Depression All Too Common Amid COVID-19 Shutdown
December 3, 2020
It happens for roughly 3 million Americans every year as the holidays approach: the days become shorter and a type of depression known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD) sets in. "With seasonal affective disorder, people are very irritable, they don't want to socialize, they can have fatigue, anxiety, maybe a lack of energy," explains Stephanie Stasiak, Behavioral Health Director at Western Wayne Family Health Centers (WWFHC).
Experts believe seasonal affective disorder is caused by less sunlight during the winter months that contributes to the brain making less of the neurotransmitter serotonin, often referred to as the "feel good hormone." Stasiak says when you combine shorter days and less sunlight with isolation and social distancing due to COVID-19, it's only natural for people to feel down.
"Everyone has been affected by COVID," she says. "If you were doing something that was really working for your depression and then all of a sudden you can't do it anymore such as support group or hanging out with friends...it can have an effect on you physically as well as mentally."
Stasiak says the isolation brought on by stay-at-home orders can even have an impact on those without a history of depression. Senior citizens may find themselves isolated if they lack access to technology which may help them to socialize virtually with others. She adds that boredom from being cooped up indoors can drive some to instigate arguments with housemates or spouses. Other unhealthy ways of coping with isolation include eating too much, focusing too much on television news or social media, and turning to drugs or alcohol to feel better. "There are people that have been drinking a lot just to try and cope," says Stasiak. "But if you increasingly do it a lot, over time there could be the potential for abuse." In addition, a hangover can prevent anyone from fulfilling their responsibilities such as working from home or helping children with online schooling.
Combatting the symptoms of SAD, depression and stress related to staying at home can be as simple as aggressive self-care strategies. If you're battling SAD, the obvious solution is to get more sunlight on your skin or purchase a therapeutic light to use in the house. Stasiak suggests using a lamp with a 10,000 lux intensity and sitting near it for about 15 minutes each day.
"Exercising will increase your serotonin, will help you be physically fit, and you won't feel like you're cooped up," says Stasiak, adding that a walk around the block can do wonders. Increasing strength by
lifting weights does not necessarily require expensive dumbbells; just perform bicep curls with a large 28 oz. can of vegetables.
If you have a pet, spend a little extra time giving them attention. Stasiak says, "It's been proven that animals increase your serotonin and decrease your blood pressure when you pet them."
Stasiak says paying attention to how you're breathing is good idea as well. She suggests you relax and put your hand on your abdomen and breathe in deeply and slowly; if you're belly rises or expands, then you're breathing correctly She says deep breathing at least 10 times increases oxygen and good chemicals to the brain, normalizes heart rate and blood pressure, and reduces inflammation in the body.
Other important ways to fight the blues include adhering to a routine, especially for children. Writing in a journal can help sort out anxious or depressing thoughts. Home projects such as cleaning out drawers or closets can bring a feeling of accomplishment.
Stasiak says there are many resources for those in need of assistance with stress and depression. Western Wayne Family Health Centers has locations in Inkster, Lincoln Park, Taylor, and Dearborn, and now offers telemedicine. Find more at http://www.WWFHC.org. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has a substance abuse hotline at 1-800-2HEALTH. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours and can be reached at 1-800-273-8255. Also, Detroit Wayne Integrated Health Network (DWIHN) offers a crisis helpline at 1-800- 241-4949. If you prefer to text, the Crisis Text Line is available 24/7; just text 741741 for free crisis counseling via text.
Stasiak says if feelings of depression last longer than three months, it may a good idea to seek help. "People are recognizing that mental health is very important," she says. "Of course, be patient with yourself. We're all in unprecedented times. Every day is a new day."