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Session 284: ICYMI, Understanding Seasonal Affective Disorder

The Therapy for Black Girls Podcast is a weekly conversation with Dr. Joy Harden Bradford, a licensed Psychologist in Atlanta, Georgia, about all things mental health, personal development, and all the small decisions we can make to become the best possible versions of ourselves.

This week we’re circling back on an episode from our archive that not only matches the literal season we are in but also reflects the world we’re still trying to figure out how to navigate. Growing up, you might have heard that people’s moods change with the season. But did you know that there’s actually some science behind that? Despite Fall & Winter being a time for family traditions and celebrations, it’s also a time when more people may experience feelings of sadness, irritability, and fatigue. In this conversation with Dr. Allycin Powell-Hicks, we talked about Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), tips for managing depressive symptoms, how we can tell if symptoms are something we should be concerned about, how to support ourselves in this reimagined holiday season, and some of the relationship challenges that arose during the pandemic and how to manage them.


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Session 284: ICYMI, Understanding Seasonal Affective Disorder

Dr. Joy: Hey, y'all! Thanks so much for joining me for Session 284 of the Therapy for Black Girls podcast. We'll get right into our conversation after a word from our sponsors.


Dr. Joy: This week, we're circling back on an episode from our archive that not only matches the literal season we're in, but also reflects the world we're still trying to figure out how to navigate. Growing up, you might have heard that people's moods change with the season. But did you know that there's actually some science behind that? Despite fall and winter being a time for family traditions and celebrations, it’s also a time when more people may experience feelings of sadness, irritability and fatigue.

In this conversation with Dr. Allycin Powell-Hicks, we talk about seasonal affective disorder or SAD, tips for managing depressive symptoms, how we can tell if symptoms are something we should be concerned about, how to support ourselves in this reimagined holiday season, and some of the relationship challenges that arose during the pandemic and how to manage them. If something resonates with you while enjoying our conversation, please share it with us on social media using the hashtag #TBGinSession or join us over in the Sister Circle to talk more in depth about the episode. You can join us at Here's our conversation.

Dr. Joy: Thank you so much for joining us today, Dr. Ally.

Dr. Ally: Thank you for having me.

Dr. Joy: It feels like we are overdue for our conversation so I'm very glad we were able to get you on the schedule. You may have seen this meme floating around social media with all the “Spidermans” pointing at one another with seasonal affective depression meets COVID depression, meets normal depression. It kind of feels like that is where many of us are, like it just feels like there's been so much going on this year and now we are hitting peak winter season. Let's start off by defining what seasonal affective disorder is.

Dr. Ally: What it is, is it's an increase in depressive symptoms around specific seasons. Most commonly, those seasons would be the beginning of fall through winter. Some people do experience some seasonal affective disorder in spring—that is very rare. The average person experiences this decrease in effect, this increase in sadness, maybe even some thoughts of suicide, low volition, low desire to do things that they used to love to do, sleep alterations, changes in diet, and maybe even some level of irritability. They experience some of those symptoms normally starting in fall or winter.

Dr. Joy: There really isn't any difference in what those symptoms look like versus you just had depressive disorder, not otherwise specified or something like that. Can you talk about what people might be expecting or experiencing this year, given what 2020 has been like?

Dr. Ally: I think you said it perfectly. It's the too many Spiderman-like model. We have too many overlaying issues. There's a lot of issues happening right now because we also have Black Lives Matter, we also have people concerned about their health insurance, we have people worried about their jobs, we have people worried about their rights—on multiple different groups that are dealing with rights, from DACA people to people dealing with LGBT issues. There are so many co-occurring stressors right now. It's something that I think we haven't seen in a hundred years and so most of us were not alive, and those of us who are 100 weren't alive enough to have done anything a hundred years ago.

And so what people can expect and what is really typical is maybe some increased sadness. A level of sadness, maybe some slight changes in rhythm. For example, people really haven't been getting out of bed at the same time that they used to when they used to have a job that they had to go to every day. They had to be up at 5:30 in the morning to get ready, maybe you're waking up at 7:30 instead or eight o'clock or nine o'clock. Some of those things are kind of expected. When you want to begin to get concerned is when these alterations begin to damage or alter the function of your life. So if now your diet and your appetite has changed so much that you're either gaining weight without trying to or losing weight without trying to, that's something to be concerned about. If you notice that your sleep is changing so much that now you're sleeping throughout the whole day or you're not sleeping at night at all when you used to, these are the types of changes that you want to keep an eye out for.

