365Outside

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Tag: seasonal affective disorder

Are You Ready For the 365Outside Challenge: 2016?

2016 challengeWe are in the final stretch of our 365Outside Challenge. We have played outside for 352 consecutive days and counting. But it doesn’t feel like a challenge anymore. It’s just our life now; it’s what we do.

One of the most important parts of this challenge for us has been the way that it’s rooted us as a family. It provides a sense of self. We are a family who appreciates nature and loves to be outside. We are a family who plays outside every day regardless of the weather. It’s easy to get lost in vague blanket statements when trying to define what makes a family unique. But this is a very concrete way that we’ve come together around a cause that’s important to us all, both physically and mentally.

The boys giving me a lesson in risk management!

The boys giving me a lesson in risk management!

It’s hard to say how much of who my kids are has been born from this project and how much would have developed regardless. The age old nature vs nurture debate. Kids grow quickly, and mine are at an age where they seem to develop by leaps and bounds every day. Regardless of why, I can say confidently that over the past year I have watched both my boys turn into complete little rippers. They tear around on balance bikes, barrel through the woods on foot, scale anything in their way and have an absolute blast doing it. They paddle around on surfboards, jump into water over their heads and beg to go faster as we head out on our boat. They swim, ski, sled and ride. They barrel out our door in sunshine, rain, sleet, snow, wind and even complete darkness. I am so proud of them. I am so impressed by them. And I am sure that as they get older, I will so have my hands full with them.

A quiet moment listening for coyotes.

A quiet moment listening for coyotes.

But despite their no-fear, high-speed approach, there are moments of quiet too. They continue to be deeply interested by habitats so we are constantly pausing to look at bird nests, beehives and tide pools, nooks in a tree that could possibly provide a spot for a mouse to nest or deep crevices into the rocks that may be big enough for a bear’s cave or a wolf’s den. The boys watch the sky for clouds. They make acute observations about animal tracks and weather patterns. They admonish me a sharp “Shhhh Mama!! I’m listening for birds!” as we make our way through the forest. For every moment of wildness there has been a moment of peace. Sometimes they are even one and the same.

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We’re ready to take on 2016. Are you?

As we bid farewell to 2015, we look ahead to the new year. There is a lot in store for 2016, and I can’t wait to share it all. We already have three camping trips booked and there’s a much grander adventure that we’re looking forward to working on in 2016. But we’ll save that story for another time. There is so much ahead.

For right now, I am excited to announce that the 365Outside Challenge: 2016 will be open for pledges starting today and lasting through the end of January. Of course, there are actually 366 days in 2016, so you have a great chance to be a complete overachiever and hold the record for  the next 7 years to come.

Not sure you can hack a whole year outside? Check out some of my tips for making it out the door here. Or, simply pledge a number of days that makes more sense for you.

To read more, or to pledge some time outside in the new year, check out the 365Outside Challenge: 2016.

The Truth Behind the Winter Blues, and What You Can Do About It

October arrived, and with it, the shorter days, the cooler weather, and for me, a touch of the winter blues.  It happens every year, like a light switch going off.  One day there’s just a touch of chill to the breeze from the north, and the next it’s sweater weather and I can’t stop drinking tea and thinking of a hot bath.

The sun sets on September, 2015.

The sun sets on September, 2015.

This year, it happened with the calendar.  The last day of September we were on the boat, watching the sunset from the sandbar.  And the next day, there was a biting chill to the wind that arrived with torrential downpours.  I remembered why it’s sometimes hard work to get outside.  I remembered why there are days when I feel like bundling into my sweatpants and staying next to the wood stove all day long.  I remembered the chill that settles into my back, clenching my shoulder blades together into an unconscious knot that lasts until I slide into bed, snuggled deep under the down comforter.

How can we not miss summer when it's filled with moments like this?

How can we not miss summer when it’s filled with moments like this?

I know it sounds dramatic for the slightest of seasonal shifts, but I think it’s also anticipatory.  There won’t be another summer for eight months.  There will be no long, bright days where the sun beats down on the sand and burns our tender feet, hurrying us along into the lapping ocean waves.  There won’t be lazy days where inside blends into outside, windows open and kids running through open doors without putting on jackets or shoes.  It’s only fall, but winter is coming and we can feel it.  There is a heaviness settling over me with the knowledge that it’s almost here.

For millions of people, this happens every year in varying degrees.  For some, like me, it’s a gentle heaviness that weighs on my days, making everything just a little darker and a little harder.  For others, it’s incapacitating.

There’s a name for these so-called winter blues.

IMG_6623Seasonal Affective Disorder, often referred to appropriately as SAD, is a type of depression that occurs seasonally, most commonly onsetting in late fall or early winter, and resolving by summer (though there are varieties that occur primarily in the summer as well).  The American Academy of Family Physicians estimates that 4 to 6 percent of people suffer from winter depression, with another 10 to 20 percent exhibiting milder symptoms of SAD.  It’s more common in women than men, and it’s more common the further you are from the equator.

SAD does not present the same in everyone, but some common symptoms include:

  • Decrease in energy levels
  • Fatigue
  • Weight gain and/or changes in appetite, especially craving starchy or sweet foods
  • Irritability
  • Sensitivity
  • Avoidance of social interactions (eg not wanting to go out)
  • Changes in sleeping patterns

If you have noticed some of the above symptoms and feel that they are seasonal in nature, you may want to talk to your doctor about your concerns.  He or she might prescribe phototherapy, which involves the use of bright lights to help reset your circadian rhythms. In more extreme cases, medication or behavioral therapy may be needed.

But, there’s good news too. While there is no substitute for a doctor’s care, the easiest way to treat mild SAD symptoms is also the least expensive and most effective.

A morning walk without the kids to get my day started.

A cloudy morning walk without the kids to get my day started.

Most doctors agree that winter depression is at least partly caused by a lack of sunlight which affects your natural circadian rhythm and melatonin production.  As such, light therapy is the most commonly prescribed treatment for SAD, exposing individuals to a light box which produces light far brighter than a normally lit room.

Getting outside more can be a suitable substitute for mild symptoms, as reported by many doctors.  Mental Health America reports that one study found an hour long walk in the winter sunlight was as effective as two and a half hours of exposure to bright artificial lights.

A little nature therapy to keep us energized and happy.

A little nature therapy to keep us energized and happy.

Personally, I find that getting outside in the morning and feeling the sun on my face can recharge me for the day ahead, no matter the temperature of the air. Even on a cloudy day, the sun produces light approximately 10 times stronger than the average indoor lighting.

Do you notice a change in your mood as the seasons change?  Do you feel sluggish or tired as the sun rises later and sets earlier?  You can do something about it.  It’s just another reason to get outside on a daily basis!

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