7 Ways You and Your Teen Can Fight Off Winter Sadness

Hey Julie,

I'm worried about my 15 year-old. Since mid-November, she has been down and just not her usual happy-go-lucky self. She usually loves hanging out with friends, going for walks and, well, doing stuff. Now I often find her wrapped in a blanket, reading a book or watching TV. I'm worried she is depressed but she says she isn't. She said she just feels like "hibernating". What can I do to help her?

Traci, mom of 2


Dear T,

Thanks for your question. Let’s face it, if your teen’s mood seems to match the weather outside, a bit cold and dark, she is not alone.

When the days get shorter and colder, many people - including teens - struggle with sadness and seasonal depression  For some it’s a sense of melancholy; for others, it’s a bit more like the winter blues; and, for at least six percent of the US population, it is Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as SAD - yes, the acronym is actually SAD - is a type of depression that is related to the amount of sunlight a person receives. It generally kicks in as the hours of daylight get shorter and can last till early spring. (4-6% of the US population - including me - gets summer-onet SAD.) SAD impacts millions of people each year. Children and adolescents can also be affected by SAD, and, while the presenting symptoms can be different, dealing with SAD is no less difficult for children.

Girls are more likely than boys to have SAD (although boys can get SAD too.) The risk of SAD is higher for teens who have a close relative with depression or other mood disorders. If these risk factors affect your teen, please raise your awareness to any changes in mood and behavior in the late fall and winter season.

Here’s the tricky part - signs of SAD can be challenging to spot in teens because they are often misdiagnosed and, to be frank, teens are often moody Keep an eye out for significant changes in mood and behavior including: lack of motivation, increased irritability or aggressiveness, marked change with performance at school or with sports, decreased focus or concentration, indecisiveness, lack of engaging with friends, and changed eating habits. Teens with SAD may have trouble getting to sleep at night.


7 ways you and your teen can fight off winter weather blues:

  1. Get your teen involved. This is first and foremost. If you’re concerned about your teen’s moods or behavior, let her know. Make sure she knows that there’s nothing wrong with her and that she’s not in trouble. Offer real ways for her to get involved with managing her winter blues or SAD including letting her choose exercises to try or letting her decide ways to spend more time outside.
  2. Use light therapy, aka happy lights. Light therapy has been shown to be quite effective for helping with winter blues and SAD.  With light therapy, you spend 15 minutes to 2 hours in front of a special light box that emits full-spectrum light similar in composition to sunlight. (I keep mine by my computer and use every morning.) You also may want to consider a dawn simulator alarm clock for your teen to help naturally wake to simulated light rather than with the blare of a beep when it’s still cold and dark out.
  3. Go outside. Exposure to outdoor light is still important so try to get your teen outside daily for at least 10 minutes. Yes, it’s cloudy and cold. However, light still peeks through clouds and gives your brain a much needed boost to serotonin and dopamine levels, aka the happy hormones.
  4. Provide healthy foods + supplements. Improve your diet, improve your mood, right?  Ok, so this isn’t breaking news, but the reality is that crappy food leaves us with crappy thoughts, sleep and health. Offering alternatives to carb-laden snacks and meals - such as fresh fruit, veg and whole foods - can help boost both metabolism and mood.  Additionally, a teen with SAD might consider taking supplements like Vitamin D and omega-3s  in order to help change his or her mood. Unfortunately, I cannot vouch for the effectiveness of supplements so you’ll need to make your own choice.
  5. Get some exercise. Physical activity has proven itself time and again to not only relieve both depressive and anxious symptoms but to prevent depression.  If your teen is showing signs of sadness and low mood, encourage him or her to exercise. Suggest a yoga class with her friends, do an online workout together or have a dance party in your family room. Aim for 30 minutes a day, 5 days per week. You and your teen will feel so much better if you move consistently.
  6. Sleep. Sleep may seem natural when it comes to your teen. However, many teens are either under or over sleeping. Help your teen learn to gauge their circadian rhythms by sticking to an 8 hour sleep schedule. Encourage her to have a consistent bedtime routine that includes no caffeine or screens after 9pm.
  7. Seek the support of a mental health provider. Just like any psychological illness getting the right treatment is essential. Therefore, it’s important to get assessed with a mental health professional Typical treatments for seasonal affective disorder include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and, if needed, medication such as an SSRI.

