Winter is one of those seasons that many people have a love/hate relationship with. Sure, we are excited for the holidays and playing in the snow; but it isn’t all fun and games. As a parent, it can be challenging to always be up and ready to go, especially when your children have snow days and you’re cooped up in the house!
Should the cold weather get you down, or if you suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), fear not brave parent! There are some things you can do that will help you brave the storm, if you will. First, let’s discuss what SAD is.
What is SAD?
Approximately 5% of the American population experiences seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Seasonal Affective Disorder is form of depression that comes and goes with the seasons – primarily in the fall and winter. People who suffer from this disorder can show a variety of symptoms that can include:
· Feeling depressed the majority of the day, on most days
· Losing interest in hobbies and other things you enjoy
· Low energy
· Difficulty sleeping
· Changes in appetite and/or weight
· Feeling agitated or sluggish
· Difficulty concentrating
· Feelings of hopelessness, guilt, or worthlessness
· Suicidal thoughts or thinking about death frequently
People who experience SAD during the winter months can sometimes experience:
· Craving foods with high carbohydrates
· Weight gain
· Low energy
While it isn’t as common, people can experience SAD in during the Spring, and the signs or symptoms they could exhibit include:
· Poor appetite
· Weight loss
· Anxiety and/or agitation
What Causes SAD?
The direct causes for SAD are still unknown, but the Mayo Clinic does note that there are three factors that can contribute to the disorder.
1. Circadian Rhythm (Biological Clock): The further away from the equator that you are, the less sunlight you will receive. The lack of sunlight during the fall and winter months can disrupt your body’s biological clock, which can lead to feelings of sadness and depression.
2. Lower Serotonin Levels: Your brain uses a neurotransmitter called serotonin and it affects a person’s mood. The lack of sunlight can cause your serotonin levels to drop, which can trigger depression.
3. Lower Melatonin Levels: When the seasons change, the amount of melatonin your body creates can be affected, which can alter both your mood and your sleep patterns.
Treatments for SAD
Before you can receive treatment, you will need to see your primary care provider or a mental health professional to be properly diagnosed. The doctor will ask a variety of questions that range from symptoms they are experiencing, to nutrition, to trauma or stress they may have experienced, and even as about suicidal ideations. Doctors will also order a complete blood count and conduct a thyroid test to rule out other physical health conditions.
Once the doctor has determined you are suffering from SAD, there are several different treatment plans available:
· Light Therapy: Light therapy is when a patient is exposed to a full range of light that comes from a light therapy box, visor, or lamp. This treatment can range from 15 minutes to as long as 1.5 hours. The purpose of light therapy is to mimic natural sunlight and alters the chemicals in the brain that directly affects a person’s mood. About 53.3% of patients who have SAD and are treated with light therapy have been reported to experience a complete remission of symptoms.
· Medication: Doctors can provide a prescription for antidepressants to help combat the symptoms the patient feels.
· Psychotherapy: A patient may undergo psychotherapy to help recognize when they have negative thoughts and harmful behaviors. This therapy can help them to change and learn better coping strategies, as well as learn how to deal with stress better.
Now that you know what SAD is, its causes, and possible treatments, let’s take a look at a few things you can do to help brighten your mood – whether it is from SAD or if you’re just feeling a little blue this winter.
1. Buy Fresh Flowers
A fresh flowers can be a great way to bring a little bit of cheer and brighten your day. It doesn’t matter if you buy an orchid (our favorite), a small potted rose bush, or just a bouquet of your favorite flowers, these little bits of brightness can act as that reminder that spring is right around the corner.
If you do get a live plant, make sure you keep it watered and it is in a sunny spot! You don’t want your little bit of color to die on you! If you opt for the fresh bouquet route, replace them about once a week with new flowers.
2. Don’t Be Afraid to Go Outside!
We get it, it’s cold outside. The wind whips right through you and chills you to the bone. But, going outside in the freshly fallen snow can be a fantastic opportunity to get some fresh air and have a bit of fun with your kids. Not only will you get to share some bonding time with your children, but you can soak up some of that vitamin D from the sun.
If you really don’t want to go outside, or the sun isn’t shining bright enough, consider adding some vitamin D supplements to your morning routine. Vitamin D deficiency can result in feeling depressed, fatigue, getting ill more often, and hypertension.
3. Take on a New Project
One way to make it through the winter months with your sanity in check is to take on a new project. It could be big arts and crafts project with your kids, sort through closets and donate things you no longer need or use, or you can update your fireplace with stone panels to add a new sophisticated touch. Instead of letting the winter’s gloom take hold of you, you can stay busy and keep moving. That way you’ll feel like you’ve accomplished something important instead of wasting a day.
4. Plan Family Time
The best part of planning family time during the winter months is that you don’t really have to go anywhere. If it’s too cold outside, you can plan activities that can be done inside. You can have game night, movie night, bake cookies, read a favorite book, play dress up, or just talk.
Of course, if everyone is tired of being cooped up inside, there are plenty of fun activities to do! You can go to the movies, go bowling, visit a roller skating/ice skating rink, visit an indoor amusement park, or go on a road trip. There are so many possibilities for what you can do to keep from going stir crazy or keep their seasonal affective disorder (SAD) at bay.
Winter can take a toll on people. The lack of sunlight, the frigid temperatures, and the bone chilling cold can really mess with a person’s mental well-being. It isn’t any easier if you are a parent and your children are getting restless because of winter vacation or too many snow days.
If you’re feeling less like yourself, perhaps you’re feeling the effects of seasonal affective disorder. If you are concerned about the way you or someone are feeling, please talk to your primary care physician for help.