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How to Cope with Seasonal Depression During COVID-19

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News Release

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought major changes to everyday life. With new social distancing measures, lockdowns, and safety protocols, many people have needed to adapt to new routines. For some people, these changes have had a range of negative impacts on their mental health. In addition to stressors from the COVID-19 pandemic, people may also face seasonal depression at this time of year. The onset of seasonal depression typically starts in the late fall and early winter, and symptoms of seasonal depression persist until early spring. In the article below, we discuss the impacts that COVID-19 and seasonal depression can have on mental health. We also detail ways that people can work to manage their seasonal depression and access professional behavioral health treatment.

Typical symptoms of COVID-19 related stress and seasonal depression

COVID-19 has not only been disruptive to daily life but also has been incredibly traumatic. With hundreds of thousands of deaths and millions of infections in the United States alone, the pandemic has changed many families' lives forever. The realities of the pandemic can cause several feelings and experiences that may be harmful to one's mental health, including:

  • Anxiety due to economic worries. Many people have lost their jobs or have had to adjust to reduced hours during the COVID-19 pandemic. People who have maintained employment worry that they could lose their jobs, too. The economic impacts of COVID-19 have left many people feeling anxious regarding how to make ends meet.
  • Fear regarding one's health and the health of loved ones. Due to the virus's widespread presence, many people face daily fear about themselves or loved ones contracting the virus.
  • Loneliness due to limited social interaction. Social distancing guidelines and lockdowns in virus hotspots result in people having little social interaction. While these precautions help limit the spread of COVID-19, they can also result in extreme feelings of loneliness.
  • Prolonged periods of uncertainty. The COVID-19 pandemic has upended many people's plans, including travel plans, wedding plans, and holiday plans. The pandemic's prolonged timeline has left many people with an ongoing sense of uncertainty, and this experience has been destabilizing to many people's mental health.

During the current winter months, many people also have to cope with symptoms of seasonal depression. In addition to persistent sadness, symptoms of seasonal depression include:

  • Changes in sleeping and eating patterns.
  • Weight gain and weight loss.
  • Increased irritability.
  • Feeling hopeless.
  • Lacking motivation.
  • Low energy.
  • Self-isolation.
  • Feeling worthless or guilty.
  • Thoughts of self-harm or suicide.
Seasonal depression can also lead to additional behavioral health problems, such as drug and alcohol abuse. People suffering from seasonal depression may start abusing substances to cope with their symptoms and sadness, and this behavior can quickly intensify. If left unchecked, substance abuse problems that result from seasonal depression can quickly lead to addiction and chemical dependence.

The combined effects of COVID-19 and seasonal depression

This year, many people will have to face the combined effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and seasonal depression. The effects of each do not occur in isolation, and they can have compounding interactions that are harmful to a person's well-being. Examples of the combined impact that COVID-19 and seasonal depression can have on a person include:
  • Pandemic lifestyle changes intensifying shifts in sleep and eating patterns. For example, when people have to adjust to their kids staying home during school closures, this change may intensify changes to sleeping and eating schedules that may already be in effect from seasonal depression. Poor sleep and eating habits can then result in people feeling more depressed.
  • Social distancing and lockdowns contributing to seasonal depression-induced self-isolation. Many people who suffer from seasonal depression self-isolate and stop socializing with friends and loved ones. This behavior often causes symptoms of depression to worsen. Social distancing and lockdowns can reinforce self-isolating behaviors.
  • Work-at-home practices can contribute to a seasonal depression-induced lack of motivation. When people suffer from seasonal depression, they often suffer from low energy levels and a lack of motivation to achieve their goals. Lively and engaging office environments can help motivate a person who suffers from seasonal depression, primarily via collaborative sessions with colleagues. Due to the pandemic, many workplaces have shifted to work-from-home arrangements. Without workplace interactions, many people suffering from seasonal depression lose out on opportunities to regain motivation.

It is often unclear how much seasonal depression or COVID-19 related stresses contribute to a person’s mental health struggle. However, seasonal depression and COVID-19 can certainly work in tandem and negatively impact a person’s mental health.

How to combat seasonal depression and access available treatment programs

People who suffer from seasonal depression must know that help is available. Seasonal depression does not have to be a part of life each year, and people can take action to improve their mental health. There are a variety of actions that a person can to manage the symptoms of seasonal depression, including:

  • Getting 30 minutes of exercise per day.
  • Maintaining a healthy diet and eating proper portion sizes.
  • Taking time to pursue hobbies and enjoy leisure activities.
  • Limiting alcohol and tobacco intake.
  • Dedicating enough hours each night for adequate sleep.

The above actions are easy to implement, and people can incorporate these actions into their daily lives without the help of a professional. To realize the positive effects of these actions, people must carry out these actions consistently. While the above actions may help some people manage their symptoms, other people may need additional help from behavioral health professionals. This year, the combined effects of COVID-19 related stress and seasonal depression symptoms may result in more people needing professional help than usual. Individuals can choose from a range of behavioral health treatment programs to access additional help from mental health professionals. At Georgetown Behavioral Health Institute, we offer several programs that our team has tailored for treating seasonal depression. Our evidence-based treatment programs include adult inpatient treatment and adult outpatient programs. We also offer specialized treatment programs for adolescents and treatment programs for children. Sometimes, people who suffer from seasonal depression also suffer from chemical dependency issues. They may start to abuse drugs, alcohol, or both to help cope with their symptoms, and they can quickly become dependent on those substances. For such cases, we offer a specialized chemical dependency program that involves 24/7 monitoring and medication administration from our clinical team.

Getting started at Georgetown Behavioral Health Institute

People who suffer from seasonal depression and stress from COVID-19 can get help from evidence-based treatment options. Getting started with treatment programs for seasonal depression at Georgetown Behavioral Health Institute is easy. The first step is to reach out to our team by contacting us online or calling us directly at (512) 819-1154. Our team can help answer any questions you may have about our programs and help schedule you or a loved one for a free mental health assessment. With the results of the free mental health assessment, a member of our team can start building a customized treatment program for the patient's unique needs.