Dr. Joy: How would we know though, Dr. Ally? Because so much of that already changed because of the pandemic and so how would I know whether my functioning looks different now than it might have? Would I be comparing it to last year this time? What markers should I be looking for?

Dr. Ally: I say we might need to narrow the comparison window now. Compare it to two months ago, to three months ago. Because we do have a baseline COVID function and I think that we've kind of reached a point, at least here in California I can only speak to, we've been in a level of quarantine since March 19 and so we've all had a number of different experiences. Like for me, the first two weeks, I was petrified, utterly petrified. I didn't sleep, I was in bed all day, I was sad, I was anxious. I had so many emotions, it was really difficult for me to function. And then I started to kind of lift and everything started to kind of smooth out. Am I the same way I was last year at this time? I don't think so. But I think we'd begin to identify a rhythm that we have for COVID.

So if you, let's say, (I don't know who's doing this) but if you showered every day during COVID. I don't know who's doing that. Maybe I'm telling on myself. I did shower today. But if you showered every day and now you notice you're showering once a week or you're showing every third day or you're showing every other day, that's something you can notice. So comparing your current functioning to where it was a few months ago, I think is the way we have to treat it now.

Dr. Joy: That's a good idea. Let's back up a little bit—what is it about the change in season that causes this difference in functioning?

Dr. Ally: It is all about sunshine. It is all about sunshine, that humans need sunshine in order to create vitamin D. It's one of the best ways we create vitamin D. Obviously, now we have vitamins and things that we can take supplements, but vitamin D from the sun is so important. It helps to elevate mood, it helps to regulate circadian rhythms as well, so we also have melatonin that's impacted by our access to the sun and as well as serotonin. And serotonin is something we're all very familiar with when it comes to people with depression. One of the first medications they take is an SSRI which is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor. Serotonin is really important in the way that we process emotion and so when we have these two chemicals and one vitamin or mineral that are off, it can really change our behavior, the way that we feel in our own skin, and the way that we relate to others. And so it is key to try to get as much sunlight as possible if you're in a state that has any. California has some right now, but other states are under cloud cover and so a lot of people have been getting those lights, those sun lights. And it's really important because as we have more nighttime, we just have less hours in the day. One of my best friends moved to Sweden and I think they’re getting like five hours of sunshine a day now and winter hasn't even fully hit.

Dr. Joy: Right. Can you talk more about the lights? I know a lot of people do like the light boxes and I love that they have become so much more accessible. Because like 10 years ago, I remember we would rent them out to students in the counseling center because it wasn't something that you could individually afford. But it feels like now there are lots of affordable versions. Can you talk a little bit about how the light boxes work?

Dr. Ally: Yes. They release the same type of wavelength that the sun would and so you can sit near these lights, depending upon what kind of light you have. You can turn it up as high as you can, you can get some of the benefits that you would have had from sunshine from these lights. And it's particularly important for people of color because melanin helps to protect us from light from UV rays by reflecting more of the UV rays back. And so what it does is, now we need more sunshine because our ancestors came from places that were full of sunshine for a large part of the year, so we now need more. African Americans and people with darker complexions, with richer complexions, will need more access to sunlight.

There's also a number of studies that show that the level of sunlight that you absorbed in your region between birth and the age of 15 is the way that your body processes sun and produces vitamin D. So if your first 15 years you spent living in Southern California, for example, and then you move to New England, you are now going to be experiencing less sunlight and so you definitely need to get your supplements on, get that light, and get a therapist to make sure that you can make up for some of the sunlight you're missing now.

Dr. Joy: How would talking with a therapist help right now if so much of it is related to sunlight?

Dr. Ally: One of the recommendations is cognitive behavioral therapy because though we need the sunlight, we need the vitamins, we also need to get a certain sense of motivation and a certain understanding of why it is we're going through what we're going through. Because thoughts still matter. So even though there's definitely a biological component, and I'm very interested in the biology, it is important to gain a level of motivation and understanding about what it is you're dealing with. And so cognitive behavioral therapy will help you to focus about your thoughts, impact emotions, and think about how your emotions impact your behavior and so you can also think your way through some of this. So you can get the motivator lights, you can get the motivation to take care of yourself, you can get the motivation to also rely on other people. Because sometimes we don't see our symptoms.

Dr. Joy: Are there other things that you would suggest? Again, we've already talked about just the multiple stressors that we've been experiencing this year. But I also think now we're moving into the holiday season and because of COVID, we know our holidays are not going to look the same. People are encouraging us not to travel and not to really gather with family that we aren't already living with. I know that that adds an additional stressor. Can you talk a little bit about what kinds of things people might be able to do to kind of reimagine the holiday season this year?

Dr. Ally: It's hard. I've had a lot of people really concerned about that. I think, number one, it's okay to grieve the normalcy that we used to have, the normalcy that we experienced in getting to go to your parents’ house. It's okay to be sad about it. And I think there's a lot of people that are trying to cover that sadness with something else. Like, oh, I don't want to be sad, so I’m going to be productive. I don't want to be sad, I’m going to be this. It's okay to be sad. It is the most normal, typical, acceptable thing you can do. That's number one, I would allow myself to grieve. In the way that I conceptualize life, I have these four P's of life. Play, Purpose, Practices, and People. Practices are going to be different this year and so are people. Those are four of the things that give us a sense of balance and a sense of “this is what life is.”

And so when it comes to practices, those are the traditions that we maintain. Everyone has their seat at Thanksgiving, so and so brings this food every year, and so and so brings that food, and this is the person that always has family prayer. So practices are going to be a little different. But humans love tradition and so this year we can begin to create new traditions. This is gonna sound crazy. Get excited about creating something new. I know a lot of people are not feeling that and are like, I am absolutely not going to get excited about doing something new. But changing the way that we perceive things and changing the way that we talk about things can really help elevate your mood.

If you tell yourself “I'm not going to have the family around that I want to have, I'm not going to have the Thanksgiving that I want,” that's going to shape and form a particular emotion. You should tell yourself, “I get to do this this year. Instead, I get to practice making my own food for a whole Thanksgiving dinner.” That sounds a little interesting but I'm taking it as like a challenge because one day I'm going to be the head of my family and all the elders in my family will be gone and what am I going to do? How am I going to run my Thanksgiving? And so starting that tradition this year of identifying what do I like to cook? How do I run Thanksgiving? How does it work for me? Really diving into the creativity of it, which is not going to be super easy, I acknowledge, but it is possible and you can do it in tiny amounts and make it fun to do something this year if you're doing it differently.

And then the Z word. You might have to Zoom. I know, nobody wants to do them anymore, it's a thing, I get it. You want to see your family, you want to be in their faces, but for the sake of your future or for the sake of everyone's health, it is important to stay at home. My family for example, we're swapping recipes. There's one recipe that my uncle still will not give us and I'm like, if he doesn't give us this recipe, I swear I'm gonna lose it. But so we're swapping recipes and so that's like a new family tradition. We've never given each other recipes, we just come with our own stuff. Like I make this cranberry sauce from scratch, which is not super difficult but it makes a big difference. I'm giving that recipe and my aunt is giving us her vegan macaroni and cheese recipe, and I'm adding vegan bacon to mine. And so start something new. Make it fun, make it interesting so you can try to make the best of this moment.

Dr. Joy: More from my conversation with Dr. Ally after the break.


Dr. Joy: I also think that if you can allow yourself to be in this space, I also think it could be good for people to just decide, you know what, holidays are stressful and this year, I'm not doing anything. That it's also okay to give yourself permission to kind of relax this year because things are so different.

Dr. Ally: I totally agree. Like watch a Charlie Brown. Wait, does Charlie Brown have a Thanksgiving special or is it just Halloween and Christmas?

Dr. Joy: Yes, he does. We just watched it this Friday, so he definitely has a Thanksgiving Special.

Dr. Ally: Turn on something that makes you feel good. Listen to some music that makes you feel good. If you don't want to cook, don't. If you want to have microwave popcorn, eat that popcorn. This is a year of taking care of self. If we've learned anything from this COVID time, we have to find a way to feel as comfortable as we can because there's so much discomfort in the world. I totally agree with you: if you don't want to make Thanksgiving a thing, you're fully allowed to not make Thanksgiving a thing. Same goes for Christmas.

Dr. Joy: Yeah, I think that's true any year, but I think especially this year. Because I think there is a lot of pressure like, okay, let's see how creative we can get with Zoom. And I think that that's great if that's where you are but I also think that it can be an opportunity for people to just say, you know what, I'm just gonna take the holiday off for real this year and just relax.

