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Coping with Seasonal Affective Disorder: Postpartum Depression, Winter, and COVID

As we move into winter, let’s shine a spotlight on Seasonal Affective Disorder and how it may impact mothers, especially those newly postpartum this year.

If you’re not familiar with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), it is a variety of depression that recurs during the colder, darker months of the year. While it is estimated that between 0.5 and 3% of the population experience SAD, I’m going to venture a guess that in the coming months, many more of us will be experiencing mental health struggles. Many of us have limited access to the activities we would normally do during the winter, and as a result, we are not going to be getting the social interaction and sunlight that we need.

Due to the current COVID pandemic, many of the typical cold weather outlets aren’t available or feasible, especially with young children. In years past, when it’s too cold to bring the kids to parks and playgrounds, I’ve relied on indoor play places for when the kids have energy they need to burn off and we need to get out of the house. Frequently I would take my kids to community centers with indoor playgrounds, shopping malls with designated play areas, or even Lowe’s just to run down the aisles when it isn’t busy. When we’d go for wintery hikes (my favorite), we’d choose a nature preserve with an indoor nature center where we could warm up around the fireplace afterwards. We had a rotating schedule for seeing friends, which was so important for my sanity.

For many of us, these aren’t good options this year. Play places and nature centers are closed, and plenty of us don’t feel comfortable taking our little ones to high traffic areas where the spread of illness is hard to prevent. Having lots of playdates at friends’ homes might not be an option either, due to the concern of spreading illness and keeping our circles small.

Winter can bring on higher rates of baby blues and postpartum depression normally (, so keep that in mind if you’ve recently given birth. The colder months can already be more isolating, especially once the holiday season has passed. This year, it’s going to be especially important to look out for your mental health.

Get outside in the sunlight as much as you can. Although most nature centers are closed, hiking trails are still open. Locally, we have several low impact trails that can be done with a stroller, and that aren’t so long that you’ll be miserable by the end. As long as everyone is bundled up well, getting outside in the winter can still be a lot of fun!

Try to find a routine, or rhythm, for your day - and stick to it! I struggle a lot with this, but I find that my own mental health flourishes better if I do things on a fairly consistent routine throughout the day. That way, I don’t end up spending all day sitting on the couch in my pajamas looking at my phone - at least most of the time!

When you’ve recently had a baby, a lot of your options are limited during the winter, so make a special priority to reconnect with supportive friends. If visits aren’t an option, take advantage of Zoom or Facebook video chat! Even if you only have a few free moments, getting to have a conversation with another adult is always a plus. Be real with your friends about how you're feeling.

If you work outside the home, try to make a point of time for yourself on your days off that doesn’t just involve playing catch up with chores around the house. That goes for parents who spend their days at home too - be sure that you’re giving yourself a real break on the regular!

If you’ve experienced other mental health struggles such as pre or post partum depression or anxiety, you are at a higher risk for Seasonal Affective Disorder. It’s important to know the signs:

  • Feelings of hopelessness

  • Low energy

  • Loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy

  • Sluggishness

  • Oversleeping (hypersomnia)

  • Overeating, particularly carbohydrates

  • Social withdrawal (feeling like hibernating)

If you’re experiencing the symptoms of postpartum depression or Seasonal Affective Disorder, be sure to talk to your healthcare provider. There are loads of options to help get you into a better mental health space. Medications, therapy, and light box therapy can be effective in treating SAD. If you’re not sure where you’re at but want extra support, schedule an appointment with me for a peer mental health screening, coping tools, and referrals to qualified providers as needed. You deserve mental health support!

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