Winter Doldrums-Beating the Blues

winter days spent outdoors

We all know the stir-crazy feeling that sets in after too many hours cooped up inside during the winter. The age-old term cabin fever describes the feeling many people experience that includes a range of negative emotions and distress related to restricted movement: irritability, boredom, some hopelessness and even, behaviorally, restlessness and difficulty concentrating.

Following are just some of the benefits to bundling up to beat the winter blues:

  • Soak up the sun for vitamin D: One simple way to boost our body’s’ supply of vitamin D is through sun exposure.  While it is important to consider our skin’s need for sun protection, we all need some time to enjoy the benefits of the sun’s rays.
  • Reduce stress: A short walk – even just 20 minutes – can significantly lower stress hormones in the body.
  • Improve physical health. Children play harder outdoors than indoors and they need daily opportunities to do so. More outdoor time is linked with improved motor development and lower obesity rates and myopia (nearsightedness) risk. Safely getting some sun also helps us make vitamin D that our bodies need to stay healthy and strong.
  • Gain focus: One study determined a clear link between children spending time outdoors and a decline in ADHD symptoms.
  • Improve immune function: Japanese ‘forest bathing’, or simply spending time in a forest or around trees, has been linked to an increase in immune function.
  • Boost your creativity: Regular time spent exercising outdoors has been linked to an increased capacity for creative reasoning.

Studies show that time in nature can improve sleep, reduce stress, boost attention, and elevate mood — all important for emotional health and fitness goals.

Going outside at any time has major mental-health benefits, but in the winter, when there’s less light, it’s particularly important. There are many mental wellness benefits associated with being outside, such as lower risk of depression and faster psychological stress recovery. Studies have shown that being in nature can restore and strengthen our mental capacities, increasing focus and attention.

Even just a few minutes outside can serve as a break, especially if you’re getting some activity along the way.  And for those who live in colder climates winter brings all new possibilities for creative play, imagination and construction. Forget sandcastles, build a frozen snow castle! Or snowmen, snow mountains, snow towers, snow forts, snow volcanoes, snow lanterns, snow sculptures, snow cakes, etc. You can paint the snow, eat the snow (but now the yellow snow)), and make angels in the snow. Snow and ice offer kids a never-ending supply of elements for creative little minds.

Here are a few ideas to spend time outside when it’s chilly.  Winter provides us a huge range of opportunities:

  • Sledding: Dragging a sled up a hill while trudging through snow is a workout!  The reward of sliding down a slippery slope each time is fun for all ages.
  • Star Gazing: Even younger children with earlier bedtimes can enjoy star gazing on crisp winter nights.
  • Skiing and Snowboarding: Whether you prefer the speed of the slopes of the quiet of cross-country, there are options for everyone.  Many mountains offer lessons for children as young as three.
  • Visit local parks: Public parks stay open year-round.  Go together and enjoy your local resources, or make a day trip of it and visit a park that’s a bit farther away.
  • Feed the birds: Because many species migrate during the winter months, your area’s population will look different now than during the spring and summer.  Borrow a field guide from the library and do some bird watching.  Set up or make your own bird feeders and place them outside a window of your home.

If you’re the indoor-fitness type, an outdoor activity can be a refreshing change and it can go with the vibe of being more thoughtful and intentional about how you move. Try a winter hike that’s not about how far or how fast you go (if you’re in a snowy locale, you’ll need to slow down to avoid slipping anyway) but instead draws your focus to your surroundings. Physical activity increases time spent in deep sleep, the most physically restorative sleep phase.

Another doldrums buster is cultivating more curiosity. In terms of fitness, that might mean spending the season thinking about whether you’re still joyful in your chosen activity. Maybe you’ve always been a runner, for instance, but you haven’t taken time to explore whether you run because you truly love it or it’s just part of your identity.

Think about what’s prompting you to stay moving — what’s your intrinsic motivation, and has that changed over time? This is a great time to look at the judgments you may have put on yourself. Are you doing something because you want to or because you think you should?

Most likely, mixing up your activity and trying new things will start this process and help you see that this could be the winter you make a big change — or maybe you fall in love with your usual activity all over again.

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