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Is Seasonal Depression Impacting Your Marriage?

I had other ideas lined up to write about today, but when I sat down and looked at my cursor flashing on the blank screen, I felt this urge wash over me … as if something, someone, was telling me that I needed to come clean today. To spill about a struggle I’ve gone through in hopes that I can provide empathy and support to others going through the same thing.

I’ve written about it before, but I have a propensity toward depression. It’s not some weakness in me; it’s my biology. If you have the same propensity, know that it’s neither an emotional nor a spiritual weakness in you. It’s just that so many processes and chemicals are involved in regulating mood, and sometimes the balance isn’t quite right for some of us.

Most of the time, I’m fine — depression-less, if you will. But this time of year — wintertime in my neck-of-the-woods — can be a challenge for my mood.

This type of depression is called Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD (“affect” in psychology refers to emotion or disposition). SAD can occur in any season, but wintertime is especially difficult for some. Depression can occur at this time of year due to shortened days and reduced sunlight, which causes a drop in serotonin levels (serotonin regulates mood), increased melatonin (a chemical that helps us sleep), and disruption to our circadian rhythm (that is our “inner clock”).

Seasonal Affective Disorder can be mild, moderate, or rather pronounced, even leading to suicidal thoughts. Regardless, it takes a toll on the sufferer and their marriage.

Blog post title + sad woman staring out a window

At a time when everyone else seems to be more cheerful than ever with seasonal decorations and social events and proclamations of “Merry Christmas!” the person with SAD is struggling to get the regular to-dos done as well as all the extras. Because they’d much rather crawl back into bed and sleep a while longer, like past noon.

SAD sufferers may be lethargic or tearful or grumpy — not exactly the kind of person their spouses want to hang out with. Even when that marvelous romantic date happens, they may return from just those few hours completely tuckered out and wanting to hibernate once again.

And sex? Well, that takes energy. Which is the one thing sorely lacking during a SAD spell. If the spouse’s libido is high enough normally, they may still want to make love regularly, or regularly enough. But if they started with a lower libido? Sex can be a real challenge.

Right this moment, Seasonal Affective Disorder is impacting many spouses and their marriages.

Right this moment, Seasonal Affective Disorder is impacting many spouses and their marriages. Share on X

If that is you, I know where you’re coming from. It’s impacting me and mine too. The last couple of weeks, I’ve been sleeping more, lacking energy, and even found my eyes watering at times. Thankfully, I knew what it was: not some problem with me or my marriage, but my biology off-kilter at this time of year. I explained the situation to my husband and started working on solutions.

What can you do when faced with Seasonal Affective Disorder?

  • Get outside. While the sun is shining, get out there in it. I live in an area where the temperatures don’t get so cold that I can’t go out most days, so I’ve determined to make my back porch an outside home office whenever I can. That’s not possible for some of you. But think creatively and find times and ways to spend at least some moments outside.
  • Exercise. Exercise boosts production of serotonin, which elevates our mood. You could make those outside moments a walk or jog through the park, or you can head to an exercise class, or just dance around your house in your jammies. Whatever works to get you moving, find a way to exercise.
  • Light therapy. Daylight helps alleviate the symptoms of SAD, and you can buy products that mimic sunlight to help reset your inner clock. You can spend some of your day sitting a few feet from a light therapy box (like this one) to get the right brain chemicals going, or you can try a “dawn simulator” (like this one), which is essentially an alarm clock that uses imitation sunlight to wake you up and get your body on track.
  • Antidepressants. Some SAD sufferers may require medication to properly regulate mood during this season. Especially if you’re experiencing extreme depression, including any suicidal thoughts, you need to see a doctor and get whatever help you can. Some antidepressants do have an impact on libido, so you might ask about that when you discuss options with your physician.
  • Prayer. This one isn’t in the medical manual, but I’ve definitely turned to prayer in moments when I’m teary for no good reason or feeling like snapping at a family member because I don’t feel good. While still pursuing ways to alleviate the core issue (SAD), it helps to pray for perspective, strength, and joy. God has delivered that to me in various moments.

Be sure to communicate to your spouse what’s going on. If they’re not so sure that it’s a physiological issue, point them to expert resources, like this page on the Mayo Clinic site. Don’t use SAD as an excuse to check out of your marriage, but rather involve your spouse and take action to reduce the symptoms and get your joyful and sexy self back.

That’s what I’m doing this season. And I pray that you will have a cheer-filed season as well!

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26 thoughts on “Is Seasonal Depression Impacting Your Marriage?”

