By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD
Winter often conjures up images of couples cuddled up together in front of a roaring fire. They are beautiful, warm images. However, the reality is that the coldness of winter months often (but certainly not always) has a chilling effect on relationships. The reason for this is that people can be less happy and more restless. Four top causes of this are:
Fewer outside activities: There are a host of activities that are off limits, or at least much less enjoyable, when the weather is cold– from trips to the local beach or lake to strolling around town. Even simple activities, such as a walk around your neighborhood, might no longer be any fun. And even if you are willing to brave the cold, there are fewer daylight hours to enjoy outdoor activities. Consistently less sunlight and less “fresh air” can take its toll, leaving you with less positive energy.
If you are not a cold weather person, you will still benefit from exposing yourself to sunlight and getting outside, even if it is only for brief periods. Consider sitting next to a window that faces the sun. As long as the roads are not treacherous from snow or ice, a winter drive can provide you with sunlight and beautiful sites (if you drive in right areas). It can also allow you to get just the right amount of fresh air – whether that means briefly opening your window a crack or opening it wider and letting the crisp air rush through the car for a bit longer.
Cabin fever: When people huddle inside their homes for warmth, they can start to feel a bit stir-crazy. They grow restless and irritable with nothing interesting to do. And when this happens, they can turn on each other.
To keep this from happening to you, be prepared. For instance, you might find interests and hobbies that can effectively occupy your time. Rather than saving interesting books for summer, consider winter as your time to catch up on reading. Also, if games appeal to you at all, winter is a perfect time to enjoy this indoor activity.
Less exercise: During warmer months, many people benefit from outdoor exercising – whether with more intense exercise (e.g. jogging) or with lower intensity exercise (e.g. going for walks). This is often greatly curtailed in the winter. Unfortunately, by exercising less, people lose both the physical benefits (e.g. better cardiovascular health) and the psychological benefits (e.g. reducing anxiety and frustration). So, if you are among those who enjoy outdoor exercise that you stop doing in the winter, it is important that if you find an indoor replacement for those months.
Seasonal Affective Disorder: SAD is a mood disorder that affects people every year when the weather turns cold (about September or October) and ends when the thermometer rises (about April or May). Approximately 60-90% of people affected by this are women. These seasonal depressive episodes can cause a lot of personal distress, also stressing the relationships of those affected.
If you think that you have SAD, visit a professional healthcare provider. Once it is diagnosed, you can develop a plan to address the problem. You can make behavioral changes (e.g. getting more sun exposure), try light therapy, and/or try medicine.
There are, of course, many people who thrive in the winter. However, for those who don’t, it is important to keep the above potential difficulties in mind. By choosing to cope effectively with them, you will personally feel happier through the winter months – and your relationships will be happier, too.
The Art of Relationships blog posts are for general educational purposes only. They may or may not be relevant for your particular situation; and they should not be relied upon as a substitute for individual professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you need help for an emotional or behavioral problem, please seek the assistance of a psychologist or other qualified mental health professional.