Your Simple 8-Step Guide to Surviving Winter Depression


We are smack dab in the middle of the most depressing months of the year, especially for women and children with ADHD. Most people who suffer from winter depression — or seasonal affective disorder (SAD) — don’t bounce back until early May.

And, according to Dr. Robert Levitan, associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Toronto, people with ADHD are four times more likely to suffer seasonal depression.

“If you have ADHD and you feel worse in the winter, don’t just assume it’s your ADHD getting worse,” says Dr. Stephen Lurie, assistant professor of Family Medicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center. “It could actually be SAD — and you should see your doctor because ADHD and SAD are treated entirely differently.”

Even though winter depression has only been studied in adults, if your child has ADHD, you should be sensitive to seasonal patterns of behavior and report any changes to their doctor, Dr. Lurie says.

Winter depression has more to do with daylight, than temperature.

During winter, when daylight comes later and ends earlier, a sleep-related hormone called melatonin ramps up production. Melatonin may cause symptoms of depression. Extra melatonin combined with cold weather, clutter, and stress over school work creates the perfect storm for depression and anxiety, says Andrea Rogers, supervisor for Intensive Outpatient Programs in the Department of Psychiatry at Cedars-Sinai.

Most people feel slightly depressed, irritable, and tired during the winter, especially further north.

But people with ADHD may experience more intense winter depression symptoms include significant fatigue, pervasively sad mood, loss of interest in activities, sleeping more than usual, craving and eating more starches and sweets, gaining at least 5 percent of body weight and difficulty concentrating, says SAD expert Dr. Kelly Rohan.

If your child is having a harder time functioning at school or interacting with family or friends, you should talk to your doctor, Dr. Rohan recommends.

Help curb winter blues with one of these suggestions:

1. Exercise

You may be in between sports or stuck inside by cold weather, but exercise benefits your brain. Research shows that exercise lessens ADHD, anxiety, and depression.

Take time daily to break from school work and get your blood pumping — inside works but outside is better. Even on cloudy and overcast days, midday light gives you vitamin D, which boosts your limbic system (the emotional part of your brain).

2. Eat Protein

Meat, fish, dairy, eggs, nuts, and nut butters keep your energy and brain function stable. Resist carbs and sugar, which are addictive and impact the same biochemical systems in your body as drugs.

3. Give Back

Gandhi wrote that “the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”

According to psychologist Martin Seligman (University of Pennsylvania) and Dr. Dan Baker (Life Enhancement Program at Canyon Ranch), a sense of purpose and serving others counteract depression.

What is your child passionate about? How can their passion turn into service?

4. Wear Bright Colors

Bright colors remind your brain of sunshine and beautiful weather. A fun outfit in bright colors might help lift your mood and your outlook on life.

5. Supplement with Omega-3

Leading physicians at Harvard Medical School say Omega-3 is a natural anti-inflammatory that improves your emotional health.

6. Reduce Your Melatonin. . .

Bright light suppresses melatonin. If you can’t get outside, move your desk or study space close to a west-facing window to get some indirect afternoon sunlight. Or install bright white florescent lights.

7. . . . And Increase Your Oxytocin

Incorporate movement and music into your child’s study time. A happy, positive environment produces oxytocin, which triggers the brain to be happy and to learn.

8. Most Important: The Power of “Yet”

Winter depression isn’t just about lack of sunlight. It’s exacerbated by anxiety over school work and deadlines.

The winter months are some of the most challenging academically. You’ve ramped up from the fall, but you haven’t started approaching the end of the year yet. You’re in full academic swing with no light at the end of the tunnel.

Help your child reduce anxiety by identifying who they are apart from what they achieve academically. Tell them you love them — and always will — regardless of their performance.

Everyone’s brain develops at different rates — but everyone’s brain keeps developing.

Your child is a work in progress. He may not be good at math. . . “yet” . . . but he’ll get better as his brain develops.

She may not have gotten an “A” on a report card. . . “yet” . . . but with hard work, she can improve.

With these suggestions, you’ll not only survive these last couple months of winter, you’ll thrive.

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