Not sure whether you are miserable in your relationship or just having a case of the winter blues? Seasonal depression or seasonal affective disorder (aka SAD) can have detrimental effects on more than just our mood and energy; it can affect our relationships as well. The symptoms of SAD include lower concentration, increased appetite and resultant weight gain, and an increased need for sleep and solitude. Clearly, these symptoms are not conducive to a happy relationship. It is probably not a coincidence that December is the month with both the least amount of daylight and the largest amount of divorces, at least in the northern hemisphere.
The theory is that decreased sunlight may be causing decreased serotonin in the brain, which creates feelings of depression. Females are more often affected by this disorder than males. In order to find out if you are affected by this disorder, it is important to be assessed by a medical professional. Many of us like to “cocoon” under our cozy comforter when the weather is frigid and wet. We may refrain from our daily jaunt when it is dark by the time we get home. Although reduced daylight and exercise may make us less energetic than usual, they don’t necessarily indicate that we have SAD. Recovering from the hectic and stressful holiday time can be a slow process for those with plenty of other commitments that keep them busy. Budgets are often bursting at the seams from trying to keep up the payments for all of the festive frivolities. Family harmony is a common casualty during this season and its aftermath. There are many factors that can play into possible mid-winter and/or relationship blues.
The keys to overcoming the negative factors of SAD are to get outside as much as possible, especially in the early morning (bundle up!), and get thirty minutes of exercise on most days. There are light bulbs that provide full-spectrum light, which is helpful in treating SAD. There is even full-spectrum light therapy that can be prescribed by a doctor. Although your body is craving the soothing comfort of carbs, you still need to eat a healthy, balanced diet. Participating regularly in your usual social circle and routines can elevate your mood and energy as well.
If you manage the negative seasonal symptoms and survived the holidays relatively intact emotionally and financially, but still feel disheartened or even defeated, then maybe the problem isn’t seasonal but is actually relational. You need to make a reasoned assessment of the state of your union. Think back several months or even a few years and get some perspective on your feelings before you decide to throw in the towel. The past is often the best predictor of the future. If there have been positive changes in your relationship over the last few or several years, then there will likely continue to be more positive changes. On the other hand, if things have been stuck or going downhill for a long time, then it may take a Herculean effort to get things moving in any positive direction. Only you and your well-functioning brain and heart are capable of deciding if that is an effort worth making. Just don’t mistake a lack of serotonin for a lack of love! The former is fairly easy to fix; the latter is dauntingly difficult.
Remember the days are already getting longer and spring is right around the corner!
Barbara Hayes, MS, MFT is a family therapist. Her new book, Beware of Dogs: How to Avoid Dating Disasters, helps women sort out which of their dynamics with their partner are petty problems that can be managed and which are potentially pathological issues that are warning signs that the relationship could be headed for disaster. You can visit her website at: www.howtoavoiddatingdisasters.com.