COVID, Winter Months, and Depression

woman in a mask drinks coffee on a background of winter mountains

As the COVID-19 pandemic enters a second winter, and with case numbers and death tolls still high, depression is bound to set in for many recovering individuals. It is important to be prepared for what the combination of COVID-19 isolation and winter months brings in terms of mental health.

Mental Health Challenges in the Winter

The onset of the first snow is often exciting. You might marvel at the beauty of nature which looks like a completely different landscape in white. However, as the winter months progress, what lies ahead may be less fun. Even without the addition of COVID-19, winters are hard for many people, especially for those who live in regions with long winter months such as in the far northern parts of the globe. The weather can significantly affect your mental health, and people who live with seasonal depression can testify to that.

Winter promises less sunlight, which decreases your body’s Vitamin D and serotonin production. These changes lead to sleepiness and sometimes worsen depressive moods. Colder weather forces people to stay inside more and detach from normal outdoor activities. This leads to people going into “hibernation mode” which also increases depression.

Seasonal affective disorder (or SAD) is estimated to affect over 10 million Americans. It is four times more common in women than in men and more likely to occur the farther north one lives. Some people may experience SAD symptoms that are severe enough for hospitalization or to trigger substance abuse.

COVID-19 Challenges in the Winter

Social isolation has become the new normal during the COVID-19 pandemic, and it has taken a toll on many people’s mental health. Spending two consecutive winters in pandemic mode is exhausting and anxiety-triggering. Many people have tried their best to self-isolate for the past year, and this winter is no different. At the same time, you may worry about cases of infection in your local community and the ongoing economic hardship.

Now all these feelings of despair and frustration collide with the annual return of seasonal depression. Being stuck in your house while struggling with childcare duties, unemployment issues, or domestic abuse add to the misery. It becomes a perfect storm of depression for many people and may cause some people to turn to drugs and alcohol to feel like they can make it through. Some describe the addiction epidemic as PTSD from the COVID-19 pandemic. It is important to intentionally de-stress and take measures against the damaging effects of prolonged isolation.

The crisis of substance use during this pandemic is unprecedented, as more people turn to drugs and alcohol to cope with stress, anxiety, and isolation. Young people have generally been hit the hardest and many have developed addictive habits. A CDC survey estimates that 63% of young people between the ages of 18 and 24 are suffering significant symptoms of anxiety or depression during the pandemic. Nearly a quarter of these respondents reported having started or increased substance use. Unfortunately, these choices do significant harm to many. Treatment centers also encounter new difficulties with their programs because public health safety measures necessitate new ways of doing things and can worsen isolation which reduces accountability for recovery.

Preparing for a Doubly Harsh Winter

There are tested treatments to alleviate the symptoms of winter depression, including Vitamin D supplements, antidepressant medications, light therapy, and counseling. Take broad-band light therapy for example. Because winter depression is the body’s reaction to a lack of natural sunlight, exposure to bright artificial light that mimics outdoor light for a while can help boost Vitamin D and serotonin production. It is recommended that you start using light therapy during the fall months if you choose that route.

Self-care is central to your preparation for winter depression. This includes monitoring your mood and energy levels, taking advantage of available sunlight by going outdoors, planning fun and relaxing activities, and seeking help sooner than later when you notice SAD symptoms. You should intentionally counteract the effects of pandemic winters by getting out of the house as often as possible and establishing a routine of outdoor interactions with family and friends.

Families and communities should also come together to support the younger demographic who are navigating choices about education, careers, and relationships. The uncertainty of the pandemic has added undue pressure to these important decisions. Teens and young adults are at a developmental stage when their brains are wired for new experiences and this need for growth and exploration has been thwarted making it especially important to support them.

Do you worry that your seasonal depression might worsen this winter with the COVID-19 pandemic still here? How can you prepare for the second winter of almost guaranteed isolation and depression? Is there hope in continuing recovery from addiction despite this sad prospect? You can of course plan ahead with more outdoor activities and safe socializing. It is also important to seek professional help when there are simply too many stressors around. At Laguna Shores Recovery, we can help you de-stress, and we will coach you in preparing for these seasonal challenges on your recovery journey. The licensed mental healthcare professionals and therapists you will work with here know how to provide you with a tailor-made treatment plan. Our residential facility offers a range of treatments, including diagnosis, behavioral therapies, and 12-step programs. You need a strong support system to pull through this pandemic winter. We have the expertise to walk alongside you. Call us at (866) 906-3203