For many children and adults, winter falling temperatures bring along a downward shift in mood. Often called the Winter Blues or Winter Blahs, this moodiness can be a short-lived phase or a more serious sign of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) or winter depression. You may have heard of SAD, depression that follows the season, in relation to adults, but teenagers and even young children can suffer from it as well.
What to Look For
As much as 20 percent of the population experience mild symptoms as winter approaches. The shortened daylight hours tend to bring on sadness, making even the most active individuals want to sleep more and grumble when the time to rise comes. Cravings for comfort foods (pasta, sugar, bread) rise, increasing the intake of unhealthy calories and bringing on fatigue, irritability, and depression. Social withdrawal arises and is accompanied by hopelessness and decreased feelings of self-worth. Children, in particular, have difficulty concentrating, and grades may fall.
Fighting the Winter Blues
There are number of ways to help those suffering from the Winter Blues.
- Bring on the Sunshine. Sunlight can help lift the spirits of those with the Winter Blues. Spending time outside, even when it is cloudy helps, as does opening the shades or blinds in your home and letting the sun in. Spending time outside has proven to increase focus, lower stress levels, and reduce symptoms of winter depression. Trimming back tree branches and bushes that are blocking the light and working near a window can also give the body the sunlight it is craving. Simply making your environment brighter by using a light box is very effective.
- Activity and Exercise. Regular exercise gives a boost to the Winter Blahs. Multiple scientific studies suggest that taking a walk (30 minutes or more) five days a week improve symptoms. If your exercise happens indoors, make sure you work out under bright lights, which has been shown to improve overall social function, reduce depression symptoms, enhance mental health, and improve vitality.
- Eat Healthy. A healthy eating plan that is low in carbohydrates and high in vegetables, fruits, protein, and whole grains can help. Remember that candy and comfort foods may provide a temporary upswing, it tends to wear off quickly. One exception, chocolate, can enhance your mood and decrease your stress and anxiety.
- Take a Vacation. If you live to the north, consider traveling south during the winter months. Even a mid-winter family vacation in a warm, sunny climate can make all the difference. If you can’t take a vacation, go ahead, and begin planning one spring or summer, as the planning has been shown to lift spirits.
- Use a “Dawn Simulator.” Several studies have shown that using a device known as a dawn stimulator can help with the irritability, lethargy, and depressed feeling that come with the Winter Blues. The dawn stimulator gradually brightens your bedroom in the morning, stimulating the sunrise, to help you rise happier and make it easier to get out of bed.
- Get into Music. A recent study demonstrated that listening to upbeat, happy music helps improve moods in the moment and in the long term.
- Volunteer. Even little one’s can help with volunteer activities – from packing care packages for the homeless to preparing gift boxes for needy children. Older family members can serve at the local shelter or soup kitchen. Volunteerism has been proven to improve mental health overall.
These tips can help you keep the Winter Blues away all season long, boosting your spirits as temperatures fall! And one final note, if these tips don’t seem to help and the timing of the symptoms is longer than two weeks, check in with your family doctor to ensure all is well.