The winter months can be a time of joy for many with its major holidays, extended vacations, and social gatherings and events. However, for people with seasonal affective disorder (SAD), also known as seasonal depression, winter can be a time of dread, not of a merriment and fun.
Staying active is one way to combat these feelings of dread, so we’ve rounded up the top 10 family-friendly winter activities that we hope can help ease symptoms of seasonal depression. From ice skating to museum jaunts, here are some of the best things you can do when the weather outside certainly is frightful.
How Common is Seasonal Depression?
Seasonal depression affects an estimated 10 million Americans and tends to be more common in women than in men.1 As the name suggests, the disorder follows a seasonal pattern, beginning and ending during a specific season every year (with full remittance during other seasons). People with SAD tend to have more seasons of depression than seasons without depression over a lifetime. Though seasonal depression typically occurs during the fall and winter, it can also affect people in the spring and summer months.
Symptoms of seasonal depression include:
- Feeling sad or depressed almost every day for most of the day
- Loss of interest or enjoyment in usual activities
- Eating too much or too little
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Fatigue, even when you are oversleeping
- Feeling worthless or guilty
- Difficulty focusing or making decisions
- Suicidal ideation
- Social withdrawal
Best Ways to Combat Seasonal Depression
Researchers are not entirely sure what causes seasonal depression, though they think it has something to do with the body’s internal clock, or circadian rhythm. A change of seasons, and particularly a lack of sunlight, can disrupt the body’s circadian rhythm, leading to an imbalance in brain chemicals tied to mood regulation like serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. The change in seasons can also result in an overproduction of the sleep hormone melatonin, making you feel sluggish and unmotivated.
Some of the best ways to deal with seasonal depression is to prevent symptoms before they arise. Researchers suggest the following:
- Use light box therapy to mimic outdoor light and get outdoors often to absorb as much natural light as possible
- Take vitamin D supplements as we get most of our vitamin D from the sun
- Follow a predictable sleep routine to balance the circadian rhythm
- Exercise regularly
- Follow a nutritious diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables
- Practice mindfulness techniques, which can help stimulate the function of the pineal gland and increase serotonin in the brain2
While taking a vacation to a warmer climate may seem like the best way to ease symptoms of seasonal depression, it isn’t always possible. Instead, try the following family-friendly activities to help you keep active and support a balanced mood both indoors and out.
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1. Go Ice Skating
Instead of resisting the cold, try embracing it by hitting the ice skating rink. Not only will the activity keep you moving, which is important for easing depressive symptoms, but it will also expose you to natural light if you find a skating rink outdoors.
2. Watch a Family Movie
If you’re stuck indoors, resist the urge to isolate. Watching a movie with people you care about is a low-key activity that will not take much effort, which is important if you find that you have little energy or desire to do anything. Be sure to pick a feel-good movie or comedy to lift your spirits even more.
3. Take a Scenic Drive
You may not be able to escape to a tropical paradise, but why not make the most of where you live? If the weather allows, consider taking a drive on the most scenic road you know, explore a nearby neighborhood you don’t know much about, or drive down a path you’ve never been before. The trip will get you out of the house, add some novelty to your day, and maybe give you a new outlook on the familiar.
4. Bake Some Goods for Everyone to Enjoy
According to a study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology, people who frequently take a turn at small, creative projects like cooking and baking report feeling more relaxed and happier in their everyday lives.3 If you bake some goods for everyone in your home to enjoy, chances are they’ll feel happier too.
5. Play in the Snow
Another way to get some natural light despite the cold weather is to go play in the snow. Whether you choose to make snow angels or build a snowman/snowwoman, getting outside and adding some playfulness to your day is sure to improve your mood.
6. See a Concert
Studies indicate there’s a clear link between music and mental health, which explains why some therapists are incorporating music into their practice.4 Along with alleviating depressive symptoms, music has been shown to reduce heart rate, lower blood pressure, and decrease stress levels.5 If you can’t make it to a concert, put on your headphones and imagine you’re there.
7. Spend Time Outdoors
You don’t have to participate in snow sports like snowshoeing or skiing to enjoy the outdoors. You don’t even have to play in snow. Simply taking some time each day to go outdoors, either for a short walk, or a short rest can help improve your mood by allowing you to get some sunlight and soak up some vitamin D.
8. Go to a Museum
If you’re going to be inside, why not look at art or explore the distant past? Going to a museum is a great way to get out of your house and avoid bad weather and there are plenty of ways to make an art museum a family-friendly trip if you incorporate some games into the visit. Try planning a scavenger hunt for specific colors or objects or bring along a sketchbook to see who can copy a picture the best. Another great thing about museums is that they also tend to have bright light.
9. Card Games and Puzzles
If you can’t decide on a family movie or you’re all burnt out on screen time, switch things up by playing a family game or working on a puzzle together. Research shows that puzzles and games can actually improve your mental health by giving you something to focus on without presenting too difficult a challenge.6
10. Book a Cabin Getaway
One way to beat cabin fever is to embrace cabin life. Consider taking some time off from work and booking a cabin getaway, even if the cabin is just a few towns over. A staycation allows you to experience all the perks of vacation without traveling far and even the experience of planning the trip can lift your spirits as it gives you something to look forward to.
You don’t have to wait until spring arrives to start feeling better. If you find you still need more support, consider taking a homeopathic non-prescription medication like Brillia, which can promote a balanced mood without harmful side effects — Brillia can be taken just during these months, and can provide support as long as you start using it about a month before you usually start to have SAD. Instead of using harsh, synthetic chemicals like other medications used to treat anxiety, depression, and stress, Brillia uses antibodies to the S100B protein, which plays an important role in many different intracellular and extracellular brain processes, including mood regulation. By regulating this protein’s activigy, Brillia stops symptoms of anxiety and stress at the source of symptoms while normalizing the neurotransmitters affected by SAD like serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. The result is less irritability and restlessness, and more focus and clarity so you can feel better this winter and onward.
There’s no cure or quick fix for depression, but taking action is the first step in the right direction. Find more resources on supporting your mental health at the Brillia(nce) Resource Center.