Though there may be raw cold, biting wind, snow, and slush, I push myself out my front door every day, all winter long. Why? Although I’m no fan of the cold and dreary winter weather, what’s worse is the winter blues.
I’ve suffered with the winter blues since my late teens. Back then, I didn’t know what to call it, or what to do about it. I felt tired, lazy, and unhappy. I withdrew from social activities, and I slogged through work that in other seasons was a breeze.
Years later, in the course of my studies as a psychotherapist, I learned that the problem has a name: winter blues.
In large part, winter blues is caused by insufficient and ill-timed light. Our bodies rely on adequate, regular, and recurring light and dark cues to function properly. Most obviously, daylight alerts us to awaken, and nighttime darkness readies us for sleep. Periods of light and dark help direct various bodily processes to wax and wane in concert throughout the day, like an orchestra conductor directs a symphony. Inadequate or poorly timed light exposure disrupts the rhythm, causing disturbances of sleep, mood, energy, appetite, and thinking.
Our modern lifestyle exacerbates the problem by diminishing the distinction between day and night. We’re exposed to the bright lights of screens at night and spend long hours indoors with little exposure to natural daylight—especially in winter.
But physical activity and exposure to daylight, even on a dreary day, brightens mood, boosts energy, and sharpens the mind. Just recently, scientists have affirmed what many of us intuitively knew: Spending time in nature also improves mood. (Forest therapy puts this research into practice.)
Armed with this knowledge, I adopted a winter regimen of daytime walks and runs. Occasionally, I’d treat myself to a walk at Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Years ago, visiting the Garden soon after a snowfall, I was excited to spot fresh rabbit tracks, and amused by a gaggle of noisy birds gorging on pastel-colored beautyberries. All I lacked was someone to share the fun with!
Realizing that I could be sharing these moments with others led to the creation of my Chase Away the Winter Blues tours, where I teach folks how to maintain a sunny outlook during the bleak winter months while showing off the under-appreciated winter Garden to curious and hardy visitors.
Lynne Spevack LCSW is a seasoned psychotherapist. Lynne’s practice focuses on helping folks to improve mood, productivity, performance, and relationships using highly effective, scientifically proven, non-medication approaches like Chronotherapy and Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy. Lynne lives, works, and plays in New York City.
See the full Brooklyn Botanic Garden article here.