COVID-19 | January 8th, 2021
COVID-19 Intensifies the Effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder
By: Roni Graham
Loss of hope, fear of illness, massive unemployment and an uptick in economic concerns have overwhelmed the nation. The global pandemic has brought 67 million cases and over a million deaths. The world is facing the sobering outcome of COVID-19. Society is mourning the lives lost and communities have sunken into despair. All of this is amidst a recurring depression that takes place every year for some as the winter season approaches.
As the winter sets in, for many it is a time for holiday cheer and joyous moments. For others, however, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) comes to disrupt. The days get shorter and the nights get longer, contributing to a strong feeling of gloominess for a significant number of individuals. Experts have stated that there is a hormonal change due to the absence of sunlight. The brain produces less of the chemical serotonin that regulates moods. This can be a leading cause of common depressing feelings.
Symptoms of SAD can include fatigue, lack of interest in favorite activities, excessive sleep and feeling hopeless or worthless. Due to the unprecedented year 2020 has been, many people have experienced these symptoms already.
College students who have already felt the drastic effects of COVID-19 are now bracing themselves to deal with this cyclical disorder they experience every year. With the stress of school and a pandemic having an impact on them socially, seasonal depression is at an all-time high this year for teenagers and young adults.
Students not only have to deal with the usual time change, but they have to cope with the isolation of not being with their friends. Ciara Mitchell, a first-year student at Florida A&M University, feels this is by far her toughest time of the year. “School is normally the most stressful during that time so with that, it’s easy to go into a dark place.”
During COVID-19, people have been forced to connect with nature more than ever — so the abruptness of daylight savings caused a major shock to the system.
For Mitchell, the effect of the shorter days settled in right away. “Sunlight plays a major role in my mental health and just being with friends… These are the things that make me the happiest so when those are taken away from me it plays a role in me feeling down,” says Mitchell.
In a report conducted by verywellmind.com, Leela R. Magavi, MD, an adolescent and child psychiatrist has seen patients in ways she never has.
“Individuals who have suffered from SAD have tearfully shared with me that this is the worst their symptoms of SAD have ever been. Even medications, phototherapy and vitamin D supplementation have not been sufficient in targeting some individuals’ SAD symptoms this year,” says Magavi.
Although SAD impacts students, the changes that take place during this seasonal shift affect adults also. Fifteen million adults in the United States experience seasonal depression and it is expected that the coronavirus will increase this number.
Stacey Jones, a 40-year-old mother of three, feels the dullness in her moods as the cold comes.
“It’s a combination of the cold weather, alongside the short days… it gives you a sense of it feeling very dark and dreary,” says Jones.
For her, this year she and her loved ones anticipated the holidays. “The isolation along with uncertainty [was] much more pronounced and way more heightened during the time that is known for family… Holidays [didn’t] feel like the holidays, and it’s sad,” says Jones.
Get-togethers, gatherings, holiday parties with the people you love the most were all taken away. For someone who experiences seasonal depression yearly, these are all things that are treasured. This year, it is just not the same. Although these feelings won’t just go away, there are great measures to take to make this year better.
The mind-body connection, through yoga or meditation, is a healing way to cope with seasonal depression. Next, making sure to get the proper amount of sleep is also very important for your mental health in times like these.
Spending time outside or going for a run, having a healthy and nourishing diet, and doing the things that make you happy are key factors in easing the symptoms of SAD. Along with this, there are a variety of helplines and call centers that are always open and easily accessible.
As the days go by, and the sun sets sooner, it is crucial to remember this feeling — like the season — is temporary. The days will eventually become longer and the uncertainty will vanish. But for now, it is vital to keep pushing and take care of one’s self and mental health.