Approximately 10 million Americans are affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), per Psychology Today.
When you pair that with grieving the loss of a loved one, the symptoms can be overwhelming. Especially during the holiday season when grief surges and many people are experiencing SAD.
Defining Seasonal Affective Disorder
SAD is a type of depression that affects people annually during specific times of the year. The most common type of SAD is during the late fall and winter months — however — some people experience SAD during the late spring and summer months.
Although specific causes of SAD are unknown, a possible contributor is a disruption to your biological clock, like getting less sunlight in the fall and winter. Another possible cause may be disruptions to your serotonin and melatonin levels. Your serotonin levels affect your mood while melatonin levels can affect your mood and sleep patterns. It’s also thought that people who live farther north or south from the equator have a greater chance of being diagnosed with SAD.
Although the symptoms vary depending on the person, these are some common SAD symptoms:
- Change in appetite or weight
- Daily depression
- Easily agitated
- Feeling sluggish
- Feeling hopeless, worthless, or guilty
- Frequent thoughts about death or suicide
- Lack of concentration
- Loss of interest in usual activities
- Low energy
- Sleep problems
In terms of winter SAD, some common symptoms include:
- Appetite changes — such as foods with more carbs
- Weight gain
- Feeling tired
- Low energy
Some common symptoms of summer SAD include:
- Poor appetite
- Weight loss
Common Grief Symptoms
Some common grief symptoms include:
Coping with SAD and Grief
The combination of seasonal changes and grief can heighten the symptoms that come with them. Finding ways to cope with SAD and grief can help make your everyday routine a little easier.
For example, to cope with SAD, many people use light therapy by sitting near a light box device to help make up for the lack of sunlight. However, you should talk to your doctor before deciding to start light therapy or other treatment options like medications.
By getting a little creative, you can combine some of the coping mechanisms together to combat both grief and SAD. Some ideas include taking a trip to the cemetery on a sunny winter day or making a DIY memorial photo lantern.
SAD and Grief During the Holidays
For those with winter SAD, the holiday season can be especially tough. It’s difficult enough to cope with the loss of a loved one but when you add SAD and the holiday season, it’s a lot to handle at once. Little things like holiday traditions or simply having a loved one’s seat empty at the dinner table reminds those grieving of the reality of their loss.
When it comes to holiday grief and SAD, some ways you can cope are sharing memories of your loved one around the dinner table, making their favorite holiday dish to pass, or making a holiday-themed memorial to display in your home.
How to Help a Loved One
If your loved one is affected by SAD and coping with a loss, one way that you can help is by checking in and seeing how they’re doing. Small gestures like bringing them a meal or just being there to listen to them without judgment can go a long way. You can still invite them to get-togethers, even if they may decline because it shows that you care about them.
You also should make sure they’re seeking professional help if needed, but don’t be too pushy about it. If they’re suffering from SAD and grief symptoms are affecting their ability to function and complete everyday tasks, then they should talk to their doctor. Simply remind them that you care about their wellbeing and want them to seek the medical care that’s best for them.
What other ways can you help a loved one cope with Seasonal Affective Disorder and grief? Share them with us in the comments!