Bust the Winter Blues by Getting Outside
If you’re in the northern hemisphere chances are that temperatures are dropping and so is your mood and desire to get outside. Sometimes, after a long day at work, it feels overwhelming to pile on the winter gear needed to survive in the snow and cold. Other times, it may be the grayness, the lack of light, or just a general desire to stay inside that keeps us cooped up.
All of this is understandable, and there’s no shame in curling up inside with your favorite book, movie, show, or person for an evening. If you’re finding yourself with cabin fever, anxiety, or depression from being inside so much, or are just generally missing being outside or in nature during the winter, you’re not alone. Many of us enjoy trail therapy three seasons of the year and struggle in Wintertime.
While we can certainly survive without relaxing, playing, and exercising outside in the winter months, it might not be the best for our mental, or physical health. There is a continuously growing body of evidence that shows that getting outside during all four seasons helps increase endorphins, decrease brain fog, and improve overall mental health.
What to do outside in the Winter?
When you think of outdoor Winter activities, do you immediately jump to skiing, hockey, or other activities that require a lot of equipment and practice? That’s how many of us think of winter exercise, but it doesn’t have to be so complex or stressful. Reaping the benefits of nature when it’s cold out can be as simple as putting on your winter wear and taking a walk around the neighborhood. Ask a friend or two to come along and reap the compounded benefits of outdoor social interaction.
December is a great time to do some caroling outdoors, if you enjoy singing. It can also be a good time to take a nighttime walk and enjoy the neighbors holiday light displays. Sledding, tubing, winter hikes, or helping your kids build a snowman are other ways to make outdoor exercise playful and fun. Because, let’s be honest, we’re not going to do exercise that feels like drudgery, especially if we are going to be cold while doing it!
Winter can also be a good time to try new activities like cross-country or downhill skiing, or snowshoeing. These activities require specific equipment, but it’s easy to rent them at local parks, ski hills, golf courses, and country clubs. Lessons are available for those who need a bit of help getting started.
These activities help us stay connected to nature even while it’s hibernating. They also provide us the opportunity to see some of the beauty of Winter, instead of associating it with drudgery and stress. It might even stimulate some creative energy for painters, photographers, and other artists who find Winter lacking in inspiration.
Does it have to be exercise?
It is a really busy time of year, and many of us have excitedly returned to group exercise at the gym or yoga studio. If you prefer your exercise indoors, or are super busy this time of year, you can still reap the benefits of nature therapy. Keep it simple, step outside during your lunch and take some deep breaths of fresh, cold air. This can be a great way to reset our workday and practice mindfulness. Paying attention to how the cold air feels as we breathe in and how our breath fogs up on our exhales is a great grounding exercise.
Getting out into nature, socializing during the winter, and exercising in fresh air have shown reductions in physical and emotional stress across multiple studies. These benefits are observed, even if exercise wasn’t a part of the outdoor activity. Winter block parties, outdoor hot chocolate with neighbors, and just relaxing outside also help our mental and physical health. Cold air has multiple benefits for soothing an activated nervous system as well as decreasing inflammation and increasing circulation. All of these benefits mean a more focused, less anxious holiday season and winter.
If you’re new to the cold parts of the world, or just trying to gradually increase your time outside during the winter, start with two minutes and work your way up. Take note of how you feel before, during, and after being outside. Doing so will mean you can track the benefits you’re reaping, as well as make changes to your winter gear as needed.
Speaking of Winter gear, it’s pretty important to have adequate clothing for outdoor activities in the winter. If money is an issue, you can check thrift or consignment shops for things like coats, boots, and gloves. It is also wise to check the temperature before going out, this includes checking the “real feel” so you are dressed appropriately. Having some reliable clothes to layer can help keep you warm while getting some much needed Vitamin D when it’s cold out.
I hope this has helped you learn more about Winter trail therapy. And if you’d love to know more about Winter trail therapy and how it can help anxiety, depression, and trauma, our team of therapists at Authentic Connections Counseling Center in Castle Rock, Colorado is here to support you. You can book a session by calling 720-370-3010 x100 or emailing us at [email protected].