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A Canadian’s Top 10 Checklist for Beating the Winter Blues


It’s the middle of February and we’re in The Zone.

Winter has caught up with us, we’re weary of the cold weather, we aren’t getting enough natural sunlight, road conditions are often hardly mediocre, and… the kids are ornery.

That’s right: ornery. Downright unpredictable. Bored. Whining. Frustrated.

We have plenty of activities for them to do, but they remain energetic one moment but restless and cagey the next. It’s difficult to know how to respond to such unpredictability; it wears on our own nerves as parents, teachers, afterschool care providers, leaders and mentors. It also grates on us because we’re going through our own mid-winter slump.

Just to give you readers a bit of background, I’m writing from northern Alberta, Canada.

Here we are used to long dark winters, where many people live with official diagnoses of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), and oodles of kids of all ages suffer from cabin fever from October through to April (at least). I thought I’d offer some healthy suggestions to beat the winter blues since ‘Snowmageddon’ seems to have hit further south than normal, for longer, and with greater fury. Those of you living in sunnier climates, maybe you can chime in here too with some suggestions.

Let’s get a few things clear:

1. It is perfectly normal to have the winter blues. The body needs sunlight to live! When days are shorter, cloudier and colder, it is natural for the body to experience lethargy, moodiness, increased carb appetite, irritation, and even depression.

2. Not every bout of the winter blues is ‘Seasonal Affective Disorder’. If you or your child experience ongoing symptoms, or seasonal symptoms over a period of years, perhaps a visit to your doctor is in order. In the meantime, a few days to a week of overall blah is something families and communities can handle.

Take it from a Canadian who knows winter: there are ways to boost the spirit and the body without medication. Are there times when medication is required? Absolutely! However that is for a qualified physician to determine, and should always be used in tandem with other activities to help make it through darker times.

A Canadian’s Top 10 Checklist for Beating the Winter Blues:

1. Wrangle your children and talk about how the body needs sunlight.

It’s a great science project to work on at home or in your afterschool program! Research some basic information and have everyone come back and talk about the skin, as an organ, processing sunlight; or how the Earth’s axis changes with the seasons; or how spring will come and what signs to look for in your region. When we understand ourselves better, we can accept our seeming out-of-place emotions better as well.

2. Turn off the TV.

I know that might sound counter-productive when it seems like there’s nothing else to do (especially if it’s too cold to play outside or too stormy). Screen time will drag emotions down – this includes computers and phones. Sometimes extended snowstorms can agitate people. Sure, some folks appreciate the silence but many find that drawn-out stormy times still need some sort of familiar sound. Turn off the TV (especially if you’re obsessing over the weather channel), and play some uplifting or soothing music.

If you’re really courageous, play the loudest craziest music you’ve got and have a dance party! Not only is the TV off, but your bodies are now moving!

3. Make it a point to get the kids outside every single day.

Keep everyone moving! Yes it’s a pain in the royal behind to saddle all those kids with snow-pants, parkas, toques (Canadian term for a really warm winter hat), mittens and boots; but we need the fresh air. Even if it’s cold out, trot a path in the snow or find a place out of the wind and play a round of tag, build a snow-person, make snow angels or any other game that includes a lot of movement. Your muscles and immune systems will thank you for the fresh air. Even if the sun’s not out, fresh air can lift dampened spirits. The body gets some good stretch time, and your kids might find they adapt to colder weather than they thought.

4. Try a new snow activity if you live in a region that rarely gets snow.

Never been sledding? If you’ve suddenly got the snow base for it, try it out! Bundle up, sit on a piece of slippery plastic, park your rear on the top of a hill, and FLY! Trust me, I’m 35 and sledding is still one of my favorite winter activities. If possible, have a campfire ready for toasting S’mores and drinking hot chocolate. Have a camera on hand to capture the crazy memories.

Or, have all of your kids grab rulers or measuring tapes and see who can find the biggest deepest snowdrift. Again, have cameras available so judges have proof to decide the winner. The more ‘bad weather’ is seen as inventive and wondrous weather, the more spirits will be lifted.

5. Stock up on craft supplies, board games, indoor sports equipment (if you have a gym), and art supplies.

Remember: the goal is to keep the television off for most of your indoor time. Keep heads and imaginations busy so that long hours without outdoor play are still effective and consistent.

6. Buy healthy snacks.

I cannot stress this enough. It is so tempting, especially in cold or nasty weather, to run to the store, grab the first convenient thing on the shelf and run back. But when we’re sunlight deficient, we need to assist our bodies in other ways to maintain balance. That means lots of fruits and veggies! High fat, sugary foods will spike body rhythms and our moods (which means inevitable crashes), so try to keep to foods that will sustain us rather than enable the winter blues.

7. Gauge the temperature of your group, whether it’s your kids or your afterschool club.

Alone time is important, especially for introverts. The power of silence can help us process daily events, life circumstances and re-fuel powered-down energy cells. However during extended periods of cold and dark, even introverts need some group time. Call everyone together and tell Shadow Puppet Stories (or something similar). When kids are lethargic, physical activity is crucial but low-key action is helpful too. Getting stuck in our lethargy is dangerous, but playing to it by having a round of Sorry or Monopoly, or using modeling clay can also regulate our systems too.

8. Keep that TV off. Don’t forget!

9. Keep mental notes of who’s coming out of their winter slumps and who seems to be stuck.

If the weather gets better and the sun more potent with the change in season, but one of your kids still isn’t his or her normal self, do consider speaking with a professional. There might be something else going on for that child other than the weather.

10. Remember: this too shall pass.

God created the seasons – some places with extreme seasons – for many reasons. The Earth isn’t dead; she’s sleeping. And our natural tendency sometimes is to go to sleep with her. We get weary, worn down and foggy. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that the snow will melt and the days will grow longer; but the green grass does poke through and that first sense of warmer sunshine in February is some of the best sunshine a human could ever feel!

To sum up: TV off, keep you and your group moving, try new things, eat healthy, stay creative, make room for quiet reflection, fresh air, learn about the seasons (and our bodies’ reactions to them), and… this too shall pass.

I had Red River Hot Cereal mixed with “Choo-It” Organic blend, with a Gala apple, a glass of water & cup of panic when I realized I was almost 10 minutes late for work. 🙂

Author Profile: @erinthomas

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