As if the lockdown isn't enough, mental health experts are warning that we could also be suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder - or SAD.

It's still March, but WeatherWatch points out that we passed the autumn equinox last Friday, so now our nights are now longer than our days. Daylight saving ends soon, on April 5.

"It's all probably just going to add to the stress," says Mental Health Foundation chief executive Shaun Robinson.

"It's going to be very important that people work on their mental health and wellbeing during this time.


"It's okay to feel anxious and upset about the epidemic. It's perfectly normal, and this is something that the world has not seen in anyone's lifetime."

The Mental Health Foundation says SAD is also a real disorder, "a form of depression that's related to the change of season from summer to winter".

"When you are depressed, your low mood lasts, affecting your sleep, energy levels, relationships, job and appetite," it says.

"The difference between depression and SAD is that if you experience SAD your symptoms will appear around the end of autumn, and continue through until the days get longer and sunnier in spring."

Shaun Robinson:
Shaun Robinson: "Our lives are slowing down a bit... It's important for people to take that time to take a bit of notice of what's going on with themselves." Photo / File

But Robinson says the standard "five ways to wellbeing" are even more important than usual during this time: connect with other people, give, keep active, take notice, and keep learning.

Coronavirus: Mental Health Foundation launches new resource to counter anxiety
Coronavirus: Mental health experts Janet Peters and David Codyre on combating fear, anxiety
Coronavirus: Focus on mental health to cope with Covid-19 stressors
Coronavirus: Farmers' mental health important says Katie Milne

"People are finding really creative ways to connect with each other. All of my team - people are having Zoom coffee breaks with one another and all kinds of things," he says.

"Some of my neighbours here have talked about setting up a regular time when we stand at our gate and even just wave to one another just so we can maintain a sense of being connected."


He says the lockdown is an opportunity to put more time into "taking notice".

"Our lives are slowing down a bit, they are going to be simplified for the next four weeks. It's important for people to take that time to take a bit of notice of what's going on with themselves," he says.

"Take some time to do perhaps some breathing exercises. There are plenty of relaxation exercises on YouTube. Other people are going to find different forms of prayer really useful.

"Another part of this is to start consciously being aware of the things that do make you happy in our very limited world now. I'm looking out the window at the sun coming through the tree in my garden. Make a list the end of the day of three things that you really appreciated each day."

Educationalists are concerned about how children will cope with the lockdown. Ako Space, a play-based school on Auckland's North Shore, has shared advice from a British school principal J S Bundy: "At the end of all of this, their mental health will be far more important than their academic skills."

"What children need right now is to feel comforted and loved. To feel like it is all going to be okay. That might mean that you need to tear up your perfect timetable and focus on giving them lots of love and attention," Bundy says.

Dr Nina Hood:
Dr Nina Hood: "My strong advice to parents would be: don't plan to do your traditional 8.30am-3pm day." Photo / Supplied

Auckland University lecturer Dr Nina Hood, who runs The Education Hub, says routines are important for everyone's wellbeing too, but suggests that structured learning should be done in short bursts with plenty of time in between for exercise and play.

"In any situation where you are learning remotely, it's much harder to maintain your attention and keep focused than when you are in a classroom. Partly that is to do with the lack of other people around you to engage with around the material," she says.

"So my strong advice to parents would be: don't plan to do your traditional 8.30am-3pm day. Particularly for young children, that is not realistic. But think about how you can shape the learning into short, sharp bursts."

• Official advice on looking after your mental wellbeing: