Breakups are tough. If you’ve bid adieu to your summer fling, you might be going through one right now. While going through a breakup is difficult at any time of year, they might be particularly hard to “snap out of” when dealing with seasonal affective disorder.
“SAD is when a person experiences depressive symptoms each year at the same time and is triggered by the change in season, usually occurring between summer and fall,” Dr. Connie Omari, a North Carolina-based online counselor, tells SheKnows.
According to Omari, SAD has many symptoms that we associate with depression but are exacerbated during the darker months, including moodiness, anxiety, loneliness, loss of interest, excess sleepiness or insomnia and appetite changes.
Loneliness? Anxiety? Loss of appetite? If that sounds like signs from your last breakup, that’s because a breakup can also trigger depression according to Dr. Carolina Castaños, a licensed marriage and family therapist.
“Many times, individuals going through a breakup experience depression,” Castaños tells SheKnows. “This depression might be related with past wounds that have not healed and that are triggered, many times unconsciously, by this experience.”
Why the weather makes a breakup worse (& vice versa)
Not surprisingly, SAD can make the perception of a breakup even more challenging.
“The multitude of emotions that often accompany a breakup make it difficult to follow through with even the simplest of responsibilities,” clinical psychologist Dr. Jodi J. De Luca tells SheKnows. “Individuals experiencing SAD in addition to a recent breakup may experience a heightened emotional vulnerability. Therefore, it is critical to self-monitor stress levels, degrees of depression and anxiety, sleep patterns and tendencies to socially isolate.”
Additionally, most people don't realize that breakups typically involve going through a grief process that can be as depressing, if not more depressing, than the death of a loved one, Omari notes.
"In death, a person can seek comfort in knowing that the separation is permanent and cannot be restored," she says. "That is often not the case in breakups. Therefore, a person experiencing a breakup while also struggling with SAD will be faced with extreme feelings of grief in the process, which makes their experience with SAD even worse.”
Suffering from SAD and a breakup simultaneously can leave the individual feeling hopeless and with less energy, says Castaños. It also makes depressive symptoms more intense and harder to cope with. “It can also be tricky because it is difficult to assess if the depressive symptoms are caused by SAD or they have to do with the actual experience,” she says.
How to try to feel better
Regardless of it being SAD or depression or sadness as part of the grieving process, the first thing to do, according to Castaños, is to take care of yourself, which means eating healthily, exercising and making sure you get enough sleep. She also recommends having a support system in place as well as learning to be aware of your feelings, regulating your emotions and allowing yourself to be sad but in a kind, compassionate way.
“Once we start doing these things, we can allow ourselves to go through the different emotions that involve grief, like sadness, anger, guilt and eventually reach a point where we can find something to learn from this experience,” Castaños says.
Because the symptoms will likely look very similar and be difficult to differentiate, Omari recommends healing the symptoms of SAD and breakups concurrently. “By addressing the symptoms together, you address the whole person, which is necessary no matter what counseling needs a person has,” she says.
In addition to recommending psychotherapy by clinicians trained in helping clients through relationship transitions, Omari recommends journaling with the use of a mood-lighting lamp to help heal.
“The benefits of journaling include relaxation, validation, revising the end to your story, decreasing depression and reducing stress and anxiety,” she says. “Mood-lighting lamps act as artificial light designed to combat the dark, which triggers SAD. They are associated with improving melanin production and increasing metabolism. Both [journals and lamps] can be purchased inexpensively and work well together for combating SAD while facing a breakup.”
Since low self-esteem and self-doubt are common after a breakup, particularly if you experience SAD, De Luca says that identifying priorities and establishing realistic goals are critical elements post-breakup.
“Priorities serve as a type of 'road map' by which we can navigate our life and achieve our goals,” she says. “Goal achievement adds to a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment, assists in decreasing depression and ultimately contributes to a more fulfilling quality of life.”
De Luca suggests creating a timeline for personal and professional success. “By nature, the human brain likes structure and is very goal-oriented. The end of a relationship can be traumatic, and emotions make it difficult to follow through with even the simplest of responsibilities,” she says. “Setting priorities and goals with established deadline dates can help the brain to organize and compartmentalize tasks, ultimately leading to decreased stress and successful goal achievement.”
While learning to change one’s perspective in order to find healing and peace is the ultimate goal, Castaños says it’s important to remember that this learning is a process and does not happen overnight.
Because, ultimately, whether we have SAD or not, when dealing with a breakup, Castaños says, it’s important to view it as “an experience that challenged us to confront our fears and allowed us to grow and to be a better version of ourselves."