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Ongoing COVID pandemic could be making 'winter blues' more intense

During this time of year, winter blues - or seasonal affective disorder - usually affects about 64 percent of people.
There are some things experts say people can do to help themselves deal with the winter blues.
To combat winter blues, experts say it is important to practice self-care, by exercising, getting enough sleep and eating well - especially foods rich in vitamin D. People normally get vitamin D when exposed to sunshine, but don’t get as much of it during the winter months.
Experts say pets can also make a big difference with emotional health.
Posted at 10:08 AM, Jan 06, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-06 12:08:13-05

WASHINGTON, D.C. — With the bright lights of the holiday season now dark, experts say it is a critical time to make sure people don’t feel dim in the new year.

“It cuts across all age groups,” said Debra Wentz, president and CEO of the New Jersey Association of Mental Health and Addiction Agencies.

Wentz said that during this time of year, winter blues - or seasonal affective disorder - usually affects about 64 percent of people.

“The likely culprit and cause of post-holiday blues is an adrenaline come down,” Wentz said.

While these “winter blues” usually last a few weeks, Wentz said isolation because of the COVID pandemic has made it worse and, in some ways, more intense.

“People are just tired of not, you know, getting back to normal,” she said.

However, there are some things experts say people can do to help themselves deal with the winter blues.

The first: practice self-care by exercising, getting enough sleep and eating well, especially foods rich in vitamin D. People normally get vitamin D when exposed to sunshine, but don’t get as much of it during the winter months.

“There are some studies that show there is a correlation with diet, as far as diminishing the effect of SAD, or seasonal affective disorder,” said Dr. John Martinez, a primary care physician.

Experts also say talking to others by phone or even online can help. Even if you can’t see them in person, connections make a difference.

Volunteering can also have an impact. Giving back can help people feel less lonely and helps strengthen a sense of gratitude.

Pets can also make a big difference in emotional health.

“Letting our pets help us to get healthy is a great way to go," said Temma Martin, with Best Friends Animal Society in Salt Lake City. "Even just eye contact with our dogs and cats is healthy, because those illicit a feeling of love and comfort for us."

If things don’t get better within a few weeks, it may be time to reach out for help from a mental health professional.

“It's also important not to be hard on yourself. Just be patient. This will pass,” Wentz said. “Sometimes you just need to take some time to bounce back.”