How to Cure the COVID Winter Blues
Troy-based psychologist and entrepreneur Dr. Alex Marsal, PhD, offers his expert advice.
By Dr. Alex Marsal, PhD
If you’ve found it easier to get lost in an endless sea of blue these days, you’re not alone. According to a study conducted this past July by the Kaiser Family Foundation, more than 50 percent of US adults said that their mental health had been adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Those numbers will continue to rise, especially during this second wave and until enough people have been vaccinated to bring back some semblance of normalcy.
To help lighten your mental load this winter, Capital Region Living got in touch with Dr. Alex Marsal, PhD, a longtime Troy-area psychologist, who is also the co-founder and chief clinical/science officer at digital behavioral healthcare startup aptihealth (aptihealth.com), a platform that is helping patients get better access to behavioral health treatment (“behavioral health” is a catchall that includes mental health, addiction and other behavioral maladies). We asked Dr. Marsal what could be done to better our mental health during these most difficult of times—especially, in the new year, following one of the toughest-to-swallow, socially isolated holiday seasons in recent history.
How We Got Here
When COVID started, there was an initial uptick in behavioral health issues, and then, as it lasted longer and longer, and people were sheltered in place, every behavioral issue went up—depression, anxiety, drinking, violence—across the board. This second wave is even worse, because we already went through it, which exhausted us. Even though we had some reprieve over the summer, now we don’t have the emotional tolerance we did the first time. You’ve also got the holidays, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and then COVID on top of that. There’s a natural tendency to feel let down in January, except this will last, in my opinion, until mid-to-late March, when the days get brighter and longer.
Track Your Symptoms
About 25 percent of US adults report that mental health problems get worse over the holidays. In terms of symptoms, if you’re feeling down and blue, unusually angry or less interested in things, having difficulty making decisions or concentrating or you’re very lonely, you’re probably starting to struggle with the holiday blues, SAD or ongoing depression. If you have any thoughts of suicide, that is automatically in the clinical depression bucket, and you should seek immediate help.
Find a Path to Happiness
Happiness is the difference between where you are or who you are and what you want to be or where you want to be. The greater the gap, the more unhappy you are. The smaller the gap, the happier you are. Under normal conditions, the holidays include the expectation of having fun, being happy, rejoicing and being together. But everybody’s reality doesn’t match that; in fact, most people’s realities don’t. It’s going to be interesting when people reflect back on 2020. I have no idea what they’re going to reflect on, because it was a tough year. I would recommend having realistic expectations and accepting them. And now that we’ve realized that, how do we compensate for it? Be creative with that time you might have now that you didn’t before COVID hit. Take a cooking or an art class.
Keep an Eye on First Responders
I’m scared that healthcare workers and first responders won’t be OK by next summer or fall. When COVID starts to ease up and the rest of us are starting to breathe, the accumulation of what they’ve been through in the last year is going to hit them. I hope we can do something to provide them