Dr. Ally: I know in California, there's a shutdown coming on the 25th of November of all restaurants. They're only doing takeout. You can't sit outside in a restaurant, you can't sit inside a restaurant, they're done. And a lot of my friends are really worried about it because they’re like that was my Thanksgiving plan. It was me and my partner going to sit outside of a restaurant and now everything's changed and we're like four days out. Some of those people might decide to just not do anything.

Dr. Joy: Or just do takeout.

Dr. Ally: Or just do takeout. I have a girlfriend who’s like I don't like takeout. But like, well, that's you. I get that, though. I get that.

Dr. Joy: It is different. The ambiance is very different and I think that that is what a lot of people have struggled with this year. Is that it is different and so I think when people are trying to make it be the same, that's when they get caught up. Because it's not the same, but we can still have an appreciation for “this is not the same, but it's still meaningful.”

Dr. Ally: Exactly. And I think meaning is something that is so important to humans. We love to ask why. That is a meaning laden question. Why is this happening? Why, why, why? And so creating meaning around the new traditions. Maybe the new tradition is I chill out under a blanket and drink some very nice wine. That's what I do for Thanksgiving this year, that's the tradition that I'm setting up for this year and that's what I'm going to do and this holds meaning to me because… Like this is the meaning that it holds. It's about self care, it's about experiencing, it's about mindfulness, whatever.

Dr. Joy: Dr. Ally, I would love for you to talk to us more about these four P's, not just related to right now, but even as we think about moving into 2021 and what next year might be like. Can you tell us more about those four P's and how we might kind of really focus on enhancing those in our lives?

Dr. Ally: Absolutely. We have practices, obviously, which is the traditions that we've gotten from whoever in our family, because traditions can pop up quickly. Then we have people. We are social creatures. Humans have evolved the frontal lobe in order to connect with other people. It is our central drive, no matter what. Some people say, I don't like people. I'm like, yes you do. We have to go to the grocery store. I don't plant plants, I don't make food, I don't build buildings. The house I'm sitting in right now was built by a person so I need people. If you're tired of people, I get that, but People is very important. Identifying the types of people you want in your life is also very important. Not just about intimate relationships or sexual relationships, but all levels of relationships.

The number one challenge that has been brought to me during COVID, from my clients, has been feeling overwhelmed and under supported. And it comes typically from African American women. I've noticed the pattern where we tend to be everything for everyone but then when the rubber hits the road and now we're kind of breaking down, we haven't built relationships with people that can support us as much as we support them. And so beginning to make those adjustments now and beginning to identify in yourself who is able to be there for you in that way. Because here's the thing. If a relationship isn't toxic, it doesn't necessarily have to be everything for you. This person doesn't have to do absolutely everything. But identifying what and what role people play in your life is important. I'm actually putting together like this toxicity scale, where I’m trying to measure the toxicity of people's relationships and I'll get back to y’all on how that works out.

Because I think it's important. I think sometimes a lot of things that I see when it comes to the people component of my four P's is, when dating, a lot of my clients and people in general (not just my clients), they confuse assholes for alpha males. And I hear a lot of people making excuses for genuinely destructive toxic behavior from their partners. They're like, he's just an alpha, that's what alphas do. No, no, no. Barack Obama is an alpha. He's not cheating on his wife—as far as we know, knock on wood. He's not disrespecting his wife, he's not ignoring his children, he's not focused so much on his career that he's totally alienated and isolated himself. So really understanding that just because somebody seems powerful, doesn’t make them that way. And so really understanding relationships. P, people is so important. Structuring that for yourself.

Then play is all about hobbies, things that you just enjoy for the sake of enjoying them. These are just your loves. We’ve really lost contact with that because the things I love to do, I can't do any more. I love to shop. I will sit in a store all day, I literally take it as a hobby of mine. I'm not even like the discount person, I just want beautiful things. And that changed. Even with technology, for me, my hobby changed once online shopping emerged because I can't do what I like to do, which is touch and sniff and hold everything and play with it. Play is all the aligning with your hobbies, aligning with the things that just genuinely make you happy. These are the things that make life worth living. Travel for some people. For other people, it's writing. For some people, it’s exercise and running and things like that. So aligning with your play, what's important to you. Because ultimately, we might not be children anymore, but children learn fundamentally through play and play is a huge component of human life. Tap into that part of yourself. Play—what's important, what's fun to you.

