Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), more commonly known as “The Winter Blues,” affects millions of American adults and children every year. A primary symptom of SAD is a change in mood resulting in feelings of sadness, depression, increased irritability, and possible feelings of hopelessness. SAD also impacts an individual’s ability to think positively. They may lack enjoyment, seek social isolation, have low energy, increase their want and/or need for sleep, and increase their cravings for comfort foods instead of healthier food choices. SAD differentiates from clinical depression due to the fact that the depressed mood and symptoms typically will last 4-5 months. Adults and children in northern climates are at a higher risk of developing SAD symptoms as the fall and winter seasons shorten the hours of sunlight significantly each day. Whether parents notice symptoms of SAD in themselves, or their child(ren), the symptoms must be taken seriously. Therefore, families need to be prepared to face SAD symptoms, or the Winter Blues, together!
The good news? There are many things parents can do to help themselves, their children, and their family overall thrive throughout the bitterly cold winter days!
- Take advantage of the “nice” weather days! When the sun is shining, bundle up the whole family and release some physical energy outside by going sledding, ice skating, building a snowman, ice fishing, snowshoeing, or participate in a family snowball fight! Be sure to capitalize on all of the “fun” traditional winter activities whenever possible!
- Be creative when stuck inside! Minimize time on the TV, phones, computers, gaming systems, etc. Here are a few ideas to engage in indoor activities together as a family:
- Paint the snow! If you can’t go outside, bring some snow inside. Fill a large bowl or multiple small bowls with snow, and then use watercolor paints to create fun designs. This activity will stimulate excitement, laughter, and communication for all involved.
- Create your snowman! Grab some construction paper, mini marshmallows, glue, cotton balls, and markers. Engage in this creative activity together and then follow-up with a conversation of why each person chose to make their snowman the way they did. You can also hang the finished products on the wall to show pride in your family’s work and remind each member of your family of a fun memory!
- Pick your favorite summer activity and recreate it at home! Go “camping” in your living room or set up a beach-style party! Whether you eat s’mores in a tent and tuck into your sleeping bags that night or decide to put on swimming attire and create a beach vibe, there will be excitement and fun had by all!
- Find more creative ideas for indoor winter activities online. Pinterest has a plethora of ideas! The three ideas noted above were retrieved from the following article: 15+ Indoor Winter Activities for Kids to Beat the Winter Blues (momooze.com). If you like the three ideas I mentioned, be sure to check out the rest!
- Create a well-balanced meal plan with your family each week to avoid the comfort food cravings!
- It is challenging as a parent to juggle all appointments, activities and keep up with daily chores when all family members are healthy and not struggling with symptoms of SAD. Therefore, by having each family member sit down weekly to create a menu focused on ensuring nutritional values are met through most meals will help parents stay focused. Depletine of the essential nutritional food groups occurs often during the 4-5 month window of The Winter Blues. You have the power to offset that depletion and engage in more family time!
- Take the time to shop for your meal plan/weekly menu as a family. Although taking your kids to the store can create stress, it will get you all out of the house for a while.
- Make cooking supper a family event each night or as often as possible. Engage your children in the process of preparing and cooking as age-appropriate.
- It is essential to know when to seek professional help! Monitor the well-being of yourself and your family members as The Winter Blues can become very serious!
- Severe cases of SAD can be treated through four main categories: Light Therapy, Psychotherapy/Talk Therapy, Medication Management, and Vitamin D Therapy.
- Schedule an appointment with your primary care provider or an established mental health provider as soon as you recognize the symptoms of SAD are worsening.
- Know that if you, your child, or someone you know is in immediate distress or thinking about harming themselves, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). If you reside in North Dakota, you can also reach out to FirstLink National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by calling 211 (dial 2-1-1).
This blog was written by Post Adopt Coordinator Katie Davis, LBSW
Hull, M. (2021). Seasonal Affective Disorder Statistics. The Recovery Village. Retrieved from Seasonal Affective Disorder Statistics – The Recovery Village Drug and Alcohol Rehab.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Mental Health. (2021). Seasonal Affective Disorder. (NIH Publication No. 20-MH-8183). Retrieved from NIMH » Seasonal Affective Disorder (nih.gov).
Lyness, D. (2020). Seasonal Affective Disorder. KidsHealth. Retrieved from Seasonal Affective Disorder (for Parents) – Nemours KidsHealth.