Yesterday(December 21st) was winter solstice, the darkest day of the year, the longest night, the sun shone for the least amount of time. And every day from here on out is going to have about 90 more seconds of daylight, little by little the northern hemisphere is going to get lighter and brighter and before you know it summer will have arrived! Little changes like than, 90 seconds a day can make a big difference in our lives too.
Since my last post on Seasonal Affective Disorder, I’ve been thinking about how I didn’t give too many suggestions for what to do differently during the winter.
Some changes you can make to improve your winter experience:
Channel your self doubt into gentle self-reflection and resolutions. During the winter people tend to get more introspective, this can turn into depressive rumination or uplifting self-examination. Try to channel each thought into action plans and positive goals.
Get Outside especially when the sun is out: There is some interesting research that shows that compared people who run 3 miles a day on a treadmill and people who run 3 miles a day outside (with comparable elevation change). The people who work out outside are healthier physically and mentally. (Last Child in the Woods) Getting outside in the winter takes a little extra effort, but it can also be quite amazing! It requires some creativity, some gear, and a little ummph(initiative).
Get creative with your time. If it’s dark when you go to work and dark when you get out of work, winter can be extra discouraging. So see if occasionally you can go into work at a different time and take the morning or afternoon to do something in the daylight. If you can have a little flexibility with your schedule, you can get all your work done and get some daylight into your life.
If you can’t change your schedule, even getting outside for 15 minute doses or a long lunch is enough to get outside and get some sun whenever the weather is decent.
Gear: People who move from warmer climates to colder ones often just need a little knowledge about gear to make their experience so much better. Certain amounts of good clothing/gear can make the winter experience so much better. Good boots, socks, a hat and thermal underwear can make a world of difference. Wearing layers when outside can make almost any weather accessible. If you wear the right clothes you can do almost any activity outside in most types of weather.
Some winter sports are quite expensive (skiing, snowmobiling, etc) but others can get you outside for much cheaper- hiking (almost all easily accessible trails are packed hard enough to walk in boots within a few hours or days of snowfall). Another option is cross country skiing or snowshoeing. (You can get used sets of XC skis for $20-100, snowshoeing has a much smaller learning curve than xc skiing, but snowshoes can be quite expensive. I’ve heard people doing quite well with the Costco brand snowshoes.) Snowshoes basically just help you walk when the snow is really fluffy, but to be honest, unless you want to do some back country hiking in the winter, you can probably do 90% of hikes 90% of the time in just a pair of good hiking boots. You can add Gaiters or Yaktrax for a little extra snow proofing or grip at a more affordable price.
Try renting any of this gear from local stores or many universities have Outdoor Resource Centers that rent out various types of winter gear. Check them out before you buy to see if you like it.
You can also try yurting, going to hot springs (amazing in the winter!) or sledding or tubing. Another option that many people don’t consider is stargazing. Try to get away from light pollution somewhere (in Utah get up in the mountains or out in the desert) and check out the amazing stars on a clear night. The sky in the winter is actually clearer than in the summer because there is less moisture in the air. You will be amazed at the glisten on a clear night.
Look an excuse to throw ridiculous little parties- Winter solstice, ugly sweater parties, etc.
Be a Sunbird- head to St. George for the weekend if you can.
Find a different type of activity that is more suited for the winter months like writing a book or organizing your family photos. Something that is creative, adds value to your life and keeps you busy doing something other than burying your sorrows in another Netflix marathon. Again, biologically speaking, winter is a time to mend the nets and sew the clothing while chilling in your cave. How can you harness that drive to create something you value?
Look for different ways to connect with others. We see our neighbors less during the winter, we hang out less at the park and spend less time in our yards. We need connection to be healthy and whole. Look for ways to connect with others, even if you have to be creative. Loneliness during the winter is a modern creation, since we all have our own propane-heated caves (homes) and we don’t have to share them with the village.
If you’re really struggling-reach out for support from a therapist, counselor or some local support groups (there are usually some run by churches, hospitals or NAMI in every community).
You can also talk with your Doctor about trying Vitamin D Supplements, and as I said before Phototherapy- or light therapy- using light boxes to help the brain be active. Medication can also be effective in treating SAD.
Thanks for reading and happy winter!