We’re Going To Make It Through Winter Together, Detroit. A Doctor Tells Us How.

When do the winter blues become something more serious like seasonal affective disorder? Understanding the difference — and when to seek professional help — with Dr. Inger Burnett-Ziegler.

Cars driving during in snow.

“Baby, it’s Michigan outside.”

With the winter months colliding with the effects of the coronavirus, our moods are bound to switch up and have us heading for an elevated state of the winter blues — professionally classified as seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

“Even if it’s getting outside for 10-15 minutes or situating your desk by the window or opening the shades, that could be important.” — Dr. Inger Burnett-Ziegler

“We do know that biologically our weather is impacted by our circadian rhythms, so people who experience that or seasonal affective disorder can feel that more intensely, which may make them more vulnerable to those moods during the winter months,” says Dr. Inger Burnett-Ziegler, clinical psychologist and associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago. 

Courtesy of Dr. Inger Burnett-Ziegler
Courtesy of Dr. Inger Burnett-Ziegler

“That change in mood can be associated with a decrease in sunlight and with that people are less inclined to be outside, be active and become more isolated and withdrawn,” adds Dr. Burnett-Ziegler. “You may also notice changes in your sleep, appetite and feeling more irritable.”

Dr. Burnett-Ziegler says that it’s imperative to pay close attention to your feelings and activity in order to notice if symptoms become enter the severe spectrum of depression. 

We’re in this together. Explore WDET’s reporting on how to make the most of your winter this year:

“Everybody experiences ups and downs in their moods — especially now with all that everyone’s been coping with COVID-19,” says Burnett-Ziegler. “But it’s time for help when symptoms become so severe that you’re unable to do the typical things that you need to get done on an average day. So maybe you’re finding yourself in bed all day and avoiding things like work responsibilities, you’re not taking care of yourself, unable to respond to other obligations; finding those tasks being really laborious and the consequences are piling up. That’s really an indicator it’s time to get some help.” 

Quick tips from Dr. Burnett Ziegler to help you manage the winter blues:

Take advantage of sunlight while we’ve got it: “Even if it’s getting outside for 10-15 minutes or situating your desk by the window or opening the shades, that could be important,” says Dr. Burnett-Ziegler.

Maintain your routine: “In the fall and winter months, as the cold and laziness settles in, we really don’t want to do much of anything,” says Dr. Burnett-Ziegler. “I often tell folks, ‘Do first and you’ll feel better later.’ Push yourself to stay active.” 

Stay connected with your social support — friends, family and others: “I know a lot of people are tired with Zoom and virtual meetups, but it is a really important part of staying engaged with your community, checking on others and letting yourself be checked on,” says Dr. Burnett-Ziegler. “That’s important for mental health.”

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