By Jane Marshall

“And remember: Just living is not enough… One must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower.”
—  Hans Christian Andersen

Is it just me? Or are others getting nervous with the quickly decreasing daylight hours? As a person who loves (and needs) time outside, I begin to twitch when the temperature drops and the days shorten. That’s when I know for certain: It’s time to adjust my routine to ensure I get enough light and fresh air. For as Hans Christian Anderson wrote, just living is not enough. We need time in nature.

As people dwelling in the northern part of the northern hemisphere, many of us have heard of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). It’s more prevalent in northern communities (like Calgary and Edmonton) because our daylight hours become so reduced.

The Mayo Clinic reports that symptoms of SAD can include:

  • Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day
  • Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Having low energy
  • Having problems with sleeping
  • Experiencing changes in your appetite or weight
  • Feeling sluggish or agitated
  • Having difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling hopeless, worthless or guilty

And while not everyone experiences this as a labeled disorder, it’s common to have lesser symptoms and to simply mourn the loss of summer.


So what to do?

You guessed it. Get outside. Get more sunshine on your face. Even if the air is cold. A UC Davis Health article called Go Outside to Cure the Winter Blues says, “People with mild to moderate symptoms [of SAD] benefit from more time outdoors in the winter, perhaps with a daily walk or eating lunch on a park bench. Another way to increase daily exposure is to adjust sleep schedules. People can take full advantage of available daylight by awakening earlier in the morning.”

Harvard Medical School’s Harvard Health Publishing states that:

“Light tends to elevate people's mood, and there's usually more light available outside than in. Physical activity has been shown to help people relax and cheer up, so if being outside replaces inactive pursuits with active ones, it might also mean more smiles.”

Yet when we feel low, or have diagnosed SAD, it can be hard to be motivated. Here are some ideas to keep you moving and keep you connected to mother nature:

  • Walk to work/school. It isn’t possible for everyone, but even if you have a long drive, consider parking a block or two from work to extend your outdoor minutes.
  • Get outside at lunch. Pull on your coat and spend 15-20 minutes in the fresh air. If there’s sunshine, spend a moment with your face in the sun, close your eyes, and smile.
  • Try a new sport. Cross country skiing. Snowshoeing. If you can walk, you can do these 2 sports.
  • Check out CBC’s 19 Ideas For Outdoor Winter Play to keep your family healthy.

When we feel down, we often want to sleep or become hermits. Try the opposite. Place yourself in nature’s embrace. She will help you feel happier. And if that’s not enough, of course, be sure to contact your doctor for help.