From combatting SAD to topping up our vitamin D levels, stimulating our creativity to reduced feelings of stress and anxiety, there are countless pieces of research citing the many benefits of spending time outside in winter, but knowing it’s good for us isn’t always enough to persuade us to get outside!
As I write this article another winter storm is raging. The wind is howling and has rather unhelpfully just pulled down a fence panel in my back garden. It’s dark, despite being the middle of the day, it’s pouring with rain and it’s so cold I’m wearing a fleece hooded jacket and have turned the heating up.
Given conditions like this, It’s really not surprising then that most of us spend less time outdoors during winter, particularly for those of us in northern Europe.
There are elements of winter that really do suck – expensive fence repairs aside – no one particularly likes being freezing cold, slipping on ice or squelching down the road in wet-through shoes, and at times, the dark of winter really can feel oppressive.
Being cold and wet is miserable, there’s no denying it, but then spending too much time indoors and disconnected from nature can be pretty miserable too.
I’ve learned from experience that nature deficit can certainly make me feel less grounded and more stressed out, which can have far-reaching implications for my mood, productivity and on my general sense of wellbeing. Whereas, being cold and wet is only a temporary thing.
In fact, with a few layers flung on and your ‘big coat’ as us Northerners would say, winter weather typically poses more of a psychological barrier than anything else.
So if you’re currently feeling a little out of sorts and can’t put your finger on why, it could be that spending too much time hibernating indoors and cutting yourself off from the natural world has a part to play.
6 Tips For Getting Motivated To Get Outside In Winter
1. Stop labeling the weather as “bad”
When glancing out of a window in winter, we will often make the snap judgment that it looks like “bad weather”, which only reinforces to us that anything less than blue skies and sunshine is somehow a terrible thing to be avoided.
Nature of course needs balance, just as we do, and there is beauty and joy to be found when the weather is less than perfect too.
Assuming you have a decent coat and the means to get warm and dry when you return home, 20 minutes of walking in the rain isn’t going to damage you in any way, in fact, whether soaked through or conscious of raindrops on your face, rainy weather can be strangely life-affirming and you’ll appreciate the warm comfort of home even more once you get back indoors.
2. Dress for the right weather conditions
Winter can be an excellent deceiver. Those bright blue, sunshiney days that give us a much needed-lift can look super inviting, lulling us into a false sense of security. Within minutes of being outside though, we can be left cursing our judgment and longing for gloves, hats, scarves and wondering why the hell you didn’t make better clothing choices.
It’s my job to spend time outdoors and yet I still make this mistake from time to time and find myself cursing my relentless optimism (yeah ok, stupidity) for not dressing more warmly.
So, before heading out, regardless of how lovely the day might look and how warm you are right now sat beside the radiator, make sure you wear plenty of warm things and if in doubt, dress in layers. It’s better to get too warm and need to take something off, than to be too cold and not have any options to warm yourself up.
3. Go outside for a bit of mindfulness
Whether you walk on your commute or during your lunch break, or if like many of us you’re still working from home, make time in your day to get outside. You don’t need to pledge to spend any length of time or to walk any particular distance (although challenges like that can be helpful for some!), just get outside.
For you that could simply mean opening the back door and spending 5 minutes with your morning brew breathing in the fresh air, focusing on all of the natural things you can see, hear and smell. Even on a rubbish day, it will do you good, I promise!
Of course, if you can spend longer outside, then going for a walk, even a short one can be reinvigorating and a simple walking meditation is easy to do.
A winter walk, however short, will get your heart pumping and can give you a bit of much-needed downtime away from work, home or family life too.
4. Plan weekend outdoor activities in advance
Although you might not want to be doing big weekend walks in winter, I’ve found walking at this time of year can be exceptionally wonderful, in fact, I love walking in winter. Give me a crisp, sunny winter’s day to do a hill walk and I’ll take it any time over doing that same walk in the middle of summer!
The air feels so much fresher in winter, there are fewer people about and because you’re probably spending more time indoors, you could find that the wellbeing benefits you get are greater than doing the same walk during summer.
We tend to plan loosely where we want to do a big walk on a weekend, and try to keep as much of the weekend free as possible so we can walk on either Saturday or Sunday depending on the weather.
Rain and temperature don’t bother me too much, but I do like to get decent visibility if possible when doing winter hill walks – I’m a sucker for a trig point selfie with a view!
5. Play nature detective
This is a particularly good tip if you’ve got kids as it will help engage them, but I find in Autumn, I love going for local walks every couple of days to see what fungi I can spot. It’s amazing watching as mushrooms appear and observing how they change as they mature.
In winter there are plenty of changes you can look out for too, from what birds are visiting your garden, to where icicles form and how different places look when the trees are bare. Waterfalls are always amazing to visit in winter, especially after a big downpour or when smaller waterfalls freeze.
6. Plan treats for when you get back home
Before you head outside, lay out warm dry clothes ready for when you get home. On your return, jump in a warm shower or bath, pour yourself a hot drink and snuggle up on the sofa with the blanket and a good movie.
Sometimes one of the really lovely things about being outside in winter is how much more we appreciate the warmth of home when we get back again and it’s simple pleasures like these, that really can help to enhance your wellbeing, just as much as spending time in nature can.
So go on, ditch the excuses, grab your coat and head outside for a bit!