As a health and wellness professional, I cannot help but worry about the impact of COVID on the American psyche. Americans have been hard hit by COVID - and the impacts of the virus have had negative outcomes on diet and weight gain, physical activity, and mental health. It is extremely reminiscent of how people in cold climates start to behave as the long winter drones on.
The release of the Italian article corresponds with a snowstorm and winter weather hitting Italy during 'this week' and is a reminder that the world has been in a near winter lock down for a full year due to COVID. This brought to mind - the similarities between the impacts of winter and the impacts of COVID. Winter is the time of year when we're often prisoners in our homes, exacerbating symptoms of clinical depression and coping behaviors that lead to weight gain. One popular idea about the increase of depression in winter is that it results from the lack of sunshine during the winter season. It is true that during winter and also through this pandemic that some of us have remained inside, reducing the amount of sun exposure we receive. Sun not only helps our bodies produce vitamin D, but it also makes us feel good.
Another article brings in a really important factor about the effects of cold winter weather, which is the reduction of physical activity. We're missing the exercise we get just running around in summer. During COVID, this same reduction in physical activity is happening due to no longer going to a work location - now working from home on the computer; and social distancing, which has decreased going out to meet with friends, eating out, going dancing, to museums, family gatherings, and the gym.
The impacts of COVID do sound vaguely familiar to the winter blues when I read these articles, and I began wondering if some suggestions for compensating for winter inactivity and the resulting depression might be worked into our lifestyles during this pandemic.
Cathy Garrard in "Surprising Causes of Winter Depression" suggests to us a list of possible remedies that may help in the case of COVID, as well:
We're not moving enough - Get moving! Increase your indoor activity - exercise in the house. There are a host of ways to add activity indoors or in proximity to your living quarters. There are online resources for ‘stay at home fitness routines’ – many are free of charge. If you live in a place where you have access to the outdoors, take your meals in the yard and walk around; run and play with your dog.
Money issues - If money is an issue, and it is for many of us - note there are also savings in not shopping, not going to restaurants and socializing, and staying at home and spending less. There are reasons to worry about finances, but try to put worry away. Remember, this will come to an end.
Family obligations – Like the winter season with the multiple holidays – during COVID being locked indoors with family and the stress caused by having family underfoot may be hard to deal with.. One option might be to join one or more of the many online discussions and Zoom gatherings dealing with stress-related issues, such as having to care for children or a family member. Maybe having to fix meals and not go out to restaurants or pick up or even afford to buy prepared food is causing stress. Finding an online community to share with others coping strategies will help you find ways to reduce your stress and even solve problems.
Not eating right – This issue may be a carryover from before COVID whether it is summer or winter. You may want to take a serious look at your eating patterns. Self-awareness is the first step in making positive changes in any area of your life, and this definitely applies to your dietary habits and nutritional intake. Study your own behavior and educate yourself. Look into how to create behavior changes that will help you eat in a healthier fashion.
Suffering isolation - In the digital age, we have better access to people across town and across the world – use the tools of texting, email, Facetime, Zoom, and the phone to increase personal communications. Have Facetime family sit-downs and Zoom ‘social distancing’ cocktails and coffee clutches with friends. Agreed, it is not the same as being in-person, but we are in unusual circumstances, which call for creative ideas. When we look back on this period of time, we will see that it actually pushed many of us to be more computer savvy and to find solutions for issues that may already have been in our lives, which is a good thing.
Start finding ways to improve your lifestyle now. Change your behavior. Set a weekly goal - for example, to get out and walk three times this week. Make your goal a SMART goal – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time bound.
Here is an example of a SMART goal:
“For the next 7-days, I will walk 30 minutes on 3 separate days (Monday, Wednesday, and Friday), at 3:00 pm in the local park – wearing my mask.”
Adapting some of these changing habits to your lifestyle - when the pandemic is over – you will not only have gotten through it more gracefully, but you will have given yourself tools to improve your life during the hard winters going forward.
> Bell, Leigh, "Seasonal Affective Disorder as a Co-Concurring Issue with Eating Disorders: https://www.eatingdisorderhope.com/treatment-for-eating-disorders/special-issues/seasonal-affective-disorder-as-a-co-occurring-issue-with-eating-disorders
> Centini, Andre, "Fame nervosa in crescita a causa dello stress da pandemia: peso aumentato per uno su tre continua su," 5 Dec 2020:
English translation: Italy 24 News: https://www.italy24news.com/a/2020/12/weight-increased-for-one-in-three.html
> Garrard, Cathy, "Surprising Causes of Winter Depression," 9 Dec 2015: https://www.health.com/condition/depression/surprising-causes-of-winter-depression?slide=d4292e2f-87e7-4cd1-9444-4e687a598032#d4292e2f-87e7-4cd1-9444-4e687a598032