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"As the golden colors of fall increase and days have fewer hours of sunlight, you may be one of the millions of people at risk of seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, a type of recurrent depression that comes and goes with the seasons. This year, experts are warning that in addition to the typical risk factors, the pandemic may play a part in the occurrence of SAD with the condition being more prominent due to the stresses of COVID-19.

SAD affects millions of people in the U.S. at the best of times. COVID-19 has upended normal life bringing major life changes, traumas and demanding decision overloads, along with a highly contagious, threatening illness. The long summer days have provided some relief, as sunlight and great outdoor spaces offer more exercise, stimulation and social contact in helping to boost emotional and mental wellbeing.

 

Now with shorter, darker days, restrictions on leisure and outdoor facilities, limited occasions out, working from home and less time outdoors, there’s concern that people’s mental and physical health may be even more vulnerable to SAD.

 

DR NINA’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: About Keeping SAD in Check During the Pandemic

A lack of sunlight (perceived through the eyes) affects multiple brain regions which can:

• Send the body’s biological or internal clock into a tizzy

• Affect melatonin levels, which can decrease sleep quality/quantity

 
 

• Decrease brain chemicals that affect mood, namely serotonin (a neurotransmitter that relays signals from one area of the brain to another)

• Induce symptoms of SAD such as insomnia, lethargy, poor concentration, irritability, low energy, excessive sleeping, overeating, weight gain, craving carbohydrates, depression and suicidal thoughts. (Signs/symptoms of SAD are similar to those of depression because SAD is a form of depression.)

• Impact health more than just the “winter blues.” SAD is characterized by two weeks or more of depressed mood. (Winter blues can be milder, but it has been shown to affect about three times as many people.)

 
 

Those experiencing SAD also tend to withdraw from social occasions and some have thoughts of hopelessness or worthlessness. This year, more people are experiencing social withdrawal because of physical distancing, posing an increased risk for the coming months.

Tips

 

The challenges brought on by less daylight and outside activities — along with the uncertainty of the pandemic — are real. However, you can take countermeasures:

• Actively focus on things in your control to reduce feelings of helplessness. Don’t get fixated on news — and only tune in to credible sources.

• Daylight walks, artificial lights, sitting indoors near the window and catching a few rays can elevate your mood. Healthy eating; good sleep, nightly; and maintaining virtual or distanced social connections will help stave off sadness and are a great ways to stimulate joy and maintain good health.

 

• Start planning now. Holidays could be especially challenging. Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, gift-giving and other special holiday celebrations will be vastly different because of ongoing concerns about the virus, travel restrictions and financial challenges. Start preparing and try thinking about this year as an opportunity to do new things, rather than viewing it as something else being taken away.

 

• Self-care needs to be a top priority. Take time for you to get what you need from social connection to rest and relaxation to healthy foods to mental and physical activities.

• Stay active — physical movement can increase your endorphins, the body’s “feel good” chemicals.

 

• Get outside. Dress and prepare appropriately and enjoy some time in your great outdoors.

• Reach for foods that are rich in vitamins and nutrients and fuel your brain, including “brain foods” (nuts, seeds, avocados, whole grains, olive oil, salmon, fruit and veggies).

• Stay connected. Isolation has lasting negative effects on your mental health, but today, it’s easier than ever to stay connected with people who care about you. Loneliness also takes a great toll on your physical health (as harmful to your physical health as smoking 15 cigarettes every day). Remember, you’re not alone. Everyone is feeling the worries and, too, loneliness — we’re in it together and by sticking together, we’ll make it through.

 
 

• Remember too, alcohol is a depressant, and can worsen the winter blues or SAD.

In the coming months, if you (or a loved one) is feeling more down or hopeless over an extended period of time, it may be SAD. Talk with your healthcare provider. There are prescriptive and measures and methods, such as light therapy (sitting in front of a particular type of light for about 20 to 60 minutes a day in the morning) that can make a real difference.

COVID-19 may have a significant effect on people at this time and understanding SAD can make a big difference in helping you — and those you love — in the coming months."

 

Dr. Nina Radcliff, of Galloway Township, is a physician anesthesiologist, television medical contributor and textbook author. Email questions for Dr. Nina to editor@pressofac.com with “Dr. Nina” in the subject line. This article is for general information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions and cannot substitute for the advice from your medical professional.

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Kelli I discovered this when I lived in the UK in the 1990s.

 

Fair to say it's not a thing here. Even in winter it doesn't get dark until about 6pm. I do live on the coast, and the sun sets over the ocean so that probably helps with daylight. 

 

I couldn't imagine having the dark days to look forward to every year.

 

Especially this year.

 

💚👑

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sounds like my kind of place to live

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Kelli, thanks for posting this!

I suffer from SAD and have for decades. 

I purchased a mood light, and ensure that I have it on every day once the darker days hit. 

It has made a world of difference for me and has made autumn and winter manageable. 

I am happy to say that my health plan covered the cost of it, which was a big help too!

 

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Thanks SueC because I looked into a light box last winter and wasn't sure. Can't beat a personal review. I'll be getting one for this winter.

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So glad you guys have access to lights that will help during winter.

 

Kelli I love where we live. Small but not tiny . We think we might move further south eventually as the heat really affects me these days. Living so close to the beach, shops and church with great footpath access may be difficult to replicate...

 

💚👑

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Kelli,

Thanks for the info.  I tend to get depressed when the darker months arrive.  You all give good advice.  I'm going to look into a light to help push away the darkness and dreariness.  Thanks again, James.

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My ex-husband got me a small portable 'light box' and it changed my life. I take vitamin D all year and double it in the winter . Before the stroke, I would go to a tanning bed, not to tan but to get the UV lights. Still horrible for you but it made me feel better so that's what I did. I now ordered one off of Amazon ( my new addiction) Verilux HappyLight VT20 Full-Size 10,000 Lux Bright White Light Therapy Lamp with 2 Interchangeable Lenses and 41 sq. in. Lens SizeI tried to get it smaller but there ya go

lol It stands about 12 inches or 30.48 cm. I keep it on my desk and when I get on my computer I keep  it on. I does have a timer for you like 10 mins or so but I don't follow that  🙂

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Uninitiated here...

 

What does the light box do, exactly? Does it replicate day light? I mean natural light as opposed to artificial?

 

💚👑

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Pretty much Janelle. the lights are designed to emit full daylight spectrum unlike most artificial light. The idea is you sit under them for a couple of hours a day, but like daylight you need to be careful of UV etc.

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On 10/10/2020 at 12:15 PM, GreenQueen said:

Uninitiated here...

 

What does the light box do, exactly? Does it replicate day light? I mean natural light as opposed to artificial?

 

💚👑

 

15 hours ago, heathber said:

Pretty much Janelle. the lights are designed to emit full daylight spectrum unlike most artificial light. The idea is you sit under them for a couple of hours a day, but like daylight you need to be careful of UV etc.

basically. It's like sitting out in the sun or extra bunches of vitamin D. I'm going to use it A LOT for when I wake up for work, it'll be dark and when I return back home, Dark ( BOOOOOO)

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