Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) + Your Skin

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Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) + Your Skin

By Hanna Yowell

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What do 4:30 p.m. sunsets, a level of exhaustion that no amount of coffee can cut through, and (to put it bluntly) feeling even more bummed the f*ck out than usual have in common? Well, for me (and maybe for you, too) they’re tell-tale signs of another round of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Oh, and on top of that, my skin has never been crankier either.

Over the years, I’ve been working on building up a “toolkit” of sorts to help manage my depression symptoms (shoutout to my therapist, Catherine—you’re a queen!). But, I think it’s safe to say this last year has been uniquely challenging on the mental health front. So I was curious — what are some new things we can do to cope? To inform my POV, I spoke with Naiylah Warren, LMFT, and staff therapist at a new therapy concept called Real, plus our resident skincare expert Shea Amiruddin about the skincare side of things

What Is SAD + What Are The Symptoms?

According to the Mayo Clinic, SAD is a “type of depression that’s related to the changes in seasons.” Different signs and symptoms can present depending on the season:

  • Fall/winter: Oversleeping, appetite changes, weight gain, tiredness, low energy
  • Spring/summer: Trouble sleeping, poor appetite, weight loss, agitation, anxiety

It may be instinctual to brush these symptoms off as just “the winter blues,” but SAD is a condition that deserves medical and therapeutic attention, particularly when it starts to interfere with your day-to-day life.

How Does SAD, Or Anxiety In General, Affect Our Skin?

“The skin is part of our immune system. What you see on the skin is a direct result of something that is happening in one of the other systems; it’s a way of a particular system letting you know something is wrong,” says Shea Amiruddin, Heyday Director of Skincare Education.

“Stress, sadness, and anxiety are all going to directly affect your skin because those feelings play a role in the inflammatory cascade that happens within your immune system,” says Shea.

Essentially, any emotion that triggers an inflammatory response in the body can cause inflammation in the skin—which aggravates or causes many skin conditions, such as acne, rosacea, and eczema

TLDR; Stress/sadness/anxiety → inflammation → skin conditions

Routine Edits For Upset Skin
Q+A with Therapist Naiylah Warren

Now, we’re excited for you to read our Q+A with Naiylah—where we dive into everything from social coping techniques to Zoom burnout. You can follow her at @naoinlife, and begin working with her and the whole Real team here.

What Are Some Helpful Coping Mechanisms For SAD?

Naiylah: Something that I work with a lot of clients on is social forecasting. One of the symptoms that often comes up is isolation, which is common during the winter and now especially during Covid-19. Social forecasting means building things into your schedule that you can look forward to. These are things that help connect you with other people, but this process also takes the pressure off of always having to be in contact with people, too. You can do this by setting up a social calendar. For example, identify each week who you’re excited to talk to on Zoom or meet up with for a socially distanced coffee. What can you build into your schedule to get that connection, while still being safe?

Connecting with community is a tool that people can use when they see an increase in [SAD] symptoms. I’ve noticed that my clients who usually engage in individual therapy have benefited from group therapy; this really helps to bring in a social component. For anyone who is looking for different types of support, you can always join Real, because there are so many ways to get support, from listening to the Therapy Pathways or participating in a roundtable.

Also, just focusing on basic self-care activities. When we’re in that state of feeling down and low, we may not do the things that keep us afloat—things like showering, getting up and eating breakfast, taking a walk, or getting our blood moving. Work on creating routine around those basic functions before trying to level up on the self-care

If Someone Thinks They May Be Experiencing SAD Symptoms, What Should They Do?

N: I would definitely encourage seeking out counseling/therapeutic support. I think that can be really important because SAD differs from person-to-person. There are also things like light therapy for SAD that can specifically help get your serotonin levels up. But, these are all things that should be done under a doctor’s supervision.

Will Someone Who Has “Zoom Burnout” Still Benefit From Virtual Therapy?

N: The therapy experience — from the relationships to the overall energy — is very different. In therapy, it’s a space to not perform. It’s a space where you don’t have to be “on” in that way.

Therapy is a place and time for you to be introspective and really question some of your own thoughts, feelings, and how you process things. It won’t always be easy, but know that in this space, you have true control. You’re empowered to emote and discuss, or not discuss, as much as you want.

What Self-Care Rituals Have You Personally Found Helpful During This Time?

N: I really do love self-care—even the most basic versions. I think it’s really important that we’re intentional about stress management.

One thing that has gotten me through this time is a skincare routine. For me, it’s about, yes, having good skin, but also about ritual. It’s something that grounds me and connects me to my body.

Also, I’ve been taking a lot of nature walks as a way to get out of my apartment. These things have all helped to shift my perspective and to give me something to hold onto.


This article is for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you think you are experiencing symptoms of SAD, please consult your primary physician and call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) if you are in immediate distress.

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