Dear Wayne and Wanda,
I need some advice. I met my girlfriend this summer so this is our first winter together. Lately she has been really tired, lying around. I basically have to go to her if I want to hang out. She doesn't want to go out at all. This summer we did lots of cool things together — hikes, camping, biking. She says that's her "summer mode" and in winter she just gets kind of depressed and likes to stay inside and "hibernate."
I don't like to hibernate. I'm a social guy. And I need a girlfriend who will keep up. She's lived in Alaska for a few years now so it isn't like she didn't know this darkness thing was coming. I really like her, but I seriously can't make it through the winter dating someone who can barely get off the couch. I suggested she go tanning or something and she got all defensive and said there's nothing wrong with her, she just gets more "introverted" in the winter and likes to stay in and be "homey" and "cozy." To me, it just sounds like she's depressed and I'm going to be bored. What can I do?
Definitely don't get mad because your girlfriend is sad, and by sad I mean SAD. Seasonal affective disorder is a real thing. According to Mayo Clinic, most folks who get it experience it from fall into the winter months. People with SAD can feel irritable, flat and depressed. The good news is there are ways to treat it. SAD can be managed via medicine, psychotherapy, or easiest of all, SAD lights! SAD lights today can be super portable. I have co-workers who keep them in their offices and blast those things for periods of time during winter days. A quick search on Amazon revealed tons of options, ranging in price from $38.95 on up. Hey, it's cheaper than a ticket to Hawaii.
That said, there's nothing like getting out of Alaska in the winter and soaking up sun on a sizzling beach someplace. If you could swing that, an adventurous outing into more comfortable climates could be a great surprise for your sun-loving sweetheart!
The next best thing close to home? The horticulture complex and Mann Leiser Memorial Greenhouse at Russian Jack Springs Park. This place is amazing. It's free, open to the public and open daily, 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Stepping inside is like slipping into your own secret tropical paradise. There are exotic flowers, palm-leaved trees, incredibly cool cactuses, colorful chirping songbirds — and best of all, it's super warm. A picnic date here would be a great way to warm up your lady friend.
While my preferred method of defeating SAD is basking and baking in an overload of Vitamin D from a beach in middle-of-nowhere Mexico, those orders of hand-pressed tortillas, fresh guac and two-for-one happy-hour margaritas don't pay for themselves. Sadly, I must eventually return to my casa in AK and begin saving for the next fiesta. Good thing I love cross-country skiing!
So, what can you do to help your girlfriend fight the sadness while you guys stack up your pesos for the next adventure? Embrace the darkness! Seriously. Playing outside in the winter works wonders. It gets you out of the house, which breaks the sick-and-tired routine. It gets you exercising, which gets the blood pumping, which makes you happier and healthier. It also empowers you to tell yourself, "Self, you can totally kick this winter's butt!" which boosts your spirits and makes you feel like a badass.
Cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, hiking and ice skating are all activities that are fun, fitness-focused and easy to access around Anchorage. You can find scores of affordable used gear at local ski swaps, secondhand stores and Craigslist. And you don't have to be Kikkan Randall to hit the trails with confidence. Anchorage's world-class trail system offers something for all fitness levels and there are classes and training groups available for all skill levels.
Or you two could just go for a jog or walk. Go to Skinny Raven, have them install studs on your winter shoes and you're safe to hit Anchorage's sometimes-icy streets and trails. Headlamps are crazy cheap and awesome these days, so you can see when you're off the lighted trails/streets. And hey, you don't have to worry about bears! Bonus!
All of these activities are perfect for introverts like your girlfriend. By getting her outside, you'll maximize her happiness and minimize her sadness. Winter could even be fun instead of dreadful. And who knows, if she enjoys herself, you both might turn into weirdos like me who look forward to the snow every winter.
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