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What Are the Winter Blues and How Can They Affect Your Child?

winter blues

Americans are aware of “the winter blues”—when our moods are negatively affected by cold weather and shortened daylight hours. While this might sound like a form of melancholy or an excuse to stay in bed a little longer, the winter blues is just an informal term for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a form of depression that’s related to the change of seasons.

While the change of seasons is unavoidable, treating the winter blues isn’t. Here are some tips for helping your child understand and ultimately overcome SAD.

Talk openly with your child about Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Knowledge is power. The winter blues can feel alienating if a child believes they’re the only person experiencing it. When children are given honest, objective information about SAD, they’ll recognize that gloomy and apathetic feelings are common during the winter months. As a result, they’ll know their problems are not insurmountable and will recognize there are other people with whom they can discuss their feelings.

Common symptoms of the winter blues are feeling sad and sluggish most of the day, having difficulty concentrating, sleeping too much, and overeating. If your child is experiencing any of these symptoms, encourage them to follow the steps below to stave off the winter blues.

Help your child create a routine. 

Structure is the enemy of apathy. Children, especially teenagers, who establish consistent schedules and daily, achievable goals will find the winter months easier to navigate. Daily routines allow people to feel in control and help them gain perspective by helping them to objectively analyze everything they accomplish from one day to the next.

Encourage daily physical activity.

Exercise releases feel-good endorphins in the body that enhance a person’s well-being. The Mayo Clinic also notes that physical exercise often leads to increased self-confidence and social interactions, which are at odds with many of the more pervasive symptoms associated with the winter blues.

Make sure they schedule a regular day and time to check-in.

Living away from home is difficult, even for children who might feel otherwise. Establish a regular check-in so your child can spend casual time with you and other family members, and remind themselves that they’re not isolated.

Seek professional help if symptoms persist.

Dr. Matthew Rudorfer, a mental health expert at the National Institutes of Health, notes that the winter blues is an informal term and not a medical diagnosis. He cautions that the symptoms of the winter blues can be warning signs of Seasonal Affective Disorder, an actual clinical diagnosis. If your child experiences the symptoms for an extended period despite following the recommendations listed above, reach out to their school counselor to seek professional help.

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