Disclosure :: this post is sponsored by Children’s Hospital.
Does January Make Us S.A.D.?
Is it the dreary, grey January days that make us sad, or is it something else? We can often get sad, but then feel perked up when we share in laughter with our friends or eat a warm, steamy bowl of gumbo.
S.A.D. is also the catchy acronym for “Seasonal Affective Disorder,” which is a term used to describe changes in mood and activity levels that tend to occur during a time of year, most often the winter months. Besides just feeling sad, other symptoms described include lack of energy, difficulty being motivated to engage in usual activities, and feeling sleepy and irritable. While this is consistently recognized in some adults, it is less often seen in children and adolescents.
Nevertheless, many children and adolescents report some of these mood changes during the months where the days are shorter, and the temperature is chillier. There is a tendency to want to sleep in, stay indoors and be less active. Unfortunately, these behaviors also tend to produce feelings of ‘blah’ in teens and result in a vicious circle of lack of activity, mood changes, and more lack of activity.
So how do we make January and the winter months less of a problem for some teens and their younger counterparts?
Get active, even after dark
This may mean getting creative by doing a family activity outdoors such as walking the dog, practicing a sport, or going to a gym. Making it fun is more likely to make it happen consistently so think about activities your child enjoys, and you enjoy as well
More and more evidence is mounting to demonstrate that outdoor time does wonders for our mood. Make a point to get outside at different times of the day, hopefully to soak up some sunshine or even on a cloudy day.
Implement regular bedtimes and wakeup times; good sleep hygiene is very helpful for any mood changes.
Exposure to light
While there are special light sources on the market for seasonal affective disorder, be aware that remaining in dark rooms, keeping blinds drawn, and avoiding bright light is not helpful for energy level or mood. Open the curtains, spend some time in the sunshine when you can.
If your child’s symptoms are more severe such as profound sadness that last more than two weeks, significant changes in sleep and appetite, feelings of worthlessness, and thoughts of death or plans for self-harm, please reach out to our team at Children’s Hospital for guidance and to be seen by one of our mental health providers.
About the Author
Dr. Diane Franz is a Pediatric Psychologist at Children’s Hospital New Orleans. Dr. Franz completed graduate training at the University o f Mississippi, her internship at Georgetown University Medical School and went on to receive her postdoctoral training at University of Massachusetts Medical Center. With over 21 years of experience, Dr. Franz has made it her life mission to help children and families navigate the interface between medical and psychological issues. She says that throughout her tenure, she continues to learn something new from her patients and enjoys contributing to the positive change that happens in their lives.