Story & Photos by Brianne Dela Cruz, Gather & Grow
Like all seasons in nature, winter offers a unique sort of beauty and magic. The bare landscape lends to bird watching and wildlife spotting. The silhouettes of naked trees and plants stand out amid brooding backdrops. All the while, snowdrifts shape-shift like dunes, and ice formations play with light to form otherworldly scenes. Despite frigid temperatures, blustery storms, and grey days a-plenty, winter can be far from drab.
Mid-winter is the darkest period of the year and lasts from about mid-December through the end of January. The holidays that land in the middle of this phase are such a frenzy of festivities that we often don’t notice the dark days of winter until the holiday season has passed.
This is when it hits us like a ton of bricks: the winter blues.
Generally, I view winter as an invitation to slow down and restore my energy. After all, that is what nature is doing, and we are nature, too. Our animal bodies are deeply influenced by the changing seasons, so it’s no wonder this long dark season can sometimes make us feel down. During the mid-winter season, our metabolism naturally slows and our energy levels decrease. Our bodies crave more hours of sleep and fewer expenditures. I welcome the season to cozy up and let life be quiet. I relish the opportunity to embrace the frosty dark days outside and become a little more introspective. It is a beautiful thing to give yourself permission to be unproductive and hibernate, like many animals in the natural world.
For some, this grey season can seem overwhelmingly dismal, especially after the buzz of the holidays. To help manage the crash that often follows the holiday high, here are five ways to curb the winter blues with nature.
Go on Daily Walks Outside
Whether you walk a local trail, a city greenbelt park, or around your neighborhood, a daily stroll outside moves the body and awakens the mind. The cold, fresh air invigorates the senses and allows us to notice all the small changes in nature that make winter beautiful.
To mix things up, consider incorporating some sort of goal or activity while you’re out and about. In a wild area, forage for flora to bring nature indoors and create a winter arrangement. On your winter walks seek out specific natural elements that can only be found during winter, such as icicles or a certain species of winter birds. Bundle up so you can stay warm as you linger to watch the alpenglow or the long shadows of trees stretch across the landscape. If you’d like to make it a game of “I spy..” or Bingo, go ahead; have fun with it!
Keep a Nature Journal
A wonderful way to connect with nature through the seasons is to keep a nature journal. Take it with you on outings to record memorable plant and animal sightings. Use it to capture nature tokens or to sketch a beautiful scene. Journal insights and inspiration and track the weather. As the season progresses, each of these entries will add up to reveal the evolution of the season through your eyes. I’m willing to bet that winter won’t seem so dreary after all. A nature journal can also provide a creative outlet which is very helpful when trying to process deep feelings that often surface during the darkest depths of winter.
Vitamin D Rich Foods
One of the biggest culprits of winter blues is a vitamin D deficiency. This deficiency can be caused by a lack of available sunlight during the winter months. The best way to get your daily dose of vitamin D is by taking supplements and consuming foods rich with this essential vitamin. (Always ask your doctor before starting a new supplement regime.) The recommended daily value is a dose of 800 IU (20 mcg) vitamin D per day from foods, although if you aren’t getting enough sunshine, then it should be closer to 1000 IU (25 mcg) per day. Wild-caught salmon, fresh herring, wild mushrooms, kale, collards, spinach, white beans, and fresh eggs are a few of the best sources for foods rich in vitamin D.
Embrace Slow Morning Rituals
Winter is a time to slow down and implement restorative rhythms. This makes it the best season to establish slow, grounding morning rituals. Bundling up with a blanket and sitting on the porch to enjoy coffee or tea as the earth awakens is a beautiful way to start the day connected to nature. The cold, crisp air is invigorating; It’s a lovely opportunity to watch the season slowly progress towards spring each day.
Gather Outside & Build a Fire
Physical activity outside is another way to boost endorphins and warm the body when winter feels cold and bitter. For mountain dwellers, there’s a whole host of winter sports like skiing, snowshoeing, or sledding that can offer playtime through exercise outdoors. One of my favorite ways to enjoy the outdoors in wintertime, regardless of snowpack, is to split wood and build a fire. It’s purposeful, heart-pumping work with an enriching pay-off, yet it still helps me embrace the slow energy of the season. Fire draws folks in and creates opportunities for storytelling, which can be an amazing mood-lifter during the dark season. Hosting an intimate winter bonfire gathering, whether it be in the backyard, a local campsite, or off in the wilderness is sure to bring warmth and good spirits to all.
Spending time in nature provides a myriad of benefits for mental and physical health. Some of those benefits include: boosting moods, reducing feelings of stress, anger and loneliness, and feeling more relaxed. Being in nature is likely to increase physical activity and physical health, too. Moreover, many studies reveal that connecting to nature leads to renewed inspiration as well as an increase in empathy and social cooperation. I believe that the best way to experience renewed joy in the winter season is by connecting to nature - grey days and all.
Brianne Dela Cruz is a master gardener, wild forager, campfire foodie, and acclaimed writer and photographer. From her home in Salt Lake City, she teaches online gardening and foraging courses for modern folks and budding naturalists as well as hosts seasonal community gatherings. Brianne's blog and online school, Gather & Grow, is a community of folks exploring the intersection between nature and personal growth by discovering ways to slow down and nourish themselves with nature.