by Erin Leyba, LCSW, PhD
It’s common to struggle with the winter blues. The winter blues are often worst November to March, where you have less access to sunlight, the outdoors, and often their communities. You may feel “blah,” sad, tired, anxious, or in a worse mood than usual. You may struggle with overeating, loss of libido, work, or sleep issues. The holidays can also play a factor, with more stress and less time to rest. Some people may even develop Seasonal Affective Disorder, which is a form of clinical depression that often requires formal treatment.
The winter blues affect parents of young children in unique ways.
These 11 ideas can help parents prepare for and overcome the winter blues:
The Golden Lunch Hour
If you are a working parent where winter sunlight is at a commodity, the only window you have to access light is during the lunch hour. Going for a 30 minute walk during lunch time at least 3 days per week in the winter can give you a tremendous boost through fresh air, natural sunlight, and exercise. If you stay home with your kids, your golden hour might be the warmest part of the winter day, from 3 to 4 p.m., after your kids wake up from their naps.
The January Trip
It may be helpful to plan a family weekend getaway for January or February. Visit friends or family or, if you can swing it, stay at a place with a pool. The whole family will look forward to it.
Sometimes parents mistake the natural slowness of winter as a problem with themselves. Making an effort to be cozy sets you up to relax into the retreat, rest, and snuggly wonderland that is winter.
Make a “cozy basket” filled with your favorite DVDs, bubble bath or Epsom salts, lemon balm tea (which is great for “blues,”) or chamomile tea (which is calming and comforting), citrus oils (which are good for boosting mood), a blanket, or a favorite book or two. Choose a comfortable outfit to go with it. If you start to feel a hint of the blues, take out your basket and treat yourself. Help your kids make their own cozy baskets for winter, and they will get into the spirit of resting alongside you.
Real Human Interaction
Because of the complex demands of modern life, some parents struggle to see or keep up with friends or family. The winter can make these existing issues even harder. Real human interaction – whether it’s having dinner with a friend, going on a date with your partner, or talking on the phone – acts as a protective layer to keep the winter blues at bay.
Parents are always dealing with the drudgery of folding 10 loads of laundry at a time, chipping sticky cheerios off the floor, or cleaning up mounds of Legos. However, these tasks may feel even more onerous in the winter, when they are not interspersed with playing in the sprinkler, blowing bubbles, or barbequing.
Whereas you may have previously gone skiing, snowshoeing, football watching, or mall shopping on winter weekends, these activities can feel impossible when you have young kids. Decide what activities you most want to do with and without your kids in the winter, and put them on the calendar. You might go to an indoor swimming pool, visit a museum, go sledding, visit grandparents, or go to the aquarium.
A Weeknight or a Few
At least once a week after dinner, get out of your house to attend a workout class, a dinner with friends, a book club, a class at the community college, etc., even if it’s freezing and already dark.
(At Least) 20 Minutes of Fresh Air with the Right Gear
It works wonders for parents and children to get outside in winter, even if it’s just for 20 minutes. You might snow-paint, make a snowman, make snow angels, go sledding, go ice-skating, go for a walk, or play soccer on the frozen grass to stay warm.
Getting snowsuits, mittens, hats, and boots on young children can be daunting. Add to this a tiny baby, a crawling but not yet walking infant, a potty training toddler, or a do-it-yourself preschooler, and getting outside can be even harder. You are more likely to go outside if you and your children have the right gear. The arctic bundle me sleeping bag is a great piece of gear if you take regular winter walks with young children.
Light and Vitamins
Some people believe that a full-spectrum light box or lamp, which mimics sunlight, is extremely helpful for the winter blues. Some also believe that certain vitamins or supplements, such as fish oil or Vitamin D (if they are deficient), can make a real difference in their mood. These and other potential supplements may be things to discuss with your health practitioner.
Add a Ritual
Adding a ritual to your winter, such as Friday night movie night, hot chocolate after playing outside, homemade soup on Sundays, shoveling snow with your oldest child, or visiting a different friend every other Saturday morning for breakfast, can add beauty and flow to the seemingly long months of winter.
Counseling, especially Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which helps you identify the connections between your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, can be extremely helpful for the winter blues. A counselor can assist you with identifying and honoring feelings, replacing negative messages with positive ones, or shifting behaviors. A counselor may also help you indulge into winter as a time of retreat, slowness, planning, and reflecting. You may choose to use the winter to get clear on what you’d like to manifest in spring. www.erinleyba.com
A Specialized Approach to the Holidays
As a parent, it’s helpful to eliminate holiday expectations that things will be the same as they were before, that the tree will resemble the one in the mall, or that your child will be bright eyed and well rested at Christmas dinner after missing her nap and consuming a giant chocolate elf that afternoon. Setting positive intentions such as “I will enjoy my family this holiday, no matter what” and keeping things simple can help you appreciate the moments of joy instead of getting bogged down by stress.
The opposite of the winter blues is not the absence of the winter blues – it’s taking great pleasure in the unique contribution of a time of cold, darkness, retreat, planning, reflecting, being cozy, and hibernating.
Being purposeful about nurturing yourself and your relationships and still getting outside can help you and your family move toward winter joy.
Erin Leyba, LCSW, PhD is a psychotherapist for individuals and couples in Chicago’s western suburbs. She specializes in counseling for parents of babies and young children. www.erinleyba.com or firstname.lastname@example.org To follow this blog by e mail, click the follow button on the left.
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