The holidays are behind us. The days are shorter. It’s cold outside. Dark when you wake up and dark by 4:30 in the afternoon. Most of us have experienced the winter blues on those long, cold, gray winter days that seem never-ending. Some people really struggle with the lack of sunlight and then this becomes SAD or seasonal affective disorder. While the exact causes remain a mystery and can vary from person to person, it isn’t difficult to understand why this time of year can be such a challenge emotionally.
Even though “Blue Monday,” January 18th each year, isn’t officially a holiday, it has been named one of the most depressing days of the year because of a combination of post-Christmas bills, the abandonment of New Year resolutions, low sunlight levels and cold weather.
What about our children? Can they suffer from these winter blues as well? While somewhere between 10 and 20% of people suffer from some degree of SAD, it’s not well documented in children. However, it makes sense, to me at least, that it could certainly affect them. After all, the excitement and anticipation of Christmas is over and now they must get back into the routine of schoolwork. The first week back after the holiday break is hard on everyone in the family. Schedules and sleep are all thrown off during the holidays and through our kids’ eyes, Christmas was fun but now it’s back to reality.
If you have noticed that your child is struggling and just doesn’t seem like him or herself, it’s a pretty good bet it is a combination of holiday let-down, fatigue and a bit of serotonin deficit. The switch to daylight-saving time in October means we all get less serotonin-boosting vitamin D.
Regardless of where you or your children fall on this spectrum, there are some simple ways to combat the winter blues. Here are my top 7 tips:
- First do a self-check. Are you modeling good coping skills during the winter months or complaining about the short days and the gray skies? Are you grumbling about having to put on a coat and boots? We all know they do what we do, not necessarily what we say. If you suffer from any degree of SAD yourself, show your kids how you manage.
- One of the biggest factors is the lack of light. With short, cold days, sunshine is in short supply from October to March especially in the northern hemisphere. Exposure to light impacts hormones and circadian rhythm. Reduced sunlight exposure can cause a drop in serotonin that may trigger depression. So brighten up your environment, literally. Open curtains and shades, use lights and if need be purchase a light box. Verilux makes a good, inexpensive portable one.
- Vitamin D helps encourage serotonin production and release. If they’re not getting enough vitamin D, taking a supplement may help reduce symptoms related to low serotonin levels. Also including foods high in vitamin D can help, such as fatty fish like tuna, sardines, herring and salmon, egg yolks and mushrooms.
- Bright colors can help. While I have no research to support this theory, I believe there’s a link between moods and bright colors. Simply looking at warm, bright colors, like red or pink, releases the feel good hormone, dopamine, which can improve mood and heighten attention span. Why not have the kids wear bright green, sunny yellow, enthusiastic orange, pastel pink? It couldn’t hurt and it might just lift everyone’s mood.
- Cut back or eliminate sugars & processed carbs. We all enjoy special holiday treats, but those sugary, indulgent treats are not mood stabilizers. Cut back or eliminate or eliminate them and focus on veggies, protein and fruits. An ounce of good quality, dark chocolate, on the other hand, can enhance mood for you and the kiddos.
- Exercise is always a great mood-booster. While the cold weather may preclude spending a lot of time outdoors you might consider investing in a mini-trampoline. Bouncing on it for even 5 or 10 minutes a few times a day is a fun way to get lymph moving, which boosts immunity and serotonin. If you can get them to spend even 20 minutes outside playing or just taking a walk, it will also boost serotonin.
- Music affects your mood. In a 2013 study, researchers showed that purposefully attempting to improve mood by listening to upbeat music significantly improved participants’ mood in both the short and long term within two weeks. Play some upbeat music, particularly during lunch or snack breaks. Or try playing a CD that has nature sounds or calming bird songs in the background during the day. It’s calming and uplifting. I love hearing ocean waves when there’s two feet of snow outside!
What are your favorite ways to fight the winter blues?
Supplementing vitamin D3 in children and teens https://www.mdedge.com/pediatricnews/article/119431/endocrinology/vitamin-d-supplementation-recommended-all-children-teens
Ann Musico is a certified holistic health coach, independent nutritional consultant, author of Today is Still the Day and other books. She works with women of all ages to empower them to live well so they can model health and wholeness – spirit, soul and body – to their families and beyond. Visit her website at www.annmusico.com to learn about the coaching options and weight loss plans she offers as well as numerous free resources you can access.