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Covid-19 Winter Blues

Covid-19 Winter Blues
Lacy Taylor Mental Health Therapist, Southwest Health

It’s the second winter with Covid-19 still hanging around, putting a damper on the already rough Wisconsin winters.  There was a hopeful feeling in the air this past summer with most people getting vaccinated, helping to relieve any stress and anxiety-related to the virus.  But just when it felt like normal life was slowly creeping coming, a new variant popped up, then another with even higher transmission rates.

With many people feeling the typical Seasonal Affective Disorder, aka “the winter blues,” and continued pandemic stress, it is more important than ever to prioritize mental health.  One study showed Seasonal Affective Disorder, sometimes called SAD, affects 1 in 20 people in the northern half of the United States.  Symptoms of SAD include fatigue, hopelessness, and social withdrawal.  After dealing with a global pandemic for almost two years now, many people are experiencing increased anxiety symptoms such as worry, chest tightness, and trouble concentrating.  If this is you, there are a few key things to combat both SAD and pandemic-related stress.

Focus on Movement.  Getting active any way you can is great, especially if it’s something you enjoy doing!  Movement is essential for not only your physical health but also mental health.  Many go to the gym, but there are other options for those who don’t like working out in a group setting.  You can find easy ways to move, like playing more with the kids or pets, going for a walk outside or at a local shopping center, or putting on some good music and dancing.  You don’t have to dedicate your entire day to exercising either!  You only need 20-30 minutes a day to feel the benefits both physically and mentally.  Hang in there if you don’t feel different right away, it takes consistency to feel the full benefits of exercise.

Fill Your Plate.  Winter often causes a craving for carbohydrate-loaded foods.  What tastes better than comfort food on a cold, snowy night?  But it is vital to find a healthy balance in your diet.  Incorporating more fruits and vegetables into your diet is very important.  Eating fruits and vegetables doesn’t have to be a chore!  You can easily take simple steps to add nutrient-dense food to your already existing meals.  Options may include adding vegetables like bell peppers, onions, spinach, or mushrooms to your eggs at breakfast or fruit like blueberries, strawberries, or bananas to your morning oatmeal.  Add some spinach, avocado, or sprouts to a sandwich for lunch.  Have veggie sticks like celery, carrots, or cucumbers handy as an alternative to chips.  Add a handful of frozen veggies like peas, green beans, corn, or broccoli to your dinner when preparing it for a quick nutrient boost.

Soak Up the Sun.  Getting natural light or using light therapy can also improve mood and energy.  It is best to get as much natural light as possible, so open those curtains and blinds during the day if you have access to a window.  If you work or live in a darker area, the use of light therapy during the winter can provide some added support.  There are a few recommendations by the Mayo Clinic to look into before using light therapy, largely recommending its best to be under the care of a health professional when using light therapy.  Talk with your doctor before starting treatment, especially if you have lupus, have certain eye conditions, or are on medication that makes you sensitive to light.

Stay Social.  Having quality social time when feeling down or stressed is crucial, even though you may not want to be around others.  Be sure to spend time with friends and family per local health guidelines.  Your brain produces endorphins when socializing with people you enjoy spending time with, and this hormone helps make you feel happier.  You may choose to talk on the phone or video chat if they live a distance away or you need to isolate.

Try out the tips above if you have pandemic or SAD-related stress and anxiety for a few weeks.  If you are still struggling after trying a few of the options mentioned above, talk to a therapist.  They can provide other options and help you learn tools to manage during this difficult time.  You can find more information and resources at Southwestern Wisconsin Behavioral Health Partnership.  Remember, you will get through this challenging time, and taking care of yourself will help you through it.