Then, purpose, which is something I'm actually working on so deeply right now. I just started this membership service called The Doux Collective. In The Doux Collective, one of the first challenges we're doing is tapping into purpose. Purpose is the driving force of our life. Why it is we wake up every morning, why are we on this planet? What are we here to do? I feel like a lot of people have an idea of what that is, but they haven't really solidified it. And then there are some people who just have a genuinely tough time figuring out like, why am I here? There's a number of different ways people kind of break down identifying your purpose. Have you heard of the Ikigai method?

Dr. Joy: Ikigai? I haven't heard of that but we will look it up and give it as a resource to people.

Dr. Ally: The Ikigai method, it's a Japanese term meaning like reason for living and it breaks down your reason for living into four different categories. One is the things you love, another is the things that you're good at, the things you can make money at, and the things that will change the world. I really align with that because I think that it is difficult to identify what your purpose is because it's such a big thing. Like how do you define purpose? How do you really challenge yourself to break it down. And so I break it down into those four categories and then begin to dive deeply into each one of those categories. How do we go about identifying what you love? These are the ways that we do it. And this is actually the module that I've been developing for these past few months to really dive into with this membership service that I just created. That to me is purpose and it can extend to anything. I think that we also minimize it to what you have to do for a living and that's not always the case.

Dr. Joy: Yeah, I think that that is often where people get misguided. Thinking that your purpose is going to be the thing that makes you money. I think a lot of times when you try to turn it into the thing that makes you money, you kind of get off track a little.

Dr. Ally: I agree because I think that we can get lost in the finances of it. I tell people to often move toward what you want, so like move from love as opposed to moving from fear. And when people include money into their concept too heavily of purpose (because obviously we need money to live), I find people moving from fear rather than love. You know, because what I've noticed is people don't necessarily love money; they're afraid of what will happen if they don't have it.

Dr. Joy: In the world that we live in, that's a very real fear.

Dr. Ally: It's very real. You need it and so I'm never gonna tell anybody like you’ve got to become a monk and meditate on a mountain for the next 10 years. (Unless you want to, I'm not gonna stop you.) But I think it's important to really figure out how much we weigh these things. I've also noticed people who tend to want money don't necessarily want just the money, they want what the money will give them, and so diving down into that. What is it that the money will give you? For a lot of people it's better relationships. For some people, it's experiences. For other people, it's property, it's things, it’s assets, and having those assets gives them a sense of pride. And so it's about whittling down to the why. What's at the core of your purpose? It's difficult and it takes time and that's something that I've somehow become helpful at. I don't know how that happened.

Dr. Joy: Perhaps following your own purpose is what got you there.

Dr. Ally: That's it. I just distilled my purpose and my values down to knowledge, creativity and beauty and that's helped me a lot in understanding the things that I want to do, the opportunities that I want to take on as opposed to the things that I don't take on.

Dr. Joy: I love it. More from my conversation with Dr. Ally after the break.

Dr. Joy: Dr. Ally, I want to go a little deeper with the tentpole of your four Ps, because this is a conversation we've been having a lot in the community. It feels like people are doing a lot in terms of kind of reevaluating their relationships with people and there are two major things, and I want to hear your thoughts on these. The first thing that has come up a lot is people being very, maybe disappointed or disillusioned with how friends and family members have kind of navigated the pandemic. Maybe they thought friends would be calling to check in on them a lot more than they are or that they would be having more Zoom gatherings or whatever, and for whatever reason, that hasn't happened. And so now they are kind of reevaluating, like did I mean that much to this person in the first place? What are your thoughts about that?

Dr. Ally: Number one, for anyone and everyone who's dealing with that, I want to give you a big digital hug and a kiss on the forehead and whatever, because it is real. That is real, that is happening a lot, where you expected somebody to really step up and you're struggling and there's just nobody there. Just seems like all the people that were there before have gone. Going back to what I said earlier, I think experiencing a level of grief over that is totally natural. What I would beg everyone to do is not to overcorrect. What people tend to do in those circumstances is they'll be like, you know what, F– these people. I'm out, they're trash, I can't believe they did this to me, like I'm done. Anger is a natural outcropping of sadness. Feeling rejected, feeling lonely, feeling sad, is a very vulnerable place to be and so a lot of people do respond with anger.

If you find yourself responding with anger, honor your anger. It's reasonable when you feel wronged or when you feel like a boundary has been crossed, it's very natural to express a more vulnerable emotion that then becomes a more aggressive emotion or a more motivated emotion like anger. But then be cautious about terminating those relationships before giving them an opportunity to respond to you. Because we are all in this pandemic, every last one of us, and some of us are more comfortable expressing our needs than others. Some of our friends might be struggling and we may have no idea and so in our struggle, we’re like I need to reach out, I need to reach out, and then nobody's there. We don't truly know what's happening and so I would say the word to use after grief would be grace. Extend grace to your loved ones.