  1. Great post. I deal with depression year round and it impacts my entire family. I take an antidepressant (and yes, it does affect our intimacy-but so does depression that leaves me unable to function in any area of life) and have recently added in a probiotic!! My depression was overcoming my meds during PMS. Come to find out that serotonin is made in the gut!!!! I didn’t want to increase my meds one week out of the month (increasing side effects) so I tried the probiotics and woohooo!!!! Felt better!! So there’s another thing. Eat healthy and take a good probiotic! (I take one by plexus)

  2. Thanks for writing about this, J. We need more Christians writing about this in an honest way.

    I have year-round depression that is managed well with medication, but my seasonal depression requires extra attention. I find that light therapy is the best way to take the edge off the SAD. Starting in early September, I try to sit outside for a half hour every day within the first two hours of waking. I do that through October, which is when it gets really bad for me. This year I forgot all about it, and October was awful. I’m sorry you’re struggling with it right now. (((Hugs))) to you.

  3. Really important topic. I’d like to suggest another methodology, if I may…don’t go big on Christmas.

    I don’t have SAD; I have combat-related PTSD, and we learned early-on that a very low-key Christmas is best for me. The dichotomy between my inner ambience – the memories that will stay with me forever – and the “Come, now, let’s be HAPPY!” of the season is just too much.

    So my wife does the shopping, and we watch a few TV specials, but mainly football. She gets invitations to holiday parties; I am too ill now to attend in any event, but I wouldn’t go.

    Something’s lost there, sure. But it’s better than what happened when my wife thought it would be nice for me to pick out presents for my nieces and nephews; if you ever see a grown man standing in the toy department at WalMart, tears running down his face and his gaze looking too far into yesterday, he’s probably a combat veteran.

    I apologise for the digression, but the thought remains…don’t do the stuff that brings you down, even if everything in your brain tells you you’re supposed to do it AND like it.

    A house divided against itself cannot stand; neither can a person.

    1. Thank you for adding this. PTSD is so difficult, and often misunderstood. This is great advice for those who struggle for whatever reason during the holidays: Keep it simple and celebrate when and how you can.

  4. Winter in Minnesota means that the sun sets at 4:30 in the afternoon, so darkness is a huge factor for me. Almost every Fall I struggle and last year was especially tough. I am determined to do better this year. I am taking vitamin and A and D and I sit in the sun in my front living room as much as I can. I know that exercise makes a huge difference e so I try to walk as much as I can. Also, the more I have sex with my husband, the better I feel. Thank you for an important post.

    1. Good point about sex. You feel like you don’t have enough energy when you deal with SAD, but intimacy (including the aspect of touch) can be helpful in improving your mood … not to mention your marriage. Thanks, Ruth! Hope you’re doing well this season.

  5. Thank you so much, J. I struggle with SAD that improved greatly with the addition of some vitamins and supplements (Omega 3s, Vit D, B complex, cal mag zinc, probiotic), so much so that when I started the vitamins one of my best friends said, “Yay! We can be friends during winter now.”

    But I had my fourth kiddo just six weeks ago, and combining some PPD with SAD has made for a pretty gloomy holiday season so far. I’ve googled how to support a spouse when *I* am depressed, but all the articles are about supporting the struggling spouse. So that’s the lingering question I have, is how to keep your marriage strong when battling depression. Thank you for tackling it. I have never tried a sun lamp before; maybe this year is the year to take the plunge.

  6. It’s important for the spouse without SAD to take it seriously, too, having mercy and grace for the one struggling. It is real and can be managed. It is managed better when you work as a team.

    Thanks for your candor, J. You’re in my prayers.

  7. I have been struggling myself the last 6 months. Not seasonal depression, but total discouragement over my life right now. After our 3rd baby (in 2.5 years) was born, we moved 2 days later, and with the total chaos of postpartum+moving+learning to juggle 3 babies/toddlers, my health crashed. I am going on month 7 of throat swelling and multiple severe food allergies that suddenly surfaced. I can literally only eat like 5 things, and I’m still nursing, so it’s that much more important to make sure I can eat. I absolutely love the holidays and all the food involved, and sitting in the corner with my little Tupperware of boring food absolutely doesn’t count. Let’s just say that with my health+the mind-numbing monotony of changing diapers, making food, cleaning up messes, REPEAT, I am often so close to tears. I want to get better so that I can focus more on my husband, but for now, he has to be my cheer-upper and support.

    1. I really think you need to tell your doctor how you’re feeling. In addition to everything else, you may need some hormonal or mood help to get through this tough time. I had mild to moderate postpartum depression, and one of my life regrets is that I didn’t recognize it and insist on solutions when I needed them. I encourage you to include this topic in your next conversation with your doctor. And if you don’t have an appointment scheduled already, get one. Bless your heart! I’m praying for you.

      1. Thank you, J! Yes, I have appointments with multiple doctors, and we’re trying to work on everything. Medications will be easier after the baby is weaned; waiting for that to slooowly happen! 😉

    2. Shortly after my BFF had her 2nd baby, she found out that #2 had severe allergies/reactions to foods that mama ate (dairy and soy mainly). Mama wanted to continue nursing, so she changed her diet drastically, and baby no longer had those reactions. However, mama found herself struggling greatly with the food limits (she has a history of disordered eating and anxiety). She would set little goals for herself, such as: If after three weeks/baby’s doctor appointment, baby wasn’t improving or mama still felt anxious/hungry/etc., she would stop nursing. She recognized that if mama wasn’t happy/healthy, neither of the kiddos nor her hubby would be either as well. Baby is now a toddler and has now outgrown the allergies/reactions.

