The excitement of the holidays and first snowfall has passed leaving us with the reality of less daylight, cold temperatures, and, in some areas, snow and ice on the ground. Brrrr. Like much of nature, I just want to hibernate. If this happens to you, you can bet the next sunny winter day that it’s happening to your kids, too. But, where adults are fighting off the desire to stay in their PJs and cuddle up with a blanket to read a book or take a nap, kids are dealing with the winter blues by going totally bonkers with pent up energy. It turns out that the shorter days have messed with our Circadian Rhythms, or the body’s natural behavioral response to light and dark (having to wake up when it’s still dark; staying awake after the sun has set), and adults and kids have completely different responses to it. So, while you’re “settling in for a long winter’s nap,” your children are ready to climb the walls, furniture, light fixtures, and anything else they can find.
If cabin fever is occurring with gusto at your home, consider following these three steps to help you and your family combat the winter blues and rediscover your sunny dispositions.
I know, it’s likely the last thing you want to do on a chilly winter’s day. But, exposure to sunlight (even if it’s through a cloud cover) is one of the best ways to get Vitamin D, which is a natural stimulant and antidepressant. This means you will feel more energized all day long and your kids will feel (and act!) calmer. That’s certainly a win-win. And, there’s more good news: you don’t have to be outside all day to reap the benefits. So, take a brisk 30-minute walk, lace up your ice skates and take several laps on an outdoor rink, or take a few runs down a sledding hill. You could even have a snowball fight or build snow people/animals with your kids. And, of course, don’t forget about making snow angels.
Get some exercise
When you’d really rather pull the covers over your head or put on a good movie, this one can be tough. But, it is necessary to increase your body’s abilities to remain alert and focused and to help your kids work out their increased levels of cortisol (which is making them bounce off the walls). Plus, the increased amount of endorphins from exercise can put everyone in a cheerier mood. If you like outdoor winter sports, then you and your family can easily combine steps 1 & 2. (Try snowshoeing, cross-country or downhill skiing, ice skating/hockey, snowboarding, etc.) If indoor activities are more up your alley try hitting a gym or other indoor venues for swimming, gymnastics/ tumbling (for the kids), rock wall climbing, roller skating, laser tag, etc. There are also plenty of at-home activities that will get your heart pumping, too. Try having a tickle war with your kids (laughing and exercise is a great combo), play a game of tag (inside or outside), make obstacles courses and time each other completing them, throw a dance party in your living room, or play sports-related video games that require players to move their bodies (i.e., Wii Sports, Dance Revolution).
Take a break from junk food
If you are managing the winter blues with sugary snacks, you may want to reconsider. Comfort food unfortunately provides only temporary satisfaction. Research shows that sugar spikes are linked to lack of concentration and mood swings in adults–and that link is even stronger in children. (I’m sure we’ve all witnessed that at kids’ birthday parties!) Increased sugar intake also leads to headaches, disrupted sleep, attention problems, behavior issues, and lack of energy. So, put down the candy and cupcakes and try replacing sweet snacks with healthier, high-protein alternatives like apples and cheese, bananas and almond butter (or other nut butters), raw veggies and hummus or dressing, yogurt and granola/cereal, or turkey and cheese roll ups.
Tara Mitchell is a public information specialist for the Capital Region BOCES Communications service in Albany, NY. She lives in Malta, NY with her husband and two children. She’s an avid collector of vintage, fine and fashion jewelry and enjoys throwing themed parties.