Thrive by IU Health

February 17, 2021

Tips for Isolation, Anxiety, and Seasonal Depression During COVID-19

For most of us, this winter is unlike anything we’ve ever experienced before. Not only is it cold and snowy outside — this year, many of us are stuck inside self-isolating and dealing with anxieties caused by an ongoing global pandemic. Others are dealing with all of these feelings while facing the annual return of seasonal depression.

It is undeniably difficult to manage feelings of isolation, anxiety, and seasonal depression in the wake of the pandemic — but it is still possible to find healthy ways to deal with them. Lindsay Potts, Manager of Outpatient Behavioral Health Services in Bloomington, shares some ways to be kind to yourself this winter and prioritize your feelings during a tumultuous time.

Understanding seasonal depression

Seasonal depression is characterized by the onset of depressive symptoms that are tied to the changing of the seasons — less sunlight, changes in routine, and a general slowdown in day-to-day activities.

People who experience seasonal depression often find themselves experiencing some of the following:

  • Feeling hopeless
  • Reflecting on their sense of self-worth
  • Having a sense of guilt
  • Experiencing sleep disturbances
  • Experiencing changes in appetite
  • Struggling to focus
  • In more severe cases, having suicidal ideations

These symptoms can lead to a change in routine as the person engages less with those around them and ceases their normal activities. This can cause them to shut down or feel isolated, continuing the cycle of seasonal depression.

Getting diagnosed with seasonal depression

Seasonal depression can be diagnosed by primary care physicians, nurse practitioners, psychologists, and therapists.

Diagnosis starts with testing by your doctor, with the PHQ-9 being the most common assessment for depression. Your doctor will ask you a series of questions to determine if you may have depression. Further questions can help to determine if you have major depressive disorder or if it is seasonal.

Seasonal depression vs. ‘the winter blues’

It’s important to note that seasonal depression is different from what people often call “the winter blues.” People who experience the winter blues are most likely reacting to changing routines and adjusting to a new pace of life. They can typically overcome this with time and support.

Seasonal depression persists over time and involves more severe symptoms that require professional support in order to manage them.

Seasonal depression and anxiety

Those who are diagnosed with seasonal depression may also experience symptoms of anxiety.

Anxiety is often treated much the same as depression, through psychotherapy and professional support from doctors. The biggest difference between those who are diagnosed with depression and anxiety versus those who do not have anxiety is the medication they might be prescribed.

Your doctor will work with you to ensure you are receiving the medication best suited to treat your symptoms.

Seasonal depression and the COVID-19 pandemic

Some activities that can counteract depression include getting out of the house, establishing a daily routine, and interacting with family and friends. But during the pandemic, these activities aren’t necessarily an option for people.

Working from home and not having the ability to get out and socialize can be an isolating experience, especially for those who have seasonal depression. As a result, those with seasonal depression might have a more difficult time managing their symptoms, and someone who hasn’t been diagnosed may now experience a depressive episode in response to the increased stress.

Managing seasonal depression during the pandemic

Some people are turning to substances like alcohol and marijuana to cope with the stress of the pandemic. It’s important to remember that these behaviors can do more harm than good for those with seasonal depression. Instead, one of the most beneficial ways to cope with pandemic stress and seasonal depression is to be kind and patient with ourselves.

We’re all dealing with an unprecedented crisis that has fundamentally changed the way we live, and we have to understand how this affects our daily habits and give ourselves the permission to not always be performing at 100%. We also have to find smaller moments of joy where we can enjoy ourselves and give our minds a break from the stress — something as simple as going for a walk or even splitting wood can be important for your mental health.

Coping with isolation

The pandemic can increase levels of anxiety for those worried about contracting or spreading the virus. Part of our response to these high levels of anxiety is to isolate and shut ourselves in to avoid exposure. However, in doing so, we shrink our social sphere and reduce the amount of human contact and interaction with the outside world. This can lead to worsened symptoms of seasonal depression when coupled with the disruptions brought on by the changing of the seasons.

Finding support for seasonal depression

The best thing you can do is start the process now — don’t wait until your symptoms become unmanageable. There are great resources like Psychology Today where you can find quick access to therapists near you. You can also talk with your primary care physician who may be able to help you receive medication to treat seasonal depression, and they can also connect you with a specialty provider, if needed. Additionally, there are many telehealth options available to get the support you need from the comfort and safety of your home.

Taking the time to research your options, find availability, and learn which providers are covered by your insurance is important to receiving the care you need. In most cases, seasonal depression is treatable with the right resources and support. Seeking out help may seem intimidating, but prioritizing your mental wellbeing is crucial for all of us as we continue to deal with the pandemic and head into the winter months.

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