So, what can you do? A lot!

Now, I want to turn to you … how do you feel in the winter? Do you struggle with winter blues or seasonal affective disorder?  If so, please share in the comments below, especially if you have any tips for lifting your mood. And, lastly,  if you know someone who might benefit from this information, I’d be incredibly grateful if you’d pass it on.

With love, peace and happiness,



PS: If you’re looking for more ways to improve your relationship with your teen, you may want to consider our upcoming What to Do When coaching groups where we cover A-Z in having the relationship you want with your teen and the relationship your teen needs with you. Get all the deets here!

Three questions that can improve the relationship with your teen

Dear Julie

I know that teens who feel closer to their parents are more likely to come to them for advice when faced with tough decisions, and have better self-esteem, stand up to bullies, peer pressure, ALL THE GOOD THINGS! Besides showing that I love them, what can I do to make sure I’m making it easy for them to be close to me?

B, mom of 2


Dear B

Congratulations!  You’ve already figured out something incredibly important: relationships aren’t one-sided!  It’s not just about what your teen does; your behavior and attitude plays an important role, too

No matter how close your relationship, there will always be little things -- clothes on the floor, undone homework, dishes on the counter, a snarky comment here and there  -- that may cause you to feel resentful toward your tween or teen. Those little irritations can deteriorate the relationship.

Recently, I read about Naikan (pronounced N Y E -kon), a practice of self-reflection rooted in Zen Buddhism developed in Japan in the 1940s. It’s an easy way to take responsibility for our role in relationships.

The power lies in the details - the good, the bad, and the ugly details - that make up the mosaic of any relationship. Your focus in Naikan is on the role YOU play, your actions, your choices - even what you feel you have received from the other person. The discovery from this practice can be pretty darn surprising - often having you see what you may have denied, minimized or how you may, ahem, be irritating others including your teen.

Give this practice a week or so, and see what you discover.

Here’s what you can do:  Set aside a few quiet moments at the end of each day and focus on your relationship with each of your children. Ask yourself three questions:

  1. What have I received from my child?
  2. What have I given to my child?
  3. What troubles and difficulties have I caused my child?

Make your answers specific. “He put away the dishes without being asked” is specific, “He did chores,” is not. “I was on my phone when she was asking for homework help,” is specific. “I need to be in the moment with her,” is not.

As you begin to look at your child and yourself through a different lens, you will start to see positive results. Yes, you’re still going to get a little bothered about the dishes on the counter, but reflecting on these questions will give you more perspective. These three little questions can be an incredibly powerful, easily accessible tool to help you build a much stronger relationship with your teen.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this practice … or even your new year goals! Please share them in the comments below. And, if you know someone who wants to improve the relationship with the teen in their life, I’d be grateful if you passed this along.



PS.PS. If you’re looking for more ways to improve your relationship - especially the levels of communication - with your teen, you may want to consider our parent guide, What to Do When your Teen Won't Talk with You. Get all the deets here!

How to Make Your Life with Teens
Less Busy and More Fun

Dear Julie

I’m drowning in to-do lists. I’ve tried everything from bullet journaling to online calendars and I still can’t figure out how to keep track of / keep up with all my work and volunteer responsibilities, my kids’ activities and still have time for my family. Is there any way a working mom of two teens can get it all done?

Busy Bee

Dear Busy Bee,

I know how you feel. The other day, I was racing to get my kids out the door for school, find matching shoes for, proof an article, clean up after the cat, check the calendar to make sure I could make it to all 5,000 events we had committed to when I stopped and said. “Holy moly (ok, I actually used a different word, but let’s just pretend I said holy moly) “We are really frickin’ (same with this word) busy this week!” My son replied, “Um, Mom, duh. When are we not busy? It’s the story of our life.”

