Chicago Suburban Family

Family Wellness

Beat the Winter Blues

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Some people love the winter season and enjoy snow, warm clothes, and ski trips, while others are affected emotionally by the cold dreary weather, shorter days, and being stuck inside all of the time. For some people, including children, winter can cause them to feel down in the dumps or even depressed. Fortunately, once we understand what is going on, we can help our kids overcome their winter blues.

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What Exactly Are The Winter Blues?
We often hear the term Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, to describe when someone is unhappy during wintertime. It is a form of depression that follows a seasonal pattern. The most common type occurs in the winter, but some people do experience SAD during other seasons depending on the weather and where they live.

As winter approaches, 10 to 20 percent of people experience mild symptoms of SAD and about 6 percent have considerably worse symptoms.

Typical symptoms of SAD include:

  • Craving comfort foods like pasta, breads, and sugar
  • Fatigue; wanting to sleep more
  • Having difficulty waking up in the morning
  • Irritability and moodiness
  • Increased crying
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Depression
  • Hopelessness
  • Low self-esteem

Experts aren’t 100 percent sure what triggers SAD, but some theories include environmental factors like the change in the amount and intensity of light exposure we get during the colder, darker months. Additionally, levels of serotonin—a neurotransmitter linked to depression—has been shown to shift with the seasons and may be linked to SAD.

When It’s Time To Get Help
Sometimes SAD can get pretty serious and start impacting your child’s daily life. They might start crying often, withdrawing from activities that they used to enjoy, and experiencing changes in their appetite. If SAD is not addressed, your child’s self-esteem can suffer and they may start to struggle socially and academically.

If you start to notice these changes, then it’s important to seek professional help by calling a licensed therapist. A professional will be able to assess the changes you observed and provide feedback and an action plan for how to address the situation. Be sure to note whether these symptoms fluctuate with the season and weather so that you can inform the therapist. Also, remember to discuss these issues with your child in a gentle, understanding manner and let them know that you love them and want to help them feel better.

How Nature Can Help
Another way to help manage wintertime depression is through nature. Spending time in and around nature is so beneficial to our health and well-being. It calms us down when we are feeling stressed and boosts our mood when we are feeling down. When we think about nature, we tend to only consider that it’s outside, but we can also capture the essence of what nature has to offer through images, sounds, and plants inside our home. By bringing nature indoors during the cold, dark, rainy, snowy months, we can help our kids beat the winter blues.

Nature Imagery
Amazingly, just looking at pictures of nature scenes can make us feel similar to actually spending time outdoors. Spending time in nature can also make us feel more compassionate and connected to others. Scientists have observed brain activity using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and discovered that when we view scenes from the natural environment, the parts of their brain associated with empathy and love light up.

Nature Sounds
Listening to nature can also help relax us and improve our mood. One study explored how nature sounds affect people’s mental and physical health and found that those who listened to ocean waves had considerably lower muscle tension, heart rates, and stress. These positive changes occurred quite rapidly–within five to seven minutes of listening to the sounds of nature. Keep in mind that the best sounds are those that give a sense of natural space and mimic the biorhythms of an ecosystem like a forest. Loud chirping and croaking is just not going to cause the same calming feelings as sounds of water, which are very soothing because of their slow, rhythmic whooshing noises.

Plants
Plants and flowers have long been known to cheer people up. Research done in hospitals, offices, and schools has consistently found that even a simple plant in a room can have a significant impact on improving mood. Plants actually boost healing, according to a study at Kansas State University, in which researchers learned that viewing plants during recovery from surgery can lead to a significant improvement in physiological responses.

How To Bring More Nature Inside
If your kids are experiencing the winter blues, try some of these ideas to brighten up their day:

  • Display plants and colorful flowers throughout your house.
  • Decorate your house with awe-inspiring images of nature. Collect gorgeous pieces from famous photographers like Ansel Adams and Philip Hyde or start a family hobby of taking pictures of nature that you love to display throughout your house.
  • Start an indoor garden of herbs and flowers.
  • Play nature sounds in your home, especially at bedtime.
  • Visit indoor sanctuaries of nature such as an arboretum, butterfly garden, botanical garden, greenhouse, science museum, or aquarium.
  • Watch nature shows, movies, and documentaries as a family.
  • Hang out in places with large windows and skylights to allow more natural light in.

By Sandi Schwartz

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