Seasonal Affective Disorder and Grief can make the holidays even more difficult than usual. Our most celebrated holidays happen in December when the days are shorter and sunset comes earlier than ever. This means that the holiday months are especially difficult for many reasons.
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a change in mood that happens in the winter months when there are fewer hours of sunlight. It is a type of depression that can rob you of energy and make you feel more moody than usual.
Some characteristics of SAD include feelings of sadness or despair, lack of interest in activities you used to love, lack of motivation or energy, difficulty concentrating, and more. Many people suffering from SAD turn to higher carbohydrate foods for comfort and often gain weight, sleep too much, and experience increased fatigue. Hopelessness, irritability, exhaustion, sleep disturbances, and increased thoughts about death or suicide aren’t uncommon for those who struggle with SAD.
It’s easy to see how the symptoms and commonalities of Seasonal Affective Disorder and grief overlap, and how grief can impact SAD (and vice versa).
Seasonal Affective Disorder and Grief: How Are They Similar?
Because grief is not linear, it’s difficult to assign milestones to the experience. Grief can be different over time, and it can vary depending on each situation. For example, a person may grieve one way after the death of a child than they do after the death of a parent. Seasonal Affective Disorder and grief can impact these different ways of grieving in different ways, depending on a person’s unique circumstances.
Furthermore, feeling the loss of a loved one doesn’t really end. It only changes as time progresses and our lives evolve. This is why we can feel “better,” only to feel it more pointedly during the holidays or on a special occasion, such as a birthday or anniversary.
Some symptoms of grief overlap with those of depression. Our sleep may be disrupted. We may lose our appetite or eat more. We may be unable to perform daily tasks that we previously thought were simple. Dealing with both Seasonal Affective Disorder and grief can make these uncomfortable and unhealthy feelings even stronger.
We also might isolate ourselves from others. Ongoing practices like this can perpetuate grief and depression.
Ways to Mitigate Seasonal Affective Disorder and Grief
While there are no cures for Seasonal Affective Disorder and grief, there are ways we can cope with our feelings of loss and depression. Some of these suggestions can also help with SAD.
Go outside as often as possible. During the winter months, when SAD is most pronounced, our days are shorter and we have fewer hours of daylight. This affects our Vitamin D levels, which can contribute to depression and lethargy.
Spending time outdoors, whether it’s to take a walk or garden or shovel snow, can help revive our spirits and give us that necessary dose of sunlight that affects not just our mood, but our physical being as well.
If you can’t go outdoors, try to get as much sunlight as possible. Open your blinds and curtains. Sit by the window. If all else fails, try a SAD light that simulates natural sunlight.
Seek the Support of Family, Friends, and Trusted Professionals
When you wonder whether or not you’d be a burden to someone if you reached out to ask for help, think about how you’d respond if the roles were reversed. Often, we convince ourselves that the kindness we’d naturally offer the people we love would be too much to ask, but it’s often not true. Chances are there are countless family and friends who would pick up the phone to chat, exchange emails, or meet for coffee if you asked.
Remember that others rarely know exactly what we need, and sometimes they worry that they’ll ask the wrong question or say the wrong thing. By reaching out, we give others a chance to express their love and concern without worrying about doing the wrong thing. More people understand the nuances of Seasonal Affective Disorder and grief more than we know. They don’t talk about it, though, because it’s a tough topic to discuss.
If you can’t think of a family member or friend you’re comfortable reaching out to, consider connecting with someone at your place of worship, like a priest, rabbi, or minister. You might also consider local support groups or clubs. While the latter isn’t grief or depression specific, connecting with people who share some of the same interests, like needlework, tabletop games, or books, can help us feel less isolated as we work through the grief and depression we’re feeling. It’s almost certain that someone in a group you belong to also struggles with Seasonal Affective Disorder and grief.
If you have benefits through your job, you might have access to free therapy and counseling through an EAP program. Or you might have insurance benefits that will cover therapy sessions. There are therapists who specialize in depression, Seasonal Affective Disorder, and grief. Knowing which resources are available to you is a great first step in taking care of yourself, especially when all of the steps seem particularly difficult to take.
Embrace the Sadness of Grief
There is no way to separate sadness from grief. They are intertwined. This doesn’t matter when grief happens, if we suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder and grief, or if we are generally depressed. When we run from those feelings of sadness, they can get worse. It might seem odd to say that embracing the sadness of grief can be comforting, but there are studies to prove that sitting with grief can help us find a kind of peace.
Grieving often poses monumental questions that we grapple with, like what’s the meaning of life? or does any of this really matter? Giving yourself space to think about these things can help calm the mind as we find our own answers. As we work through our thoughts and questions, we begin to refocus on what really matters to us. This is different for everyone, and while we don’t want to stay in sadness forever, allowing ourselves to truly experience it can help us move through grief’s stages in a mindful, purposeful way.
Create New Traditions
Sometimes our habits can anchor us when everything else feels tenuous. Creating a new tradition or habit can provide guideposts to our days or months, especially when we struggle with depression, Seasonal Affective Disorder and grief.
You might consider creating daily habits that will support you as you grieve. Think of saying a prayer while you make your coffee, for example, or making a list every night of three things you were grateful for during the day.
Traditions or habits need not be extravagant to work. You might decide to light a candle each Sunday after church as a way to spend time thinking about your loved one, or picking out one perfect flower to leave at the cemetery once every month.
The key is to decide what will bring you a bit of peace and structure, and allow that peace and structure to help guide you through the toughest days.
Be Kind to Yourself
It’s easier said than done, but remember to be kind to yourself. Seasonal Affective Disorder and grief affect us all differently. Grieving isn’t linear, and it often cannot be predicted. Everyone’s grief journey is different. Don’t compare yourself to others or think that you’re not grieving “the right way.” There truly is no such thing.
We’ve worked with families for decades and have been trusted to help with their hardest days. We’re honored to be a resource for you, too. Please reach out if we can help in any way.