Mental Wellness Month: Weathering Winter Weather and Other Challenges
This January, we’re facing multiple variants of the virus that causes COVID-19 and all the illnesses, worries, disruptions, and uncertainties they cause. The weather might be cold and snowy, it gets dark earlier at this time of year, and the roads and sidewalks might be dangerous.
We could be sad that the holidays are over. We might be disappointed that they didn’t occur the way we thought they would.
Maybe we’re upset that we’re using drugs or relying on alcohol or that we’re experiencing other conditions or stressful factors.
Basically, while any January can be a tough time of year for a number of reasons, this year, it might seem especially difficult. Since the month is also Mental Wellness Month, it might be good to examine some conditions we might be facing and explore some ways to address them.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)
Depression is common during this time of year, including seasonal affective disorder (SAD). It’s a form of depression that recurs during different seasons – winter for most people, but summer for others.
Like with other forms of depression, people with SAD may be sad, have low energy, experience changes in their appetites and sleep patterns, and may feel hopeless, even suicidal. Also like other types of depression, people with SAD may benefit from therapy and medications.
Light therapy boxes (sometimes known as light boxes or happy lamps) may also help people with SAD because they mimic the light people might be missing during winter shorter days.
Fatigue and compassion fatigue
Since COVID-19 takes its name from the year it was first identified, 2019, that means we’ve been dealing with the disease, the virus, and its variants for years. At this point, who isn’t sick of all that?
It’s been even worse for frontline workers who’ve had to deal with the virus and its consequences. Many health care workers have had to provide care under difficult conditions for a prolonged period of time. Some are experiencing compassion fatigue, a condition that can cause apathy, detachment, a loss of interest in work, cynicism, numbness, avoidance, exhaustion, irritability, sleep problems, and other symptoms.
Therapy can address compassion fatigue. So can talking with coworkers who may have had similar experiences. To determine if you have compassion fatigue, consider answering assessment questions on this page.
Anxiety is another common condition during winter and beyond. Since 2019, many people have worried about the health of themselves and others, their finances, their jobs, their children’s educations, their social lives, and so much else.
Researchers estimated that without COVID-19, 298 million people worldwide would have experienced anxiety disorders in 2020. But for that same year, researchers estimate that the pandemic helped create 374 million cases of anxiety disorder. That amounts to 76 million more people.
Talking with therapists and support groups is a good way to understand and address anxiety. So is practicing meditation. YouTube has videos that offer guided meditations that can help people focus on the present and ease their worries.
Substance abuse and addiction
As depression and anxiety have soared during the pandemic, so have substance abuse and addiction. People might be drinking and drugging to try to forget their worries.
In addition to the other mental and physical health woes it creates or worsens, addiction can also make people sicker if they contract COVID-19. Despite this, people with drug or alcohol problems might believe that treatment centers and support groups are not available during a public health crisis.
But addiction treatment centers have been open throughout the pandemic. Such centers offer medical and therapy-based approaches to address drug or alcohol problems. Several support groups now hold meetings that are online, and people can also find assistance by phone or through online forums.
Eating disorders have also worsened since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Managing and recovering from conditions such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and disordered eating often requires routine, but the pandemic has upended routines as people are trying to find a new normal.
According to a 2021 study, 83.1% of people with self-reported eating disorders said their symptoms worsened during the pandemic. Some used healthier strategies to cope, such as limiting their time with social media platforms if they were triggers in the past.
Other people with the conditions turned to behaviors related to eating disorders or alcohol use. In fact, eating disorders and other mental conditions such as addiction are frequently linked. Therapists can help people find ways to manage eating disorders and other conditions that could accompany them.
So while we could be dealing with a lot right now, there are also many things that could help us. In fact, one of the common threads in this post is therapy, and for good reason.
Talking with people can help us sort through what’s troubling us. It provides a third party who can see things in new ways as well as a person who has the training and experience to offer helpful assistance.
Are we all in the pandemic together? Maybe. But therapists and other helpful people can provide the support we need to weather winter weather and deal with any other obstacles that could come our way.
gov.ie – Update on the Impact of the Omicron Variant of COVID-19
nimh.nih.gov – Seasonal Affective Disorder
mayoclinic.org – Seasonal Affective Disorder Treatment: Choosing a Light Therapy Box
aacc.org – Compassion Fatigue in the Time of COVID-19
aafp.org – Overcoming Compassion Fatigue
thelancet.com – Global Prevalence and Burden of Depressive and Anxiety Disorders in 204 Countries and Territories in 2020 Due to the COVID-19 Pandemic
youtube.com – 10-Minute Meditation for Anxiety
cdc.gov – COVID-19 and People at Increased Risk
sunshinebehavioralhealth.com – Drug and Alcohol Rehabilitation Treatment Centers
npr.org – Eating Disorders Thrive in Anxious Times, and Pose a Lethal Threat
jeatdisord – The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Individuals with Eating Disorders: The Role of Emotion Regulation and Exploration of Online Treatment Experiences
A Message From Our CEO
Sunshine Behavioral Health strives to help people who are facing substance abuse, addiction, mental health disorders, or a combination of these conditions. It does this by providing compassionate care and evidence-based content that addresses health, treatment, and recovery.
Licensed medical professionals review material we publish on our site. The material is not a substitute for qualified medical diagnoses, treatment, or advice. It should not be used to replace the suggestions of your personal physician or other health care professionals.