I do this a lot. Someone won't answer my phone call and I'm like, I need them, where are they? And I have to calm myself down every once in a while, and be like this person has been so good to me in the past and I'll list all the wonderful things that they've done. Because if they're still in your life and this is a healthy relationship, grace is appropriate. I will say that as a big caveat. If this is a person that you have a toxic relationship with and this is a person that has exhibited a pattern of being disengaged with your emotions, of being uninterested in supporting you in the past, this might be a good window to move on from the relationship. But if this is a healthy relationship that has now changed, utilize grace. We don't want to come out of COVID with nobody because we've alienated everybody, because everything was so toxic. This is a very different difficult time.

Then after grief and grace, I would say formulate a very specific conversation that you want to have with this person, telling them how you feel and telling them what you need. Early on in COVID, my mom got sick and she had to be hospitalized for 11 days. She did not get COVID, but she had a life-threatening infection and I was panicked. This was back in May or like late April, early May. I tend to be the friend that's always there for people and so I don't think my friends really knew how much I was struggling. I would text but my text messages would be kind of vague and I wasn't very direct and so my friends really didn't know to support me. They didn't really know how serious it was, and so I had to have a serious conversation with a few of my friends.

And we cried and yelled at each other. We both cried and they told me where I could have been a better friend and I told them where they could have been a better friend. And our friendships are rock solid now. Sometimes you have to have those very real talks. But I sat down and I told myself what do I want to say? How do I want my girlfriend to understand me better at the end of this conversation? And so I was very clear to not attack them and say you weren't there for me, you're a horrible person. No, don't make any judgments. Don't attack. Focus on your experience. You have to dive deep into yourself to understand, what did I feel?

I told my friends I felt alone. I felt like I was dealing with something that was the heaviest thing I've dealt with in my life and I did it by myself. I felt like you would have been there for me and I just didn't feel like you were. And then the tears started flowing and then their tears started flowing, there was like apologies all over the place, and it was beautiful. And so I would challenge people to focus enough on their own experience so that they can communicate with other people.The way that the other person responds says a lot about the friendship. That now is something that you can use to measure your friendship.

Dr. Joy: Thank you for laying that out. I think that's beautiful, Dr. Ally. The other thing, the second issue that has come up quite a lot is that we know that everybody has been navigating the pandemic differently. And so it feels like lots of people are really questioning, do I really know you? Because people are maybe engaging in riskier behavior than maybe what you are comfortable with. Maybe some people are continuing to work out when you've made the decision to just work out at home. Or people are choosing to go and dine in a restaurant when you've made the decision to stay home. I think there's a lot of confusion and some judgment about the different choices that people are making that you're in relationship with and it feels like it's leading to some conflict or some decisions about, “When the world opens up, I don't know that I even want to be in relationship with you anymore because you made some decisions that I don't think I would have made.”

Dr. Ally: I was reading an article this morning about how the anger at, I guess, “COVID deniers” is growing every day and I think not everyone is a COVID denier; some people just deal with it differently. But I think, again, extending a level of of understanding that we don't know what the heck is happening. The way that we respond to COVID, the way I look at it is this, it speaks more to our fundamental approach to feared situations and we all approach feared situations differently. I can speak for myself; I tend to be a little bit more of an avoider. If something's dangerous, I'm going to try to avoid it at absolutely all costs. If I can’t avoid it, then I'll fight. But if I don't have to fight, I'm not going to, I'm absolutely not going to. That’s why my COVID response tends to be one of avoidance. If I can stay in the house, I'm going to. If I can avoid hanging with people, I'm absolutely going to. Luckily, I'm privileged enough to have a job that allows me to stay at home. That is not everybody's story, that is not everybody's reality.

When you have this mismatch, I would say try to keep it in the pandemic. What I say is this. The way I deal with social media, for example, and the way I encourage people to deal with social media—do not take things on social media and bring them into your personal life. If someone did not friend you or follow you or if they didn't like something, allow that to stay in Instagram land. Don't bring that to dinner when you're actually seeing this person face to face. Segment pieces of your life. And people's COVID behavior is going to be atypical. We are all dealing with a very feared situation and one of the things people try to do when they're worried and when they're scared, is exert control. We want to start controlling other people, we want to control what other people do, think and say. Ultimately, I can only control me, and you can only control you. It would be great if we could say we're just gonna make COVID disappear by doing this one thing, and then everyone would magically step in line and do it. We can't do that and so we have to, at some level, understand that people are going to make the choices that they're going to make.

