Adventure is Rx for Staying Sane and Serene During the Winter Months

NCOAE Headquarters

January 24, 2020

Happiness is an inside job. And on the flip side of that coin, depression — a mood disorder — is a condition that also primarily originates from inside our minds. Happiness is an action word. It requires a decision. And happiness does not have to wait.

Take the winter months, for example. If you are an outdoor enthusiast — and we assume you are if you’re perusing our NCOAE website — you know the true meaning of “winter blues.” Often, we find ourselves cooped up inside, postponing our happiness until the spring.

When it’s unbearably cold, windy, and wet outside, many of us feel out of sorts. We’re moody, have no energy, and we’re eager to get outside. Unfavorable weather conditions often put a halt to those plans, or seriously limit our participation.

Doctors have a name for this mental anguish, and it’s called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). We’re not trying to be cute or funny here, because it really is SAD. It’s a form of depression that is directly related to changes in season, usually beginning in the late fall and continuing throughout the winter months.

Doctors put part of the blame on the decrease in sunlight in fall and winter that can disrupt your internal clock. That same lack of sun beams can prompt a drop in serotonin — a chemical in the brain that affects mood. Finally, the seasonal change can increase the production of melatonin  — a hormone that regulates the sleep–wake cycle in the body and plays a big role in sleep patterns.

Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder

According to the Mayo Clinic, signs and symptoms of SAD may include:

  • Feeling depressed 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
  • Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide

This can lead the sufferer to seek relief by oversleeping and consuming carbs, which can lead to gain weight, exhaustion, and extended periods of time with low energy. All of this, of course, goes against the outdoor adventurer’s interests.

The Mayo Clinic doctors suggest SAD sufferers take in as much sunlight as possible, stick to a regimented exercise schedule, manage their stress, and maybe take on some “light therapy.” They also suggest Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which explores your thoughts, feelings, and physical actions while looking at creating positive rather than negative loops.

Use Wilderness and the Backcountry to Make Cognitive Shifts

Or, you can try The National Center for Outdoor & Adventure Education’s brand of mood methodology. We here at NCOAE don’t offer therapeutic wilderness programs. However, we bring people to places that help make cognitive shifts through the exposure to the beauty and lessons inherent in Wilderness and backcountry landscapes. 

Even more powerfully, our field instructors and guides facilitate instruction and programs designed to help participants be their best selves when they return home. We are committed to engaging participants in activities that promote positive change that goes far beyond the hills and forests.

Many of our students tell us they fill up their tanks with the acquisition and advancement of technical outdoor skills, fun experiences that challenging and appropriate, and friendships that feel like they may last a lifetime, and then return home with happiness in reserve to get through the hard times.

Curious to know more? Visit our outdoor education courses page to learn more or to inquire about the outdoor adventure that fuels your tank for the months ahead.

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