Surmounting The Winter Blues During COVID-19 Pandemic.

Updated: Dec 7, 2020

Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible, and suddenly you’re doing the impossible.”– Francis of Assisi.

Do the shorter days, colder weather, and the winter season's general blah leave you feeling a little more melancholy or tired? If so, you are not alone. In the United States, 10 to 20% suffer from a mild form of winter blues, reporting concerns of low mood, decreased motivation, or generally feeling “blue” during the winter. This condition's exact cause is unknown. However, most theories attribute it to diminished daylight hours, disrupting our biological sleep-wake cycle (circadian rhythm), and lowering serotonin production~a neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood, energy, sleep, appetite, memory, and sexual desire.

Of course, during this year, the uncertainties and social restrictions as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic make the winter blues even more challenging, particularly for people who have a seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a form of persistent depression marked by mood changes that usually occur during the fall and winter.

While things usually return to normal in the spring, there are strategies in the mean-time that help promote well-being and keep your mood and motivation steady throughout the winter ...

Try these small lifestyle changes to lift your spirit and ward off seasonal blues.

1. Go outside: Getting sunlight, even in small doses, can help boost serotonin levels and improve your mood. Whenever possible, bundle up and take a short walk outdoors, have your coffee on your porch, or, if you’re feeling more adventurous, go for a hike. If going outside is not feasible, try to increase the amount of natural light in your home and workspace by opening blinds and sitting near windows.

  • Some people also find that Lightboxes help to combat winter blues. Lightboxes, also known as happy lights, and light therapy lamps give you additional exposure to light when there's less sun in the fall and winter months. You can purchase happy lights online with prices ranging from anywhere from $25 to $250. However, you want to be careful with what you buy as many products marketed as lightboxes that aren’t light therapy. *Please talk with your health care provider about lightbox options and recommendations, so you get one that's best suited to your needs and avoid any adverse reactions.

2. Exercise: Get as much exercise as possible. Motivating yourself to exercise in winter can be difficult when the days are short and the weather is chilly. However, exercising indoors or outdoors can boost your mood and provide a physiological and psychological pay-off by kick-starting a sluggish metabolism and bolstering body image.

  • While going to the gym may be challenging or impossible due to COVID-19 risks, you can still go walking, jogging, or running in your neighborhood following the CDC's physical distancing recommendations. You may also use free weights, resistance bands, your bodyweight to hit each muscle group for a full workout, or online videos to guide your at-home fitness program.

3. Maintain Daily Routines: Keeping up with work, school, or social obligations gives you momentum and focus on making it easier to weather the tough days.

  • If the weather or COVID-19 risks keep you homebound for a good part of the season, make a list of things you enjoy and find ways to engage in those activities: Indulge in a hobby, or start a home improvement project while sheltering in place, and If possible, involve your partner, family or friends in your new hobbies.

4. Nurture Your Social Life: Being socially active either by phone, virtually, or outdoor in socially distant settings. is an essential part of keeping up your spirits during gloomy winter days. Schedule a digital social hour to bring your friends and family together to celebrate Birthdays or participate in game night, movie screenings, book club, and other activities via video conferencing tools.

By making a few small behavioral changes, you can survive and even thrive through the winter season. Spring is right around the corner, and the sunny weather and new perspective you crave can be yours, even before spring gets here.

Feeling extra depressed during winter?If you feel more than just a little down each winter, where you feel like a completely different person to whom you are in the summer: hopeless, sad, tense, or stressed, with no interest in friends and activities or struggling with even simple day-to-day tasks, you may be suffering from seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and that you must seek professional mental healthcare to ensure that your condition is appropriately diagnosed and safely treated. Referrals to your area's mental health services are available from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) hotline: 1-800-662-HELP.

Netsanet Tegegn, LCSW, Is a Psychotherapist in Virginia Beach who provides individualized counseling services for those who wish to create long-lasting and positive changes in their lives...

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