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Teens, Stress and SAD

When you think of fall many think about cozy sweaters, the changing colors of the leaves and cuddling with loved ones. But others find themselves diving under the covers and fearing the colder weather due to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD is a very real disorder that is a subset of major depression and only happens during certain months out of the year. You may feel more tired with less energy to do normal day to day activities or have problems getting along with others and hypersensitive to their rejections. You may be oversleeping and have a craving for foods high in carbohydrates. The decrease in sunlight can disrupt your circadian rhythm and some people are more affected than others. The serotonin levels, that help regulate your mood, drop when there is less sunlight and the season changes can also change your balance of melatonin which helps in mood and sleep patterns.

Many teens think they are resilient and can do a zillion things during their day, but in reality the stress levels for teens have changed dramatically in the past two decades. Stress can play a big role in your teen’s life and if it goes unnoticed can lead to a depressive state. If you notice that your teen was doing great at the beginning of the school year, but all of a sudden, two months in they have started to fall behind, has difficulty getting through their homework and only wants to sleep after school you could have a teen with Season Affective Disorder (SAD). If you notice that this happens during the winter months but once the spring and summer rolls around your teen has energy again, it could be a sign to talk with your family doctor.

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a form of depression that appears at the same time each year. When the daylight hours become shorter that lack of sunlight could play a roll in the brain’s production of key chemicals that keep the neurotransmitters balanced. Melatonin and serotonin are two key chemicals that help regulate your sleep/wake cycles, energy and your mood. The shorter the days and longer hours of night causes increased levels of melatonin and decreased levels of serotonin which creates the conditions ripe for depression. There are some tips to help your teen stay positive during these winter months:

Get them exercising in some way. A family walk, soccer game or bike ride while the weather is still nice. When it starts to snow, take up snowshoeing, sledding or ice skating.

Spend time with friends and family as much as possible. Organize shopping days, sporting event get together’s or invite them over to watch the college or NFL games.

Help them with their homework. Offer assistance to them if you see they are struggling. Remember they are not purposefully slacking off, their brain can’t function the same as it does when there is more sunlight. Be patient and compassionate with them.

Make sure they are nourishing themselves with healthy food choices. Don’t even go down the junk food aisle and instead let them know that they can make themselves a turkey sandwich for a snack. Avoid simple carbohydrates and sugary snacks and fill the pantry with fruits, whole grains and veggies for them to snack on.

Get them on a sleep routine. Regular bedtimes are key to help their mental health especially when the daylight hours are so short.

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Do you have a teen with SAD, or do you suffer from SAD? You can also follow the above tips to help you move through this season with ease.

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