A week ago right now, as I write this, it was 70 degrees and sunny. My kids and I spent the afternoon hiking on a local trail. I told them we were banking the fresh air and Vitamin D before the expected cold front blew through.
It blew, all right. Right now it’s a record-setting 15 degrees (wind chill: 2) and there’s snow on the ground.
Today was my opportunity to put my money were my mouth is, or my feet where my heart is, or something like that, because last week, while the weather was still balmy, I resolved that every day this winter I would put my feet on the path of the park by our house.
I gave myself a few exceptions: I don’t do ice, period. And I don’t need to go out in the driving rain—especially not the horrid freezing rain of winter. Shudder.
But if it was just cold, or snowy, or dreary out—and goodness knows we’ll see plenty of dreary in the coming months—I would get myself to the park.
It’s a short walk from our house, a city block or two. But the park provides a goal, a destination, an incentive to get myself out of the house. “Hitting the park everyday” is concrete and measurable, actionable and specific, all those things that goal-setters love. I even plugged it into my commit app so it could nag me to get moving.
If my personal experience has taught me anything about winter, it’s that I need to get myself out of the house and into the fresh air, preferably during daylight, as often as possible.
I have an uneasy relationship with these dark and cold months. I do okay during the holidays (anticipation! parties! twinkle lights!) but once January hits I ache for sunlight. I have three big coping mechanisms (four if you count “not eating crap”): my happy light, exercise, and getting outside.
I need all of these components to make it through winter as a whole and healthy person.
On any given frigid wintry afternoon, I would much rather stay inside and stay warm than venture outdoors. At least, that would be my choice in the moment.
But I’ve learned my body is so very grateful for any authentic, non-pharmaceutical Vitamin D it can get between October and April. I hate the thought of going outside, but once I’m out there, it’s (usually) not that bad.
Especially on days like today when the snow is brilliant and the sun is shining.
I chose the park as my destination because it’s specific, measurable, and aesthetically pleasing. If my feet touch the park path, I’ll pick up 2000 steps or so. That’s enough to vault me from around-the-house ho-hummery (3000 steps) to something I might be able to live with on a horrible winter day (5000, far from my preferred 10k, but not appalling).
(Did I lose you with the steps thing? The backstory is here.)
But once I’m in the park, I want to stay there. It’s such a good place to spin out. I want to go a little further—especially if I’m walking the dog, and I usually am. My daily goal is just to put my feet on the park path, and I’m satisfied to meet that minimum. But if it leads to more time outside, so much the better.
Harriet (that would be the dog in question) and I took a test stroll today, the first day I really had to force myself outdoors. We waited until afternoon, when it had warmed up to 18 degrees.
It felt freezing, at first. But I got used to it (while resolving to find my earmuffs the second I got home), and Harriet never seemed to mind. We hit the park path, and it was so beautiful and sunny and glorious that we just kept going.
The path was a little icy in places, so we trudged through the snow instead. I’d forgotten how much fun it is to run through a field of fresh snow with your overly-energetic dog while the sun shines down on you (when nobody else is there to watch, because they’re scared off by the cold).
I don’t like winter. It’s cold and its grey and I miss my daylight.
But I think if I actually head out into it, to meet it head-on, instead of hide from it, I’ll like it a little bit more.
That’s why you’ll find me at the park every day—almost—getting my exercise and my Vitamin D.
What are your favorite winter coping strategies? I’m all ears—I need all the tips I can get!