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How to Approach the Winter Season during COVID-19

The Winter Season

In Minnesota and other colder climates, the winter season can present challenges. From the short days, cold temperatures, and need to stay indoors, winters can be long. Isolation can also be challenging if you suffer from Major Depressive Disorder with a seasonal pattern, also known as Seasonal Affective Disorder , which occurs during the winter months. The reduced level of sunlight in the fall and winter months is believed to affect a person’s serotonin, a neurotransmitter that affects mood. Lower levels of serotonin have been shown to be linked to depression. 

COVID19 Adjustments
This winter season may be particularly difficult for people due to challenges from the ongoing COVID19 pandemic. Recommendations and precautions to reduce the risk and spread of illness include: physical distancing, wearing a mask, washing hands, testing, and quarantining. These can be even more challenging when we are spending most of our time indoors. Additional changes due to COVID19 may affect the upcoming season.   

Experiencing Losses
The loss of employment, friends, family, income, and interaction with others can be overwhelming.  Allowing yourself time to grieve these losses is okay. Consider how the actions you take to minimize your risk of illness for yourself and others is making a difference, even when you might not realize it. Try to put things into perspective and focus on what you can control.

Parenting and Family Stress
For those with children, the loss of childcare and ongoing adjustments with school-aged children and their education can present even more challenges. Children and families are missing out on connection with their classmates and teachers. For families that are balancing working from home, trying to maintain focus and productivity can seem impossible at times. Setting realistic expectations of productivity and reaching out for any needed accommodations and flexibility from your employer may be helpful.  

Holiday Celebrations
The winter season typically offers many opportunities to connect with family and friends. However, to reduce risk this year, consider new traditions and ways to celebrate together when needing to be physically apart. Take advantage of spending time outdoors with new winter activities to increase physical activity and make the best out of the snow and the cold. 

Reaching out in New Ways
Physical distancing does not need to include social distancing and isolation. Consider connecting to friends and family in new ways including texting, calls, video calls/conferences, writing notes and letters. 

When you cannot Stay Safe and Healthy
If you need to work outside of the home and interact with others, take steps to reduce risk of illness. Review updated recommendations from the MN Department of Health and the CDC. Reach out to possible supports from the community and professionals for physical and mental health. 

Signs that you or someone you love may be struggling include:

  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Losing interest and pleasure in things you previously enjoyed
  • Increasing alcohol or drug use to cope with feelings
  • Not wanting to interact with others
  • Finding it hard to control emotions (e.g. crying easily, increased irritability, feeling guilty, hopeless)
  • Thoughts of death or harming yourself

Light Box Therapy
One specific approach to those who struggle with depression or Seasonal Affective Disorder may benefit from light therapy. This therapy includes exposure to bright light that mimics natural outdoor light and has been shown to improve depressive symptoms. A fluorescent light box is the best-studied light therapy treatment. Using a 10,000 lux light box for about 30 minutes a day is usually enough for a beneficial response.  Side effects of light therapy are usually mild, but people should also consult their psychiatric provider before using light therapy. 

Seek Professional Help
Consider opportunities for connecting to support groups related to loss, parenting, or other health promotion activities such as meditation or exercise. At Lorenz Clinic, we are here to help if you or someone you love is struggling. To learn more about our programs to help you with your mental health, reach out to us here. 

More about the author:
Dr. Amanda Schuh – PHD, APRN, PMHNP-BC is the Director of Nursing at Lorenz Clinic. Dr. Amanda Schuh is a board certified Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner with experience practicing in integrated behavioral health settings and providing mental health care to diverse clients across the lifespan.  Dr. Schuh earned a PhD in Nursing and a Master of Science in Psychiatric Mental Health Nursing from the University of Michigan. Read more about Dr. Schuh here.

 

References and Resources 

Mayo Clinic
MN Dept of Health
CDC
World Health Organization
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 

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