The Holiday Season: When SAD and Grief Occur

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Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

The holiday season is upon us once again. It is a time of year filled with joy, hopefulness for the New Year and remembrances of years past, going back to childhood and parents. It is also a time of year that can be emotionally exhausting, especially if a loved one died during the last year. Combined with a vulnerability to Seasonal Affective disorder, the season and aftermath can be very difficult.

Because the season is a festive time that is marked by family renewals, a deep sense of loss and mourning can be pervasive when a loved one is missing. Normally, holidays bring with them fond reminiscences of past celebrations. The “empty chair” that was occupied by a wife, parent, other close family members and close and dear friends can often reawakens feelings of grief with renewed intensity.


In addition, there is the problem of seasonal changes that come with life during the winter months. Shorter days, fewer hours of sunshine, cloudy skies, cold and damp weather, all combine to cause Seasonal Affective Disorder for those are already vulnerable to its influences.

In other words, depression can raise its ugly head during time that is supposed to be festive. In fact, it has been my observation that the contrast between the joy that others are feeling and the sadness that one does feel, increases the sense of loss and abandonment during this time of year.

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Some coping suggestions handling grief during the holidays:

1. When the family gathers, honor and remember the loved one by lighting a special candle.

2. Have everyone share a favorite memory.

3. Ask the family to take part in a loved one’s favorite holiday activity. Do something that would make your loved one smile.”

4. Everyone in the family feels the loss of the missing family member. Reminiscing about that family member can even bring smiles to everyone’s faces. Avoiding discussing the loss only worsens sad feelings.

5. If shopping in the malls feels too painful, shop for gifts online or just send cards. Everyone will understand.

6. Surround yourself with caring, loving and supportive people.

Coping with Seasonal Affective Disorder:

This disorder is characterized by depression, exhaustion and lack of interest in people and regular activities. The result is that the ability to function both socially and at work is impaired. Therefore, its important to:

1. Get outside during winter months even if the weather is awful., even if it is overcast.

2. Expose your eyes to natural light for one hour each day can reduce the symptoms of SAD.

3. At home, open the drapes and blinds in order to let in natural light.

4. If symptoms persist for more two weeks or more a more aggressive approach will be necessary by seeking psychological help.

5. This help may take the form of light therapy where special lamps expose the eyes to the type of sunlight that exists during spring and summer.

6. Antidepressant medication and psychotherapy help a great deal and enable people to get through the holidays and winter months. Many people can discontinue treatment when the winter season ends and the SAD passes.

Others may need to continue treatment if the SAD turns into Major Depression. Signs of Major Depression include such things as to look for include, loss of appetite or overeating, low energy levels, difficulties in concentrating and thoughts about death and suicide.

Caution: Particularly because its the holiday season, there may be a tendency to self medicate symptoms of SAD, Depression and Loss by drinking. In point of fact, alcohol will only worsen these feelings. Its important, especially under these circumstances, to avoid drinking in order to lower the intensity of depression.

Your comments and questions are welcome.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD


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