Updated: Oct 10, 2021
The ultimate guide for combatting common challenges to our mental health in cold weather COVID-19 times.
ABOUT THIS GUIDE
While we continue to face the challenges presented by the coronavirus, there are many other situations this winter will bring for people across the United States (and beyond) that will challenge our mental health. From Seasonal Affective Disorder to the flu, political leadership, working conditions and more, we compiled a list of ways to combat a number of challenges that could potentially occur as a threat to your mental health this winter season.
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SEASONAL AFFECTIVE DISORDER (SAD)
With over 500 thousand cases in the US every year, where more than 80% of the cases are classified as being moderate to severe, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) has a serious impact on the mental health of many Americans. SAD, also known as seasonal depression, is a depression that occurs each year at the same time, usually starting in fall, worsening in winter, and ending in spring. Factors that may contribute to SAD include reduced levels of sunlight that may affect a person’s biological clock and cause a drop in serotonin (key hormone that stabilizes our mood) and melatonin (key hormone that stabilizes sleep pattern and mood) levels.
CHALLENGE (SEASONAL AFFECTIVE DISORDER)
500K+ US cases per year
More than 80% of cases moderate to severe
Triggered by seasonal changes: SAD appears during late fall to early winter
COMBAT (WAYS YOU CAN OVERCOME THIS CHALLENGE)
Keep a consistent sleeping schedule
Manage sunlight intake
Utilize light therapy / light boxes
Invest in dawn simulators
Adopt a pet
CONSISTENT SLEEPING SCHEDULE
Health.gov cites that “most adults need 7 to 8 hours of good quality sleep on a regular schedule each night.” It’s important to set a regular schedule for quality sleep in order to promote higher quality mental and physical health. Research shows people who develop healthy sleep patterns generally experience less sickness, lower risk for serious health and weight problems, improved mood and interpersonal exchanges, and clearer judgement. When it comes to setting a sleep schedule/routine, the best thing to do is listen to your body. Our bodies set biological clocks according to daylight patterns where we live. Depending on your schedule or preference, you may want to use blackout curtains or eliminate unwanted noises to promote better quality sleep. Your end of day routine may involve relaxing with such wind down activities as warm baths, calm music, etc. Setting electronic devices down or turning them off is also a strongly recommended way to wind down before bed.
MANAGING SUNLIGHT INTAKE
Sunlight exposure is important because it helps to regulate levels of serotonin and melatonin in the body, and can help promote healthier sleep patterns. Overall, the most popular known benefit of sunlight is its impact on levels of Vitamin D. Getting anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes of sunlight 2-3 times a week is enough to enjoy the Vitamin D-boosting benefits of the sun. Additionally, sunlight exposure can contribute to lowering the risk of several cancers and other diseases, as well as building strong bones.
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