How to survive seasonal blues

Don't let the winter blahs get you and your family down

When the mercury plummets, does your heart sink too? Try these tips to recapture your family’s summer highs during record-setting lows.

Eat right

We know you know this, but proper nutrition at this time of year is especially important. Both serotonin and omega-3 essential fatty acids are said to help combat the blues, so try cooking meals that include walnuts and fish (which contain omega-3s), as well as fruits such as bananas and pineapple, which help boost your levels of serotonin.

The long Canadian winter also deprives us of sunlight and, therefore, vitamin D. Combat that by making sure kids drink their milk and by serving eggs regularly, or ask your doctor about a vitamin D supplement.

Embrace denial

Stuck inside? Pretend it’s summer. Don your bathing suits and floppy hats, and spend an afternoon making tropical blender drinks. You can serve them with paper umbrellas while you play board games or watch beach movies.

Regular exercise that gets your heart pumping is another natural cure for the blues. Add a limbo contest to that beach party. Or check out what drop-in activities are available at your community centre — you might be surprised to find indoor rock climbing or ball hockey. You might even have a bowling alley or trampoline club nearby.

Ring in the…old?

Lisa Werrett of Oshawa, Ont., entertains the children in her home daycare by showing them new ways to liven up familiar pastimes.

A dance party gets kids in the daycare moving. When they get bored, Werrett introduces a game like “freeze dancing.” Freshen up their moves with new routines, streamers, dance-offs and unexpected songs (look on your movie soundtrack playlists for unusual tracks). Classic games like Twister also encourage older children to get up and move without even realizing they are doing their bodies some good.

Get outside

In the middle of winter, getting outside in the sun is one of the best ways to feel better, says Raymond Lam, a professor of psychiatry at University of British Columbia in Vancouver who specializes in seasonal affective disorder. The fresh air does a body good. Lead your kids on a pine cone hunt, or try snow painting: Fill some squirt bottles with coloured water and make your very own Jackson Pollocks on the ever-changing canvas of snow.

Beyond the blahs

From one to three percent of children between the ages of nine and 17 struggle with seasonal affective disorder (SAD). The disorder is especially prevalent in girls after puberty.

What to watch for

• Kids can get lethargic and cranky in winter simply because they are bored with the school routine. But if such behaviour persists, it may be worth a closer look.
• Watch for overeating, oversleeping and irritability. Younger kids with depression may be particularly agitated or fearful, and lose interest in playing. Some research is also finding links between attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and SAD.

Let the sunshine in

Early morning light is the most important of all. Researchers are not yet sure why, but it likely has something to do with circadian rhythms, according to Norman Rosenthal, a pioneer in light therapy and clinical professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University Medical School in Washington, D.C. “More light is easy to get,” says Rosenthal, the author of Winter Blues: Seasonal Affective Disorder: What It Is and How to Overcome It. “Kids should try to get outside at recess and breaks, and get some sunlight.” You can also invest in light therapy devices, which are available online and at drugstores for $200 and up.

Want to learn more?

UBC psychiatry professor Raymond Lam offers tips on what to look for in a device on his website, ubcsad.ca.

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