By Cory Phare
It’s officially winter in Colorado, with the Front Range today experiencing the shortest daytime length of the year at 9 hours, 21 minutes and 19 seconds.
But if the solstice finds you feeling depressed, anxious and/or withdrawn, the dark winter days might be a real factor in your mental health. Seasonal Affective Disorder, a major depressive disorder with a seasonal pattern, affects millions, and experts say it could be exacerbated this year by the COVID-19 pandemic and the situational stressors it is causing in households across Colorado.
The confluence of environmental and pandemic factors is a perfect storm for increasing susceptibility to SAD as 2020 comes to a close, said Tricia Hudson-Matthew, Ed.D., associate professor of Human Services and director of Addiction Studies at Metropolitan State University of Denver. In her private therapy practice, she is seeing an influx of people exhibiting heightened characteristics of general and seasonal depressive disorders.
“With Seasonal Affective Disorder, we tend to feel depleted and aren’t sure why,” she said. “The lack of natural light leads to decreased levels of serotonin – that ‘happy’ chemical normally stabilized by sunlight.”
Anna Ropp, Ph.D., professor of Psychological Sciences at MSU Denver, knows the impact of SAD firsthand. Following a move from Arizona to Alaska for a previous teaching position, she noticed a stark decrease in energy and mood that correlated with the grueling darkness of the Last Frontier. Though Colorado’s winter will be decidedly sunnier than that in Alaska, Ropp said the pandemic could make it worse for those struggling with mental health.
“The challenge is that those susceptible to SAD are more likely to experience it during the winter – right when COVID-19 seems to be transmitted more intensely,” she said. “It’s important to note, though, that not all people experience symptoms severely and that there are many ways to cope with them, some healthy and some not.”
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To help you find the right ways of coping with SAD, RED asked Hudson-Matthew, Ropp and Randi Smith, Ph.D., professor of Psychological Sciences at MSU Denver, for their tips and tricks to maintain mental health.
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