Seasonal Affective Disorder and Grief: Why They Often Coexist

It’s estimated that about 5% of Americans experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD). SAD symptoms exist on a spectrum, but like major depression, they can include persistent feelings of sadness, irritability, concentration problems, fatigue, weight loss or weight gain, changes in sleep patterns, and a lack of motivation. With that said, it’s important to note that grief reactions can heighten depression, and depression can also exacerbate grief.

The Relationship Between SAD Symptoms and Grief Reactions

Grief is not a mental health issue, but it can certainly worsen mental health symptoms, such as depression or anxiety. With that in mind, many people struggle during the holidays (even when they’re not grieving).

The winter months can be cold, long, and dreary. But this time is also juxtaposed with the festive holidays, which have long been stereotyped as the most wonderful time of the year.

People experiencing the emotional toll of grief often find that SAD symptoms compound their challenges. The changes in sleep patterns, decreased energy, and overall mood fluctuations can intensify their sadness. In addition, SAD symptoms may make it more challenging to cope with the ups and downs of grieving itself.

Both situations can also make people feel more vulnerable to other mental health challenges, including withdrawal tendencies, avoidance behaviors, low self-esteem, limited motivation, and persistent feelings of dread or apathy.

Death Anniversaries and the Holiday Season

The loss of a loved one can magnify feelings of grief during typical holiday traditions. Such feelings can be difficult to manage, and you may not even know how to accurately express them to your loved ones.

When this happens, you might react by wanting to avoid certain rituals altogether. Or you might still spend time with close family members or friends, but there’s a painful discomfort associated with their absence or the memories from past celebrations. All of these tendencies are normal, and they all speak to the intense ebbs and flows that grief can bring.

If you’re experiencing a death anniversary, it can be helpful to simply label your emotions and be mindful of your expectations during this time. It’s okay to scale back on particular festivities if they feel too overwhelming. It may also be beneficial to reach out to your support system to talk.

No matter how you typically celebrate the holidays, you’re allowed to give yourself grace. It’s possible that you will need to revise certain traditions, and that’s okay.

What Helps Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Like major depressive disorder, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all treatment method for reducing symptoms. If you have SAD, your emotional state will likely start improving once spring arrives. However, many people also find that implementing the following suggestions can treat SAD and help them feel more empowered through the winter.

Light therapy: There is research showing that sunlight affects mood, so when there’s less sunlight during the waking hours, depressive symptoms may feel amplified. It may be worth considering using a light therapy box or committing to spending just a few minutes walking outside each day.

Medication: Antidepressant medication, like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), may be prescribed to help treat seasonal affective disorder as well as other mental disorders, such as anxiety conditions or PTSD. It’s best to talk with your doctor or psychiatrist to review potential medication options.

Professional help: A mental health professional can support you in working through your depression, grief, and other intense emotions. Therapy offers a safe place where you can be your authentic self and deepen your insight into your current needs.

Lifestyle changes: Healthy lifestyle changes, such as getting more rest, spending time with a positive support system, and practicing productive coping mechanisms, can support your overall emotional well-being.

Self-kindness and self-compassion: Being good to yourself never eradicates depression or grief, but it can certainly soothe the intensity of some of life’s harsher emotions. You deserve to treat yourself well, no matter how much you’re struggling. The more you can take care of yourself, the more you can also lovingly show up for others.

Therapy for Seasonal Depression and Grief in Austin, TX

The winter blues affect many people, but experiencing grief during the holidays can feel particularly destabilizing. It is important to remember that there is no “right” way to feel when you’re grieving. Your emotions are valid, and you deserve to look after your needs amid this difficult time.

If you are experiencing grief along with a mood disorder, you are not alone. Having support doesn’t eliminate the emotions, but it can provide some relief and guidance along your healing journey.

Regardless of the season, I would be honored to help you. As a seasoned grief therapist, I work with all kinds of grief and loss, and I also treat depression, anxiety, and complex trauma. I welcome you to contact me today to learn more about my process and to schedule a consultation.

4601 Spicewood Springs Road Building 3, Suite 200
Austin, TX 78759
(512) 988-3363

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