      I know how tough it was on her, and I’m praying for you in the same was I prayed for her! ((hugs))

      1. Thank you, KJ! I’m very much in a ‘breast-is-best’ circle (hello, peer pressure), so the idea of weaning early makes me feel guilty! My other 2 *were* weaned by 10 months because I got prego with the next one. We made it to 6 months exclusively nursing this lil guy, and am slowly working on introducing solids. 🙂

    3. Dear L,

      I read your comment and just went, “I’ve got to talk to her.” I’ve had a very similar experience with the complete breakdown of my health following the birth of my 4th child nearly a year ago. Also precipitated by a move and stress. It’s been quite a journey and I’m definitely still not fully recovered, but we’re getting there very slowly. I’d love to connect with you on a more personal level if you were interested. Not sure if this is allowed or not here, but I’ll leave a second comment for J with my info that you can ask her for if you’d like 🙂

  8. PS I had the higher sex drive too, and as you can imagine, that is basically gone. My heart breaks when I add this lost treasure to the pile of everything else weighing on me!!

  9. I think I struggle with this a bit, but not in a huge way. Has anyone here tried taking 5-htp? It’s the precursor to serotonin. I take it every night for sleep, but I know it can be good for mood too. And I’m on 10,000 IU’s of vitamin D now. No one in the Northwest gets enough of that without supplementing.

  10. Sorry you are struggling. I’m not sure what going on with my mood anymore. But I’m honestly tired of it. I’m on the max dose of my antidepressant right now. Don’t seem to be working well anymore. Could be excessive stress. Could be I just have chronic depression and I just need to deal.

    I’ve petitioned my husband to take me to Florida in December/ January and pretend Christmas doesn’t exist. That should help ;p

    Getting a job and getting my PhD done and figuring out how we’re going to get and pay for health insurance by ourselves with only half our current income would help too.

    I guess in the mean time I need to work on going outside and getting sunshine on me.

    Yes. I’ve tried 5-HTP and Melatonin for sleep supplements. Doesn’t seem to do much. Also tried supplements, and Probiotics, and yoga, and CBT, and at least 3 other types of antidepressants. Some of these help, I guess.

    Although I’m not sure Probiotics do anything for my mood. Does help me not get yeast or urinary tract infections though. I’m all about that.

    I get more suicidal thought in summer.

    1. Wow, I’m so sorry you’re going through this. I just want to give you a hug, bless your heart. Keep trying to find answers. You may need to ask for more extensive testing to see if other body chemicals or hormones are askew. I don’t believe you “just need to deal”; instead, you just need some answers for how to help your situation. Praying that you find them. Many blessings!

  11. Thanks for addressing this…I would heartily second light therapy, getting outside and Vit. D! These have helped me a lot – in fact this fall has been a lot better than last and this year I’ve got the added difficulty of pregnancy hormone wildness.
    My husband is so so so understanding and helpful. I thank God for him every day. 🙂

  12. I don’t think very many of us are immune, even if we don’t suffer from SAD, as such. I have lived in four seasons climates most of my life, and though not a winter person, I do like changes in seasons, which makes things interesting sometimes. My mother grew up in Montana, which can get extremely cold, but also stays sunny more often than not. I think she had it, especially where it wasn’t so sunny. My wife could live where it’s warm year round. Not a winter person! I agree it’s important to have knowledge of ourselves, and how this may affect our spouses – and other friends.

  13. This is a great article, J. I love the practical tips and agree with all of them. As some commenters have mentioned, a lot of the body’s serotonin is made in the digestive tract, so eating a healthy diet and maintaining are “healthy gut” is important. Scientists are learning that many of the chemicals that affect our mental health are produced or metabolized in the digestive system, so it’s a good idea to keep it as healthy as possible.

    1. There is a recipe book called ‘the happy kitchen’ that is all about the food mood connection, and how you can cook food that will help (and avoid stuff that will hinder) issues such as lack of energy, anxiety etc.

      I’ don’t know if you’ve read anything by dr Caroline leaf, ive been meaning to dive into her research on how thinking certain thoughts actually strengthens certain pathways in your brain, and I love how that is backed up by scripture with Philippians 4:8. Think on pure, right, lovely truth, and those pathways will be strengthened!

      Exercise is also very important, but so is rest. And not just sleeping in and vegging in front of the tv type of rest, but intentional, biblical, Sabbath rest. I believe that God gave us the Sabbath for our benefit, and I know that I feel better if I even carve out half a day/week where I turn the Internet off, don’t do any housework, cooking etc, and give myself permission to just enjoy soul nurturing stuff! I have to say, I’ve not done this properly for a few weeks, but I have been taking intentional rest in the evenings. This is something that I am planning on really working on as one of my goals for next year.

      Praying for all those who are struggling through this mentally draining season.

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