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Will the pandemic make Seasonal Affective Disorder worse?

If you’ve been feeling off since daylight savings time, you aren’t alone. With shorter days and colder temperatures, as we work our way through fall and winter, many people find themselves experiencing symptoms typically associated with depression. For a good portion of these individuals, these symptoms return around the same time every year. And that’s not a coincidence. It’s actually diagnosable.

Seasonal Affective Disorder—the abbreviation for which is, yes, SAD—is a type of depressive mood disorder that’s related to changes in season. Symptoms can include feeling sluggish and moody and having difficulty concentrating. It begins and ends at around the same time every year, most often in the fall, and continues through the winter months.

In a typical year, it’s estimated SAD affects 10 million Americans. But 2020 isn’t a typical year and the holiday activities people ordinarily might look forward to—which can help offset symptoms associated with SAD—may now be out of reach. With COVID-19 case counts skyrocketing across the country, many local governments are implementing lockdowns similar to those from the spring. As a result, things like family gatherings with friends and family, corporate holiday parties, and holiday travel are either not possible or strongly ill-advised. And trying to decide whether an activity is acceptable or not is a stressful experience in and of itself given the inconsistency around changing public health guidelines. People are consequently facing yet another period of adjustment as we reckon with a holiday season that is far different from any before.


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