Help Your Partner Turn SAD Into Glad!
by Doris Helge, Ph.D., 2019
If your partner is suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) or “Winter Blues”, you know how difficult it can be to lift the spirits of someone who feels depressed, has low energy and wants to withdraw from social activities in the winter months. A SAD sufferer has chronic sleep issues that intensify their fatigue, moodiness and problems getting along with others. Unfortunately, their difficulties interacting with other people can include you.
SAD is a seasonal malady related to inadequate exposure to natural light during winter and problems related to increased melatonin levels propelled by overcast short days and inadequate environmental lighting. SAD is different from clinical depression which occurs all times of year. Since it is seasonal and can be resolved, use this article to discover how you and your partner can work together to create a much better life.
Use Artificial Indoor Lighting to Trick SAD Into Behaving Better
Light therapy (phototherapy) has long been considered the ideal treatment for SAD. Full-spectrum bulbs and bulbs with color temperatures between 3,000 and 6,500 degrees can blast the winter blahs away, like a gust of wintry wind whisks a dust ball out of sight. Some studies have indicated that up to 86% of people affected by winter SAD completely overcame their symptoms when special light bulbs were consistently used.
Dedicated light boxes that mimic natural sunlight are available for personal phototherapy use at home, at work or both. They generate at least 10,000 lux and are specifically designed to treat SAD and other mood disorders. Their use is fully described in Norman Rosenthal’s 2012 book, “Winter Blues.” A light box is usually most effective when used between 20-90 minutes per day, as early in the morning as possible, during the duration of the season of SAD (autumn through spring). As my clients over the years have demonstrated, light therapy works because it slows the brain’s secretion of melatonin while decreasing feelings of hopelessness and depression.
Please note: Ordinary fluorescent lights are not usually recommended to address SAD. Even though some people report that fluorescents assist with SAD, ultraviolet light might harm your partner’s eyes and skin. Fluorescents can also rob their body of B vitamins, which are so essential to their happiness that many health practitioners prescribe a B vitamin complex for people experiencing depression.
I’ve also coached partners and SAD sufferers about how to avoid irritability and fatigue caused by working late evenings without wearing blue-light blockers. They didn’t understand how this interfered with their melatonin-based sleep patterns, so they “never felt rested” the next day. After securing blue-light blockers, their health, well-being and performance soared in ways related to the elevation in their mood and focus.
Maximize Natural Light Exposure, Including Time in the Sun
Although some SAD sufferers have decreased their symptoms by installing skylights in their ceilings, there are many other ways to maximize indoor sunlight. You can enjoy a deeper bond with your partner and encourage their healing by taking the time to rearrange furniture to welcome more natural light, opening curtains and moving their desk closer to a window.
Help your partner gain as much healthy exposure to natural sunlight as possible. Plan and encourage outdoor activities, especially on sunny days. Even brief walks are helpful. Because our bodies are holistic, research shows that walking outside for a single hour is a more effective SAD deterrent than sitting under bright lights for two hours.
Gaining additional natural exposure to sun can significantly elevate your partner’s energy level during winter months. That’s a good reason to encourage them to go outside during breaks at work, taking advantage of the beautiful ball of golden light that shimmers in the sky. It’s an amazing free resource.
Design Creative Ways to Encourage Your Partner to be Physically Active
Even though most people suffering from SAD often feel like becoming a couch potato, exercise is one of the most effective ways to boost their low energy level and elevate their mood.
The cycle of disrupted sleep followed by fatigue and low energy can be thoughtfully and effectively rewired by regular physical exercise during the autumn and winter months because exercise can maintain a healthy and appropriate circadian rhythm. Our bodies are built to move, not to be sedentary for long periods of time. Studies indicate that even low-intensity exercise done for as little as one hour per week can counteract depression.
Humans weren’t designed to stay in enclosed buildings all day. During our journey as a species on Earth, we began as hunters and gatherers. Our brains have not significantly evolved since our early cave-dwelling days. Many of my clients who suffer from depression have gained significant relief from exercise combined with 30 minutes of exposure to natural light in the morning. According to studies, a leisurely walk outdoors in reasonable weather is almost guaranteed to improve your partner’s mood and well-being.
Entice a Hermit to Emerge From Their Cocoon
Staying actively engaged with friends, family and work is critically important to successfully overcome SAD symptoms. It may be a challenge to encourage your partner to stay active when they feel like withdrawing from the world to sleep, sleep, sleep.
Openly talk to your partner. Listen to their feelings (while recognizing self-sabotaging excuses). Assure them that you are willing to support them in reasonable ways as long as they do their part. Help them understand that their SAD challenge can become an opportunity to grow as individuals and as a couple.
