Five Questions With: Cara McNulty

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McNulty: As the days begin to get shorter and colder, individuals may experience Seasonal Affective Disorder, which is a form of mild to moderate depression. Some people actually feel the slump at the same time every year as a result of spending less time outdoors. For others, an especially harsh winter, a move to a colder climate or another lifestyle change may bring it on for the first time. All of these factors can impact your mood and result in feelings of SAD.

PBN: Who is most at risk for SAD?

McNulty: About 6 in every 100 people experience SAD. It’s most common in older teens and young adults, usually starting in the early twenties. Women are about four times more likely than males to develop SAD, as are people with relatives who have had depression.

PBN: How can someone detect and manage SAD?

McNulty: The most common SAD symptoms are low energy, grogginess or excessive sleep. Some people experience changes in their mood, which can include sadness, irritability, and/or feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness. However, it is important to note that if these symptoms are severe or persist for more than a few weeks, it may be more than SAD.

The best way to manage the effects of SAD is to focus on your overall health. This can include eating a healthy diet, practicing good sleep habits and exercising. Most importantly, get outside to do this. Light is a big help – even a few minutes outside in the colder months can go a long way!

Also, don’t be afraid to seek help. There are many tools and resources available for those seeking mental health support. CVS MinuteClinics offer depression screenings in more than 1,000 locations across the country. Additionally, in select MinuteClinic locations consumers have access to mental health services that are either in-person or virtual, including cognitive behavioral therapy.

PBN: How can the holiday season affect people’s mental health?

McNulty: We often set an expectation of what the holiday season ‘should’ be. Unfortunately, trying to match these expectations can be difficult. Individuals can develop what is known as the ‘holiday blues’, which is temporary feelings of anxiety, depression, sadness, loneliness or other negative feelings. Additional holiday pressures including hosting parties, traveling, dealing with complex family situations, financial anxiety and loneliness can also be contributing factors.

PBN: What is the best way to reduce holiday stress and seasonal depression?

McNulty: Be mindful of the season and all that comes with it, both positive and negative. It can be helpful to stick to your routine and set realistic expectations for an event or the time of year overall. Don’t be afraid to set boundaries to avoid overextending yourself and continue to focus on self-care and healthy habits.

Katie Castellani is a PBN staff writer. You may contact her at

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