As the weather turns colder and winter flurries force families indoors, it’s understandable why children might not seem as spirited as usual. More than 1 million children and adolescents experience this mood change known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, or commonly referred to as the winter blues.
Kaushal Amatya, a pediatric psychologist at Children’s National Hospital, provides insights on how families can support their children in fighting off the winter blues.
Recognizing Signs of SAD
One of the most important things to do is to look for signs that your child may be suffering from SAD. While there are various reasons for uncharacteristic behavior, especially in the fall and winter, common symptoms of SAD include the following:
- Feeling sad due to the shortening days;
- Changes in sleep pattern (often oversleeping);
- Weight gain or loss with changes in appetite;
- Withdrawal from social activities;
- Feelings of low self-worth and hopelessness;
- Struggling with schoolwork.
While the exact cause of SAD is unknown, researchers suggest it may be influenced by a disruption in a person’s circadian rhythm, the body’s natural cycle of waking and sleeping. In winter, with less sunlight, it could play a in the brain’s production of melatonin and serotonin. SAD could be caused by an overproduction of melatonin (encouraging sleep) and an underproduction of serotonin (fighting depression).
Diagnosing and Treating SAD
Diagnosing SAD involves medical exams to rule out other possible causes like hypothyroidism or hypoglycemia.
However, treating moderate SAD can be simple:
- Maintain a bedtime routine with a healthy sleep and wake cycle;
- Spend time outside every day during daylight hours;
- Open window shades in the home;
- Exercise regularly, especially outdoors;
- Maintain a healthy diet low in simple carbohydrates but high in vegetables, fruit, and whole grains;
- Use a “dawn simulator” to gradually turn on the light in the bedroom, tricking the body into thinking the sunrise is earlier.
If symptoms worsen or persist beyond winter, discuss further treatment with your pediatrician. That treatment may include psychotherapy, medications, or a combination of both. Talking to your child, understanding what they are experiencing, and working with your healthcare provider are crucial steps in determining the best course forward.
Feature image, stock.adobe.com
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