seasonal pattern, SAD is a form of depression that occurs in the same season every year. It’s most common in the winter but can affect some people in the summer. It affects 10 million Americans, and up to another 66 million could have mild SAD, according to Psychology Today.
People prone to SAD tend to experience many of the same symptoms typically associated with depression, including low mood, irritability, anxiety, fatigue, lack of energy, hopelessness, and despair.
People with SAD may also:
In the United States, almost 7.5 million people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and almost 210,000 people have died, according to the World Health Organization.
COVID-19 has been wreaking havoc with our mental health through the spring, summer, and early fall, and there’s no reason to expect it to relent as we move into winter.
“As part of people’s mental health response to the pandemic, we’re seeing an increase in depression,” Vaile Wright, Ph.D., senior director of health care innovation for the American Psychological Association, told TODAY. That includes people without a previous history of depression.
The pandemic brings with it a cluster of stressors that affect people of all ages, including grief, health issues, and financial hardships. And on top of that, we have the looming election.
“We don’t usually have to experience them all at the same time,” Wright said. “The cumulative effect, particularly for those prone to depression or seasonal affective disorder, is that they can start to feel hopeless. It feels like there’s no end in sight. There’s nothing but bad news all the time. It can be hard to maintain any sort of optimism.”
Winter, especially during the pandemic, brings additional challenges that can tax our mental health.
These may include:
“We’re carrying the stress, anxiety, and anticipation of multiple things that are all coming to a head at once,” Weingarden said.
Now is the time to start thinking about how to get through the season. “Everyone should be thinking about these things. Even people who tend to fare well in winter might be stressed about politics or finances,” Weingarden said. People who don't normally experience winter depression could have a harder time this year.
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