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Tips for Conquering Seasonal Depression During the Pandemic

January 12, 2021

The new year invites a lot of positivity into our lives. The turn of the calendar is a time many of us focus on resolutions, achieving goals and a healthier lifestyle. In much of the country, it is also a time that is marked by the cold and dark days of winter. The lack of sunlight and the blustery temperatures tend to keep us indoors and more susceptible to the winter blues.

This winter season brings an additional complexity to maintaining positive mental health – the global health crisis has kept us in social isolation for almost a year. The increased isolation has significantly impacted all of us and medical experts have warned that those who are prone to seasonal depression or who have been diagnosed with chronic depression may experience worsening symptoms over the next few months.

To help you identify common signs and symptoms of depression that you or a loved one may experience, we spoke with Concordia Visiting Nurses’ medical social worker Justin Fichter. In addition to the helpful tips and coping techniques Justin offers, prayer and speaking with your pastor or seeking spiritual support are all positive efforts while struggling with depression.

Fichter JustinQ: How can family members and caregivers identify depression in their loved one? Once identified, what are the next steps to ensure their loved one receives the appropriate care?

A: Some of the key identifiers to look for would be:

• Isolation and loneliness (which can be difficult to identify during the pandemic)

• Not talking on the phone as much

• Not sticking to routines around the house (cooking, cleaning, basic hygiene)

• Increased fatigue

• Feeling of hopelessness

• General mood changes and/or new or increased anxiety

• Difficulty concentrating

Sometimes all it takes is having a conversation with your loved one to confirm that they are feeling depressed. Some individuals will not notice that they are depressed and it may take an intervention from a family member or friend for them to realize that they are having some issues with depression.

If these attempts do not work or the symptoms worsen, you could contact your loved one’s primary care physician to go over signs and symptoms to help them receive the appropriate care.

Q: How has the pandemic impacted the patients you serve and how have you adapted your approach to meet their needs and offer support?

In these trying times there has been a major impact on our patient population. Understandably, isolation from family, friends and disruption of routines have triggered depression. To add onto that, sitting at home watching television about the pandemic has resulted in increased anxiety and fear for our patients.

During the initial weeks of the pandemic and not fully understanding the variables about the virus, I utilized phone visits to talk with patients, as some were apprehensive about in-person visits. After having a better understanding of the disease and utilizing proper PPE, I was able to go back into homes.

This adaptation allowed me to effectively get services into the house and build a great working relationship with our patients’ local Area Agency on Aging. Working as a team, we could best address the patients’ issues and compare how they presented during in-person visits compared to over the phone.

Q:  What techniques would you recommend to combat the effects of isolation?

One technique is being mindful of ourselves and our surroundings. This can be done by simply turning off all electronics and focusing on yourself. Taking deep breaths, relaxing your muscles and allowing your mind to just focus on your being and nothing else will help alleviate stressors.

Exercising helps with the natural release of hormones and is effective when combatting depression and anxiety. This doesn’t mean go out and run a marathon but to become physically active within your means. If you are able to go out and walk around the yard or block, fresh air and being outside can help with the negative impacts of feeling of isolated.

Setting goals that are within the means of your ability is very important. With my patients, I always start with making the bed. This is the first task of the day and once complete, the patient will typically feel better about themselves and want to continue with other tasks that need to be accomplished. It is important to establish a realistic routine and still make time throughout the day to enjoy activities such as reading, building a puzzle or watching a favorite television show.

Q: Clinical experts say that vitamin D is an effective natural antidepressant. What alternatives can you offer those who struggle with getting the recommended dose of sunlight, especially during the winter months?

I would suggest opening the blinds to allow the natural sunlight in. Sitting in the light and exposing the body to the warmth of the sun helps you to get the natural vitamin D that you need to help improve mental health. If you or your loved one live in a place where this is hard to achieve, light therapy lamps have been proven beneficial to individuals suffering from seasonal and chronic depression.

Another alternative to direct sunlight is the incorporation of vitamin supplements. Before taking any type of supplement, you or your loved one should consult with a primary care physician. This will allow for the proper dosage needed depending on each individual’s unique lifestyle.

Q: What community resources can you suggest for those who are struggling with depression?

There are a variety of community resources available, including:

211 Community Resources helps connect individuals to service and resource centers to address any need (mental health support, housing, food programs, utility assistance, et cetera). You can call or text 211 or visit online via the hyperlink. This agency is open to individuals of all ages.

National Association of Area Agencies on Aging can connect our senior friends with local community services and also help arrange home care services.

Concordia Tele-CareGivers is a free program that can help seniors maintain a social connection from the comfort of their own home through daily phone calls.

• Senior Community Centers offer a variety of activity and educational opportunities for older adults to stay engaged while aging.  

• Veterans can visit the veteran resource page on the US Department of Veteran Affairs website to review available resources and benefits for service members and family members.  

Justin joined the Concordia family in May of 2019. He is a retired Staff Sergeant from the United States Marine Corps and earned his Master of Social Work degree from Edinboro University. Justin told us he pursed a career in social work because he was motivated to give back to fellow veterans and members in his community.

If you or a loved one receive doctor orders for home health care services, ask for Concordia Visiting Nurses and experience high quality care provided by experienced clinicians like Justin! For more information, call us at 1-877-352-6200 (Concordia Visiting Nurses) or contact us any time via our online contact form.

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