Counterintuitive Cures

How confronting winter elements head-on helped quell my Seasonal Affective Disorder symptoms

When deciding to attempt the #1000hoursoutside challenge, I knew winter would be my Everest. How could I possibly spend time outside during the months that made me want to curl up and hibernate until May? The mere minutes I was spending between getting out of my SUV and into my work building were barely tolerable. I even hated ‘winter’ when living in California (which yes, seems ridiculous now, but it’s a thing!). This was an especially risky move after the darkness of last year.

I experienced a deep seated period of resentment about living in the Midwest last spring. It had been a frigid winter and even though the calendar was saying positive messages like ‘April’ or even ‘May,’ it just seemed to remain an eternally dreary and damp season. I begged my husband to move us back to California more than a few times, if only to feel the heat of the sun on my skin again.

Truthfully, I was worried for winter to arrive this year. I was bracing myself for another episode of sadness and hopelessness.

To say the outdoor challenge came at the right time is an understatement I contemplate often. Here I was, preparing to deal with the after-holiday lull of gray January, and I had decided to venture outside. Silly! What was I thinking? But confronting the elements was exactly the perspective I needed to not only appreciate, but enjoy the beauty of an Iowa winter. For suddenly I was spotting bald eagles and startling a herd of deer and discovering the cutest little fungi clinging to the trees. My eyes were twinkling at the multi-faceted splendor of ice encasing a magnificently alive forest. It’s been the best medicine (here is my disclaimer that I’m not suggesting nature is a cure-all for depression. I am not a doctor, obviously).

So as March rolls in and spring eventually makes its debut, I’m ready to welcome it with open arms like a friend I haven’t seen since, well, last year. I’ll stomp in puddles and delight in freshly sprouted buds. I’ll probably complain about the bugs and fickle nature of the rain.

But for the first time, I’ll also be a little bit sad to see winter leave.

2023 hours so far: 70.5

Micro Habits

We’re now 28 days into our 1,000 hours outside challenge. And while we’re far from quitting or giving up on this lofty goal, we also have to make peace with a slower start than one might expect. An equal distribution of 1,000 hours over twelve months would be about 83 hours per month. We’re clocking in at more like 25ish. That’s…not great.

But it’s also completely okay. Because in all honesty, 25ish hours outside during a Midwest winter is probably about 23 hours more than I’d usually be putting in.

These extra hours outside have brought a wealth of benefits. We’ve gone sledding, walked several trails, explored nature, and just had a lot of fun. More importantly- slowly, but surely, we’ve picked up some small positive habits along the way.

It’s been weird noticing this, but I’ve caught myself wishing I could get outside while at my day job. There’s even been a few occasions during my prep period that I’ve bundled up and walked the perimeter of the school before going back in to do my actual prepping. On one of these walks, I came up with a new story idea! Now whether or not I have time to work on yet another WIP is a whole other thing…

I’ll admit, I’m someone who grabs a new interest and squeezes all the life out of it until it’s no longer new and shiny to me. That’s, of course, a possible outcome for this outdoor challenge. But I’m confident that the micro habits I’ve been establishing the past four weeks will stick. Like when it’s almost dusk and dinner is prepped and the boys are playing with the neighbors, you might find me reading a book on the back deck. Or, if we’re planning to get together as friends, don’t be surprised if I suggest a hike instead of a coffee shop (though I do love me a coffee date…maybe we can combine the two!).

My point is, not all resolutions or grand plans need to be all-in all the time. Maybe the point is to build a sturdy foundation that enriches our lives and brings us closer who we want to become. The key to building that foundation? One small step in the right direction.

#1000hoursoutside Challenge- 2023

Because otherwise I’d never leave the house in January

If you don’t know me very well (yet), here’s the quick rundown:

Grew up in Southern California

Maintained an active and adventurous life outdoors (hiking, surfing, swimming, etc)

Moved to Iowa in 2013

Whines when it’s less than 60 degrees Fahrenheit

Assumes full hermit status during winter months whenever possible

That’s basically the necessary schema to understand why a commitment to spend 1,000 hours outside with my family this year may leave me slightly in over my head. I mean, that’s about 83 hours a month/19 hours a week/2.7 hours a day. It’s not, nothing. In fact, we’re talking a possible double overhead situation (for all you surf enthusiasts).

But it’s also entirely accomplishable, as evidenced by someone I admire in Iowa whose family just celebrated their 2022 met milestone. Her reflections and photos throughout last year are what inspired me to adopt this challenge for my own family. And I was pleasantly surprised to find out that everyone was on board. Except that also means if anyone’s going to screw this up, it’ll be me. Womp womp.

So here I am, four days into this challenge and making it even harder for myself to quietly slip away from all accountability. Maybe I’m a fool to make this public. Maybe I’ll inspire you to get outside. Maybe you’ll roll your eyes and block my account. But one thing is certain, you can expect full honesty and a complete lack of self dignity when it comes to these updates. To quote Ginny Yurich on her website, “Even if you fail, you win.”

How often can you expect updates on our progress? Ha, I have no idea. I’d love to say I’ll be super organized about this and post blogs weekly or monthly or one of the meanings of bi-weekly (is it twice a week or every two weeks?!), but instead I’ll shy from that kind of promise- let’s just see how it goes, okay?

How has it been going so far?

Okay, so it’s only January 4th, when resolutions and goals are notoriously still on track and the positive momentum is high. But even still- this challenge has drastically altered the way I ‘January.’ Typically, in Iowa, I spend as little time outside as possible. My instinct is to hibernate with a blanket, some snacks, and loads of screen time. Which isn’t healthy or fun or even how I’m used to being alive. I’m also responsible for the physical and mental health of two young children (3&5) so it was all the more important I shift my perspective.

We’ve officially tracked 3.5 hours outside so far. Realistically we’ve done more than that separately but I’m trying to log in time spent together. It doesn’t sound like much, but it includes: Wanatee Park, Pinicon Ridge, reading, walking the dog, and motorized Jeep driving. The temperature has been in the 30s and this includes going outside during icy drizzle, snow, and very sleek sidewalks. Overall, I’m proud of our small but significant start.

Winter takeaways

This might sound lame, but you guys! There are no bugs! They like, have burrowed underground or whatever and they’re not buzzing in your ears or sucking your blood or crawling up your ankles. It’s…pretty sweet. I also discovered that I really enjoy the feel of stepping on frozen grass and ice and snow mounds. It crunches and flattens and gives just a little bit of delightful sensory input. We’ve also spotted deer, hawks, cardinals, and eagles.

I’ll leave with this, I’ll probably always be a summer kind of girl, but I’m beginning to warm up to January like frozen fingers finding their way into the perfect pair of gloves.