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Beating the winter blues: How to cope with Seasonal Affective Disorder and COVID-19

WJLA – Washington D.C. logo WJLA – Washington D.C. 10/29/2020 Eileen Whelan/ABC7
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The leaves are changing, the temperatures are dropping, and the daylight is dwindling. As we prepare to fall back to Eastern Standard Time this weekend, ABC7 is On Your Side with tips to help you and your family avoid the winter blues in a year when many of us are already feeling more depressed and anxious due to the pandemic.

The lack of daylight this time of year can affect our mood and even cause Seasonal Affective Disorder. Seasonal Affective Disorder is a type of depression related to changes in season.

Dr. Syed Ahmed, of Capital Neurology and Sleep Medicine, is a neurologist and sleep specialist and says symptoms present themselves as the 'winter blues' - such as having a lack of interest, low energy, sluggishness, difficulty concentrating and poor sleep.

Dr. Ahmed says, “I think this year we’re going to have much more cases of it because risk factors for the Seasonal Affective Disorder are depression, anxiety, self-isolation, which is just going to make us have more symptoms.”

With 2 out of 3 adults reporting feeling depressed these days due to the pandemic, it's even more important you take extra care of yourself and family this time of year.

The biggest thing you can do to beat the winter blues is schedule time outside during the day. Sunshine stimulates our brains to make serotonin - the happiness hormone!

Dr. Ahmed also suggests using a light box, making sure you stay on a sleep schedule, and still aim for those eight to ten hours a night.

Nurse practitioner and wellness coach, Dr. Eileen O'Grady, says, “we’re all really hurting, baseline, without the time change, without the rhythms changing of daylight and this really is a time to take control.” She says it all starts with 90 minutes of self-care a day.

That includes getting outside of the house for fresh air and exercise, practicing yoga or meditation, taking mental health days to reset, and reaching out for professional help if needed.

Dr. O'Grady adds, “it’s easier now more than ever to get mental health to get a really skilled listener on Zoom, you don’t even have to leave your home. So this is a treatable condition if you’re really struggling and can’t get up. But it starts with a walk around the block. Noticing how you feel.”

Remember that winter won’t last forever and we will start gaining daylight in a month and a half after the winter solstice. Until then, take good care of yourself and reach out if necessary.

Caption: Nurse practitioner and wellness coach, Dr. Eileen O'Grady speaks with Meteorologist Eileen Whelan about the ways to cope with{{ }}{{ }}Seasonal Affective Disorder.{{ }}

7 Ways to Beat the Winter Blues

  • Get Vitamin D (get outside in the sunshine, light box therapy, Vitamin D supplement)
  • Ample sleep (8-10 hours)
  • Exercise / Moving Your Body
  • Yoga/Meditation/Prayer - Go within
  • Mental Health Days (a few days to reset this winter)
  • Get out in nature, out of your house
  • Psychotherapy (consider seeking the help of a trained professional - it’s easier now than ever to access help via Zoom without even leaving your house)
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