Here's the caveat. You can choose to not be around them. And here's what I'm gonna say: even if they live in your house. It's so much more difficult when they live in your house, because we have multigenerational homes, there are some people in the home that decide to go and do what they want to do and you cannot necessarily avoid them. Because maybe you share a room with them, maybe you share a bathroom with them, whatever. For example, me and my husband have different perspectives on the way that we deal with COVID. Not wildly different, but he still goes out to do things and so we just wear masks when we're in the same common spaces. He has agreed to do that, I have agreed to do that. Not everyone's going to do that. So make ways to make it as comfortable as possible. We are all going to be uncomfortable to a certain extent. Choose to be around people that are doing the pandemic the way you are, especially if you're living alone and you still want to be social, find people that are functioning at the same level that you are. If you stay at home unless you're going out and then you only do outdoor things and you only do them six feet away with a mask, you align with your people that are also doing that.

Dr. Joy: I do think that that is more difficult, like you mentioned, if it's in the same household because that's definitely been happening. Some younger people are taking it very seriously and then maybe their parents are like, oh, it's not a big deal. You know, that kind of thing, and so it is causing some difficulties, especially when it's not your home. If you are still living with your parents, it can definitely pose some challenges.

Dr. Ally: For example, whenever I go to my mom's house, shoes are off. You’ve got to spray yourself down, you’ve got to wash with soap down at the door, you’ve got to keep a mask on, you’ve got to spray everything you touch. My mom wipes everything down with bleach after you finish touching it and that's just what you expect when you go to mom's house. For people who are a little bit more lax on COVID, I think it's very important for you to respect those that are more conservative. In chemistry, we call it the rate limiting step. There's pieces of an equation that are catalytics. There are things that you can add to titration or a mixture that will propel everything forward pretty quickly, but it can only move as fast as the slowest acting component—the rate limiting step. What that means to me in interactions is the person that's the most conservative, the most cautious, will dictate the speed of something. That's frustrating for people who want to move faster and want to go out and travel the world right now and do what they can do, but respect the person that does want to move slower.

And the person who's moving a little slower, a little more conservative when it comes to it, protect yourself but at the same time respect that other people don't see things the way that you do. But like you said, it does get really difficult when you live in the same house and you don't want someone to come home with an illness that might get everybody or whatever. There's a number of things that you can do to protect yourself. There's a lot of stories of people who have had one member of the family that got COVID and not everybody got it. That is not my area of expertise. I read the same articles as everybody else, but that's what I've read.

Dr. Joy: Yeah, just important to be as informed and as prepared as possible, like you said. We've talked about using a light box and trying to get outside and get sunshine if you can still safely do that. Are there other things that you would suggest for people to kind of just help them to kind of keep their motivation and mental health as protected as possible, as we continue in these next couple of months?

Dr. Ally: Listen, I am not a schedule person. I am an air sign and I float through the world like a butterfly, but schedules are the saving grace right now. If you can create something that keeps you tethered to real life… I've heard people talk about, not necessarily schedules, but kind of creating a flow of how your day will go. So it's not that like every day at 8am you brush your teeth, but it's like between when you wake up and before you have breakfast, brush your teeth. Just give yourself some flexibility but create segments of your day when you will be doing something. Have an idea of what you want to accomplish at the end of the day. I get together with myself every evening and I kind of look over what I'm going to do the next day and will figure out like, what is my intention for tomorrow? What is it that I want to do? What is it that I want to accomplish? And some days it's just rest and relaxation. Just being able to check something off of a box makes you feel sane.

And really work in hygiene stuff. Don't let that go by the wayside because a lot of people are like, I'm not going anywhere. Keep up on the hygiene, keep up on the positive thoughts. Focus on books that have really brought you peace. You don't have to read something new because for some people concentration is kind of difficult right now so this might not be the time when you need to be ingesting really heavy information. I recommend don't over hustle yourself. Everyone's talking about you got to come up with a business out of COVID. No, no, everyone does not. Do not put pressure on yourself. If you naturally want to create something, do it. But if you're trying to force yourself and you find that it's actually making you feel worse, don't do it. This is the time to be making yourself feel better. Watch silly cartoons, dance around your living room, listen to Beyoncé music, listen to whatever makes you happy. Try to fully experience good moments as much as you can. Live in them completely because they might be fleeting and they will not last forever, so try to feel them as much as possible.

