Healthy Living: Combat Seasonal Affective Disorder during the pandemic


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We are in the thick of both the holiday season and the pandemic. For many, emotions are running high, and for others, Seasonal Affective Disorder is in full force.

Dr. Jim Polo is the Behavioral Health Medical Director with Regence and he says, "Sometimes referred to as the winter blues. The symptoms are very similar to major depression which include a sad mood, lack of energy, increased sleep, and social withdrawal."

In states that see more sunshine, Dr. Polo says, on average, 1% of the population experience Seasonal Affective Disorder, or S.A.D during the fall and winter months.  In Washington, the prevalence is much higher, at 10%.  However, the reason we experience S.A.D is still a little murky,  "The exact cause of seasonal affective disorder is not known but it is suspected that it is related to the decreased number of hours of natural light and sunshine that we have during those winter months."

Dr. Polo says the holidays can make S.A.D worse. While many of us look forward to this time of year, it can also be filled with stress or other things that make you feel badly,  "For people that lack family, sometimes loneliness can affect their sense of being depressed."

Dr. Polo says the gloomy months here in Washington coupled with 'COVID fatigue' is really wreaking havoc on our mental health and it is only expected to get worse, "It’s expected that upwards of 30-60 percent of Washingtonian adults are going to experience depression this year."

Here are some things Dr. Polo says you can do to improve S. A.D:

You can use a lightbox, which is a medical-grade device that provides natural lights of 10,000 lux, which is a measure of brightness.

Something you can do that won’t cost a thing, is get outside. Dr. Polo says to get into an area with some natural light, it can be cloudy and you can still get benefits from being outside.

Also, take care of your body. Eat well, get your exercise in, and get plenty of sleep.

Next, make sure you have a balance between leisure and work. Take some time to get away from the stress.

Another thing to be mindful of is not turning to your device to "doom scroll" when you are just looking for negative information on the internet…  Instead, Dr. Polo says use your device to connect to others, engage directly with people you know and love.

Dr. Polo says if you continue to have difficulties with depression, there are some warning signs to watch for. If you are having trouble concentrating or just getting things done that are normally easy, maybe you are socially withdrawn, it is hard to be social in a pandemic, but you can still connect with others.  You may find yourself being irritable more often around other people, and finally, Dr. Polo says if you are sleeping too much or not at all, or feeling hopeless you could be experiencing depression, "If you’re thinking about hurting yourself, or harming yourself, don’t hesitate to reach out and get help, right away."

Remember, you are not alone. The amount of people experiencing these emotions and feelings of depression has been on a steady incline since this pandemic began.


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