Colorado is a lovely state to enjoy all year long. There are the summer hikes we look forward to and the winter days spent meandering down the slopes. Yet sometimes on colder days, it can be easy to curl up and watch the snow from inside your warm window and think twice about going out. And, while cozy, sometimes this may not be the best thing for our overall mental health. Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, can occur in people during the colder and darker months. Here we share some ways that you can improve your winter mood from the score of benefits that accompany being outside.
WHAT IS SEASONAL AFFECTIVE DISORDER (SAD)?
SAD is a type of seasonal depression some people go through, and it typically happens at the change of seasons. Some symptoms of SAD can be: feeling low energy, not sleeping well and having a difficult time concentrating. Although the specific causes of SAD are still not known, researchers believe that one factor that may impact you is a drop in serotonin levels (a brain chemical that affects your mood) caused by reduced sunlight.
According to a Harvard University Health Publishing article, some lifestyle habits, like getting sun exposure and exercising in the winter, are good for our health. Exercising outdoors allows us to get vitamin D (an added benefit is that vitamin D is also good for our bone health) and sun exposure, which increases our serotonin levels. And, studies show that gentle exercise to get our body moving each day has been shown to reduce low level depression. While things like sun and exercise can help combat low grade depression, there is another way nature provides us some reprieve from the winter blues. It’s called negative ions.
NEGATIVE IONS EXPLAINED
Negative ions are electrically charged particles. They are made up of atoms or molecules which naturally occur in our bodies and the environment. They can be negative or positive — depending on chemical reactions that are taking place constantly. Negative ions are found near flowing water, waterfalls and even in fresh falling snow.
A medical research study form 2013 looked at the effects of negative ions (ionization) and found that patients with SAD who had more exposure to negative ions in a stated period saw significantly lower depression ratings.
So, although it isn’t a cure for deeper level depression, people affected by SAD can feel an increase in positive feelings from negative ion exposure. Combine that with a few minutes outside to get some sunny rays and gentle exercise and you could be inviting a positive lifestyle change to your winter.
Negative ions are found near falling water, frequently abundant in the summer — rainfall, waterfalls and fountains — and although they may be harder to come by in the winter, they are not impossible to find.
Here are some ways you can reap the benefits of negative ions and allow some positive vibes to wash over you:
- Hit the fresh powder and welcome the puff of snow
- Go sledding with your friends and family after a fresh snowfall
- Enjoy a day of cross-country skiing, breathing in deep as you stand tall
- Take the dog for a walk during a light snowfall
HERE’S TO A BRIGHTER WINTER:
Colorado winters are something of legend. Beautiful snowcapped mountains to admire, quaint ski villages to stroll and the hustle and bustle of locals and tourists exploring the land. It can be easy on some days to watch from inside, but try to make sure to get a little negativity in your day — negative ions that is — and see if they lift your spirits, especially if you know you suffer from SAD. Wishing you some brighter days in the darker months!
Photo by Jakob Owens Z.
Originally published in the Winter + Spring 2020-21 issue of CO YOGA + Life Magazine.