He was right. Busy has become the story of our life, and I foresee it having more of a burnout ending than a happy one. I can’t remember when we weren’t either doing something or thinking about doing something. Busy has become our new norm. As our school-work-travel-friend-getting-older-whatever-life load has grown, our family time has gotten smaller. It feels like quality time together has fallen off our bulging to-do list.

So, I hear you. This is par for the course for most of us with tweens and teens. Here’s what I have come up with to take a wee bit o’ the busyness out of our days:

1. Define what matters most. What are the 4-5 things in your life that you love to do? For me, it’s spending time with my loved ones, writing, reading, hiking and teaching. That’s it; those are my top five.  However, those things have not been anywhere near the top lately. I’ve been scheduling my time around what I believe others expect of me. If we don’t start creating a life that reflects the things we see as a priority, we will live a life of regrets. Be responsible to the activities that fuel you rather than just steal time away from what matters most.

2. Schedule time for you and your family first. This builds on the first point. After you have defined what is important, schedule it. Create blocks of time for yourself and your family. Make sure these are work/errand-free times. These are the moments to laugh, talk, cry … these are the moments to be un-busy and just be.

3. Do Less. The best laid plans start with doing what matters most to you, right? But, what happens if something pressing comes up and you say yes? All those well-intentioned plans go right down the loo. One of my mentors told me long ago, “Julie, if it isn’t a hell yes then it’s a no.” Begin to set boundaries to let go of living a maybe, meh or half-cocked life. Set boundaries that say “Hell Yes” to you and your family.

4. Buy Less. A year ago, I decided to stop buying as much and something really fantastic happened. I had more time. The fewer clothes, fewer tchotchkes, fewer whatever you have, the less time you are committed to washing, dusting, maintaining it. Buying “stuff” is time consuming, as is maintaining, repairing, replacing and return the stuff. If you can reduce it, you will gain so much more.

5. Stop “shoulding” on yourself. I once had a very frustrated mom come into my practice with a very similar question to yours. “But I should be able to get it all done. How do I do it?” I replied, “You can’t! None of us can ‘get it all done.’ And, the more you think you ‘should,’ the more you will beat yourself up.” The lesson here is to stop shoulding on yourself and start making choices that make you feel better.

Busyness  is a sneaky destroyer of happiness. We walk fast, talk fast, eat fast and then announce, “Ack, I’ve got more to do!” All this busyness splinters our families and our lives while sending the message to your teens that they, too, need to operate at the breakneck speed of busy. When our schedules become overloaded, we start skimming from those we love.

So, the takeaway here for me and for you. It’s our life; let’s choose how we really want to spend our time. If we don’t make choices, someone else will make them for us … and chances are high we won’t be too happy about it.


P.S. With all that extra time, you may want to start having some quality conversations with your kiddos. However, there are times when kids just don’t want to talk. Find out What to Do When your Teen is Talking to You here.

Dear Julie,
What do I do when my home, my family, my life, my business is flipped completely upside down?

Signed, Julie

Yes, that’s right, my life is a mess right now. Floods, illness, famine … ok maybe not the last one, but still, lately there are days where I feel like I’m starring in my own version of The Ten Plagues.

Resilience is the ability to bounce back from defeat or hardship and it is one of the key traits teens need to develop in order to not get overcome by the world. But how do we as adults learn resilience? How do we learn to move past the hardships and curveballs that life throws at us? How do we get past the hard times while keeping ourselves and our kids together?

In this week’s video, I talk a little about what’s been going on in my life, and how I’m learning to cope with it. I hope sharing my struggle is helpful to you. Share your struggles and thoughts in the comments below.

xo ~ Julie

P.S. Communication flipping upside down with your teen? Be sure you to know What to Do When your Teen Won't Talk to You