Winter Blues survivors who become thrivers consistently say one key to their healing is reaching out to people they trust, sharing their feelings and asking other people to help them stay accountable to a sincere goal to stay active and engaged during cold winter months.
If your partner is naturally introverted in the spring and summer (not just during SAD season) and doesn’t have a hobby they can enjoy during winter, they can still be active in the world. Enjoy exploring ways to create a realistic winter past-time they can actively enjoy.
Create a Daily Diet That is Mood-Friendly Instead of Emotionally Destructive
Eating a healthy, balanced diet can also be immensely helpful in counteracting your partner’s tendency toward SAD. Most people experiencing SAD and Winter Blues eat more carbohydrate-rich foods, particularly sweets and starches. A negative cycle of mood issues results when their tendency is to overeat during periods of low energy and depressed moods.
When unhappy people who aren’t sleeping well and have low energy sincerely want to feel better, simple awareness techniques can help them create a positive shift.
Here’s an exercise my clients have found helpful. When you notice you’re craving sugar or carbohydrates, check in with yourself and ask simple questions like, “I wonder if I’ll still want to stuff myself with sugar or carbs after I enjoy the benefits of natural daylight?” When fatigue or a bad mood threaten to sour your smile, ask yourself, “What is my body telling me I need right now?”
People with mood disorders tend to be deficient in omega-3 fatty acid. Commonly prescribed sources of omega-3s include chia seeds, flax seeds, hemp seeds, mackerel, trout, herring and salmon.
Since vitamin D production is related to adequate sunlight, it’s vital to ensure your partner eats vitamin D-rich foods in the winter. Choices include vitamin-3 rich salmon, wild mushrooms (high in D-2) and eggs, which are an excellent source of vitamins D-2 and D-3. Your partner may also want to consult with a naturopath about an excellent vitamin D supplement.
For many years, studies have proven that fruits and vegetables are preferred foods regarding increasing happiness and well-being. Andrew Oswald, a co-author of one study, concluded that eating fruit and vegetables boosts human happiness “even more quickly than it improves physical health”. Another study found that a green diet significantly reduced the tendency and effects of SAD in young adults (a group especially prone to SAD).
Be the Partner You Want to Enjoy
Even though partnering with someone experiencing SAD can be difficult, it’s an excellent opportunity to refine your partnership skills. Take a few moments to write your answer to this question: What would YOU want if you were experiencing SAD or a blue mood? Below are some of the most common answers my clients have shared with me:
- Accept me just as I am while knowing I’m capable of change.
- Help me introduce more humor into my daily life.
- Brainstorm how to set up and test new healthy sources of natural light.
- Listen to my fears and concerns without judging me as inferior.
- Encourage me to do what’s best for me without cajoling or hounding me.
- Invite me to do helpful things like take a walk.
- Co-plan fun activities that don’t sound exhausting.
- Cook something healthy when I’m tempted to eat too many carbohydrates.
- Encourage me to get professional help if I need it.
- Believe my future is bright, even when I doubt it.
- Provide me with loving honest feedback when I’m off-track regarding my wellness goals and activities.
UNEXPECTED BENEFITS OF ELEVATED SUNSHINE
My clients always tell me they gain tremendous benefits when they’re more in touch with their bodies. They say they’re so much happier when they tune into internal clues. Our culture tends to forget that we are body, mind and spirit. Everything you and your partner do to approach your life holistically will help you gain greater harmony, happiness and health. Some of my clients with SAD have been thrilled to drop excess weight when they used the suggestions in this article.
Even if your partner is unaware of their behavioral change when winter weather creeps into their life and your collective battle with SAD seems like a long journey, patience, perseverance and pure intentions will pay off. Use the challenge to learn and grow as individuals and in your partnership. You’ll enjoy the rich reward of hearing your partner’s heart-felt “Thank You!” in the spring. You’ll also know how to prevent the problem next winter.
DON’T IGNORE YOUR PARTNER’S SAD CHALLENGES AT WORK!
SAD and Winter Blues don’t stay home, snoozing under the bed covers when your partner goes to work. SAD sufferers often experience significant challenges in their work environment, such as low motivation, poor performance and problems interacting effectively with their boss, coworkers and customers.
If your partner is to thrive in the world of work, it’s imperative that they understand how to manage their symptoms. Discover how to do this at https://womensleadershiptips.com/successful-women-leaders-coach-employees-with-winter-blues/
If you are a woman leader and some of your team members or employees are suffering from SAD, sign up for a complimentary coaching session so I can help you elevate your leadership skills and alleviate SAD symptoms where you work. Discover the application form at https://WomensLeadershipTips.com.
© 2019 Doris Helge, Ph.D. For over 25 years, award-winning, Certified Master Leadership and Relationship Coach Dr. Doris, has helped people like you meet every challenge you’re facing. Contact us for permission to reprint this article intact and with proper attribution.