Image: woman visiting depressed senior mother

Depression and COVID: 4 Tips for Managing Emotions

Depression doesn’t end with December, and it’s important to be aware of the potential complications that 2020 brought with it. Whether your loved one has been previously diagnosed with Seasonal Depression, or is showing signs for the first time, handling the blues has become more complicated than ever before. Here is everything you need to know about Seasonal Depression, the effects of Covid-19 on mental health, and four helpful tips on managing emotions during this time.

Seasonal Depression

First, what is holiday depression, seasonal depression, or the winter blues? Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is a type of depression that usually occurs in the fall and winter, and can easily last until March.

“Some theories suggest that previously happy holiday memories become troubling as loved ones pass away, making the holidays a time of mourning rather than celebration.”

While the real cause of this disorder is unknown, as weather gets colder and the days get darker, a normal sunny disposition can become pessimistic, lethargic, and despondent. While there is a “summer pattern” form of SAD, it is more common in the colder months. The disorder often dissipates as the weather gets warmer and the days get longer in summer and spring.

Women are more likely to have SAD than men, but at-risk groups include:

  • Those who live further north, in colder, darker climates
  • Those who already suffer from depression or mood disorders
  • Those with anxiety, panic disorders, or attention/hyperactivity disorders

Image: Sad woman looking through windowSome theories suggest that previously happy holiday memories become troubling as loved ones pass away, making the holidays a time of mourning rather than celebration. There also seems to be correlation between the disorder and serotonin levels, which can be affected as a person ages, diet changes, and medications are added to a person’s daily life.

Symptoms include:

  • Feeling down or depressed throughout the day, and regularly every week
  • Losing interest in hobbies, or holiday traditions that usually bring joy
  • Loss or increase in appetite
  • Weight gain/weight loss
  • Irregular sleep schedules
  • Oversleeping
  • Fatigued
  • Irritable
  • A sense of hopelessness/worthlessness
  • Thoughts of suicide/death
  • Self-isolating, or avoiding social interactions (even in covid-19 safe circumstances)

“The prevalence of depression symptoms in the US was higher in every category during COVID-19 than before COVID-19.”

Covid-19 Influence on Seasonal Depression

According to this study done on depression during Covid, “prevalence of depression symptoms in the US was higher in every category during COVID-19 than before COVID-19.” While it will take more time to have definitive results on the true mental health consequences of the pandemic, early studies are already showing that global depression has only gotten worse during 2020. SAD is not as often associated with suicide, as it usually has a clear trigger, beginning, and end, and is therefore easier to diagnose and treat. However, combined with the increased emotional stress, there are heightened conditions for suicidal ideation.

Here are a few ways Covid has increased symptoms and severity of depression worldwide:

  • Isolation and self-quarantining
  • Changes in schedule
  • Lack of activity/stimulation
  • (For the elderly) Push towards unfamiliar/difficult technology to stay informed/connected
  • Sickness/death of loved ones

Managing Emotions

Image: Depression and SadnessWhile there is no cure for any type of depression, there are proven methods to help anyone struggle with changes in mood and emotional distress, here are 4 ways to help you or a loved one:

1. Vitamin D

In general, studies have shown that lack of light, and therefore vitamin deficiency, is connected to SAD. Most professionals recommend both taking vitamin D supplements and getting quality time in the light. This can be accomplished safely on a porch, roof, or safe outdoor activity, or by using light therapy, which uses a light box. Fulfilling this need has proven to affect mood in a positive direction.

2. Regulate, Don’t Repress

The worst thing you can do is repress how you feel, even if you can’t rationalize or explain it to others. Validating your feelings is the path to healing. By intentionally and regularly processing emotions, whether ‘rational’ or not, you decrease the chance of being overwhelmed or exploding from internalized pressure. Choose one or two people who are trustworthy, and good listeners, and talk with them regularly throughout the week. Shame-free conversation is vital to normalize otherwise debilitating emotions.

3. Pause

While it might be tempting to react immediately based on the intensity of the emotions you are feeling, it is important to pause before responding. The difference between reacting and responding can mean everything in a relationship, and determine whether your mood will be escalated or deescalated. When feeling a sudden, strong emotion, do your best to remove yourself from the situation. Don’t be afraid to tell those around you that you are not in a place to talk, and that you need space to process. Next, do something that will allow your body to process and regulate the emotions that are raging inside you, like the ‘fight or flight’ response. Whether you play an instrument, do a puzzle, or watch a few YouTube videos. Once you feel your emotions are back to normal, ask yourself, “What about that situation sparked such a strong response?” Next, decide if this realization is worth communicating to others, or if it’s more valuable for you to keep it to yourself and learn for the future. Whenever you’re ready, you can end the “pause” and return to life.

4. Medication

There is no shame in receiving additional help through antidepressants or other medications. Hormones are complex, and difficult to directly change without using medication, but they are also the most clear influence on depression. If you or a loved one is having difficulty managing moods/emotions, talk with your care team about getting medicinal help.

StoneGate Senior Living

At StoneGate, we are always looking for new ways to support our community. Whether you’re a family trying to make difficult decisions, looking for skilled nursing resources, or the right assisted living facility for the senior in your care, we’re ready to help connect you with the resources you need. Contact us to find out more about who we are, what we do, and the services we offer, including meal programs, senior centers, therapy programs, companion care, and more.