Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), or the winter blues, is a common form of depression. It typically hits after the holidays when limited daylight and cold weather trigger a prolonged sadness. Why does this happen? No one knows for sure. It could be that our body’s own natural rhythm is disrupted. Other experts believe that the holidays bring on so many happy chemicals, like dopamine, that a temporary downtime is only natural. Whatever the cause, SAD symptoms tend to include:

  • Deep sadness for most of the day, almost every day.
  • Feeling exhausted.
  • Lack of interest in usual activities.
  • Weight loss or weight gain.
  • More sleep than usual.

Some ways for your family to beat the winter blues

Exercise

A common way to alleviate any type of depression is getting the family, including kids, up and moving about. Exercise of any kind is a great example of actions changing feelings. When you wake up, you may not feel like getting out of bed for a walk or a run. However, once you do, normally people report that they feel better. They’re glad they did it. Any kind of exercise will do, but the best is the kind you can do either outside or, if at home or gym, near a window.

Open up the blinds or curtains during the day

Get outside as often as possible to soak up some sunshine. When you have to be indoors, keep your curtains or blinds open to let in the light. Natural light is brighter, and therefore much more effective, than artificial lighting when it comes to SAD.

Get out with your friends

What activities bring you and your children joy? For some, it’s socializing with loved ones. This is challenging during a pandemic, but even so there are ways to connect with people you like. For example, join or start virtual book or movie clubs. Host a weekly remote happy hour to catch up with your friends. Organize playdates outside, such as local parks or someone’s back porch.

If you have a small group of vaccinated friends, try to routinely get together. Many people are feeling isolated right now. Even video calls are a great way to see each other and feel less lonely.

Talk to your doctor

A trusted physician or pediatrician can help you or your kids get to the root of whether this is SAD or another type of depression. They can recommend a suitable therapist or psychiatrist who can help you manage symptoms and ways to feel better.

Try Bright Light Therapy

Many people in northern climates, who are exposed to short days during the winter months, reportedly find bright light therapy helpful when fighting winter blues. They use phototherapy boxes to help re-adjust their circadian rhythms.

These boxes give off a kind of light that is similar to sunshine. Much brighter than say a lamp or overhead light in your house, you would use it approximately a half hour every day. Results are better if this is done when you first wake up in the morning. It’s not regulated by the FDA, so no one knows exactly why it works. Some doctors believe the bright light tricks your brain into a happier mood as a result.  Ask your doctor if it might be right for you.

Use Dawn Simulators

Rather than waking up with a traditional alarm clock using beeps or loud music, try a dawn simulator. It wakes you up with an effect similar to a sunrise that shines light into your home via windows. Dawn simulators use a full-spectrum light that gradually gets brighter and more intense. Like bright light therapy, this tricks your brain into believing it’s natural light and people report feeling less SAD.

Stick to a Schedule

As often as possible, go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day. If you have trouble falling asleep, consider meditation to relax yourself and quiet your mind. Prep your house, and family, to get everyone ready to sleep at least a half hour before lights out.

It also might help to try going to bed earlier and waking up a little later during winter months. The extra sleep might do you all some good.

Find something fun to do every week

SAD symptoms can dissipate if you can afford to take a vacation, even a long weekend, somewhere warmer during the winter. Not only is a change of season helpful, so is breaking from a routine for a short period of time.

Therefore, if you can’t get away, take some time off from work. Find fun activities for you and the kids that give you all a well-deserved break. Anything fun will do. Especially if it’s outside.

Consider avoiding alcohol and/or caffeine

When people feel winter blues, for any reason, sometimes they drink more than usual. However, alcohol is a depressant and can cause further depression. Monitor yourself and make sure SAD symptoms aren’t made worse by negative habits.

Although caffeine is a stimulant, it can lead to sleeping problems which makes SAD worse. Therefore, make sure coffee is a morning drink and avoid caffeinated sodas or drinks in the afternoon or evening.

Always ensure you’re drinking plenty of water throughout the day.

Write about your feelings and thoughts

Many doctors and therapists recommend keeping a journal and writing in it daily. Jot down your feelings and thoughts, good or bad, to make some sense of them this way. 

You and your kids can also do daily writing exercises where you list things for which you are grateful. Or to summarize your day before going to bed. This has been known to help people feel more sustained happiness as a result.

Make sure you’re getting enough vitamin D

Children and adults tend to feel depressive symptoms when they suffer from a vitamin D deficiency. In order to prevent this from happening to you and your kids, get outside for a daily walk. Only twenty minutes or so can help boost a happy mood. You can also get vitamin D from foods such as salmon, tuna or runny eggs.

In the end, it takes work and sometimes a doctor to help beat the winter blues. Hopefully these same activities that help alleviate SAD will also lead to better habits that help keep the whole family healthy and happier the rest of the year, too. 


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