PITTSBURGH — If you have been feeling down this holiday season, you are not alone.
Compared to 2019, a CDC study this summer showed more Americans are experiencing adverse mental health due to the COVID-19 pandemic: 40% of adults and 75% of 18-24-year-olds.
Feelings of sadness, fatigue and loss of interest in activities are symptoms of seasonal affective disorder -- otherwise known as the “winter blues.” In 2020, the social isolation from the coronavirus is making that even worse.
“The things that are outside of our control is much higher this year, and the fear of the unknown and the unpredictability of the pandemic is really, we think, leading to a lot more anxiety,” said Dr. Kathryn Roecklein, psychologist at the University of Pittsburgh.
The holidays, which can be stressful to begin with, have unique challenges on top of isolation and loss caused by COVID-19. Complicating matters even more, our coping mechanisms are limited.
Roecklein told Channel 11 that social interaction is one of the main coping mechanisms for depression. The other is physical activity, and both have proved challenging over the last nine months.
One way to creatively cope is to get more light in the morning, whether it’s natural or artificial.
Researchers believe changes in mood during the winter could be tied to the length of the day being shorter and our body’s reaction to having less sunlight.
“What light does is that has one of two possible effects: one is on our daily circadian rhythms, which are important for sleep. The other is potentially a direct effect on our mood and alertness,” Roecklein said.
Other proven strategies to improve mood: regular exercise, even a daily walk, and social interaction.
If you are feeling depressed and feel like you need help, especially if you’re having suicidal thoughts, you can call the suicide prevention hotline at 800-273-8255.