Dr. Joy: I love it. Thank you so much for that, Dr. Ally. When we can, we like to include what we call a Press Pause moment in the podcast and this might be a journal prompt that you have for the community or an activity that you’ve found particularly helpful for people to maybe manage depressive symptoms or to try to get their energy up. If there was something that you could offer the community, what would you share?

Dr. Ally: That's a good question. One of the things that I've found people are dealing with is a general lack of confidence right now. People are feeling so down that it's called emotion focused memory. When we're in a bad state like a sad state or a hopeless state, we tend to remember our past in a hopeless way. We tend to feel like I've never done anything good, nothing's ever great. So one assignment I've been giving to a lot of people is to be as detailed as possible in a journal and write all the wonderful things they've accomplished over the course of their life. This is like valedictorian, I want you going back to kindergarten when you got on the, like took a good nap list, all of it. Really spend a good amount of time focusing on all the wonderful, successful things that you've done, highlight as much as you can. I'm not talking about like resume nonsense. You don't have to even amp it up, just state what it is. And keep that list with you. When you start to feel down and you start to feel like I'm not being successful, I’m on pause, then you can focus on it. Like, you know what, I'm really good at these things. I'm super talented and I need to give myself credit.

Dr. Joy: I love that, Dr. Ally, because I think that that can be a really good reality check for people. To let you know like this year may look very different, but look at your track record. It really helps you to kind of keep things in perspective.

Dr. Ally: Absolutely.

Dr. Joy: Tell us more about where we can find you, Dr. Ally. I want to hear a little bit more about The Doux Collective and then your website as well as any social media handles you'd like to share with us.

Dr. Ally: You can find me @AllycinHicks everywhere. But here's the kicker; my name is spelt absolutely wild so it’s Allycin and then just normal Hicks. So that's @AllycinHicks on Instagram, that's @AllycinHicks on Twitter, it's, all of that. Hit me up there and you can find like all my goodies, blogs that I posted, all that stuff. And then The Doux Collective is also on my website., there’s a little section called Doux Collective. Doux—it’s the French word for sweet, I thought that was really nice. It's a sweet way of coaching people and connecting with people. And so you can find The Doux Collective there, I have links to it on my Instagram, all over the place. Starting on November 11, going for 11 days, it will be $11 a month. I think 11 days literally ended like yesterday.

Dr. Joy: Oh, wow.

Dr. Ally: I know, they just missed it. Maybe I'll have to open it back up.

Dr. Joy: I feel like you might have to open this back up and give our community a special rate.

Dr. Ally: I will absolutely do that. Anybody that comes and signs up to The Doux Collective through this podcast, I will absolutely honor $11 a month. And that's like forever, because I just want to give people something to make them better. Like we talked about, I'm not all about money all the time. It's just really about how can I substantively help transform people's lives? That's the goal of The Doux Collective, to help people make transition and transformation by turning inward. The first thing we're doing is we're really diving into purpose and we're diving into things that people love. That's going to be what starts in December.

Dr. Joy: Perfect. We will include the links for all of that, of course, in the show notes so that people can find it very easy. Thank you so much for sharing all of your wisdom with us today, Dr. Ally. I really appreciate it.

Dr. Ally: Thank you for having me. And you know I love you, Joy. You're great, Dr. Joy.

Dr. Joy: Likewise. Thank you so much for tuning in for this conversation. To learn more about Dr. Ally’s work, visit the show notes at And don't forget to text two of your girls and tell them to check out the episode right now. If you're looking for a therapist in your area, check out our therapist directory at And if you want to continue digging into this topic or just be in community with other sisters, come on over and join us in the Sister Circle. It's our cozy corner of the internet designed just for black women. You can join us at This episode was produced by Fredia Lucas and Ellice Ellis, and editing was done by Dennison Bradford. Thank y’all so much for joining me again this week. I look forward to continuing this conversation with you all real soon. Take good care.


Discover the transformative power of healing in community in Dr. Joy Harden Bradford’s debut book, Sisterhood Heals. Order your copy now!

Sisterhood heals
Order Now

Looking for the UK Edition?
Order here

Discover the transformative power of healing in community in Dr. Joy Harden Bradford’s debut book, Sisterhood Heals. Order your copy now!

Looking for the UK Edition? Order here