Feeling sad or depressed this holiday season? You’re not alone.

December 28, 2020
Dr. Polo Q13 S.A.D. segment

Regence’s Dr. Jim Polo discusses Seasonal Affective Disorder, COVID-19 and ways to take care of yourself

By Regence

Even in the best of years, the fall and winter months can be an emotionally challenging time for many people. Feelings of sadness or depression, sometimes referred to as the “winter blues” or Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.), can increase during the holiday season. Even for those who usually feel down this time of year, 2020 is especially hard given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, economic challenges and other related stress.

Dr. Jim Polo, executive medical director at Regence, recently talked with Q13 FOX in Seattle, Wash., about S.A.D. in the COVID era and the importance of taking care of ourselves.

Signs of S.A.D.

S.A.D. is similar to major depression, says Polo, with symptoms that include low energy, sadness, a change in sleep and being less social. The number of people who experience seasonal sadness, however, can vary. Polo notes that in states where there’s more sunshine, on average 1 percent of people experience S.A.D. – but in states where there’s less fall and winter sunshine, such as the Pacific Northwest, seasonal depression can affect 10 times as many people.

Why some experience it more than others isn’t entirely clear. “The exact cause of seasonal affective disorder is not known,” says Polo, “but it is suspected that it is related to the decreased number of hours of natural light

Holidays and COVID-19

The holiday season can make S.A.D. worse, especially for those who don’t have family and are feeling lonely. Living with COVID-19 for nearly a year can also make this year feel harder. Polo notes that the darker months of fall and winter along with exhaustion related to COVID-19, known as “COVID fatigue,” can be especially challenging for many. In Washington state, for example, it’s “expected that upwards of 30-to-60 percent of Washingtonian adults are going to experience depression this year,” says Polo.

S.A.D. self care – steps you can take

While seasonal sadness can be intense, we can take actions to feel better and work through the winter months and COVID-19 while we wait for the vaccine to become available. These include:

  • Eat healthy food, exercise regularly and get enough sleep
  • Spend time outside to enjoy natural light and fresh air
  • Stop “doom scrolling” with constantly reading negative information
  • Connect with people in your life who you know and love
  • Consider buying a medical-grade device called a lightbox, which provides natural light that can improve your mood

Support and help for Regence members

Seasonal depression, during COVID-19 or otherwise, can feel overwhelming and isolating. It’s important to remember that we’re not alone.

Regence has created a self-care resource page to provide our members with helpful information , including mental health and well-being tips from medical and behavioral health experts, as well as go-to resources for immediate support.

Through our wellness platform, Regence Empower, members can also access self-guided programs on managing stress, building resilience and boosting nutrition, among other topics. Many members have complementary access to myStrength, a behavioral health app that offers COVID-19 and mental wellness resources, including tips for parenting during challenging times, ideas to manage feelings of social isolation.

Given ongoing physical distancing to help combat the spread of COVID-19, health care providers are offering additional virtual and telehealth care options, including Doctor on Demand. Members can learn more by signing in to their regence.com account or by calling Customer Service at the number on the back of their member ID card.

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