Admittedly, this past winter was not the harshest that we have seen in our area. However, it is still likely that most of us did not spend as much time outdoors during these recent winter months as we do during the rest of the year.
And all of that extra time indoors starts to catch up with us. We see it in our kids, for example, and note how they start to get a little “stir crazy” if confined indoors for too long of a time. Ask any grade school teacher. Pretty much any that I know are glad when the youngsters have a chance to be outside as opposed to being stuck inside for recess due to the snow or cold. They can see the difference.
We’ve known and seen people firsthand who seemingly get the “wintertime blues.” Towards the end of winter, they become a bit more depressed and irritable. It’s later in the spring and after a bit of time outside that they begin to pull out of it.
There’s even a legitimate medical condition, seasonal affective disorder (SAD), describing those who have a more severe case of cabin fever. According to the Mayo Clinic website, SAD “is a type of depression that’s related to changes in seasons.” For most people, symptoms (such as depression, loss of energy, or feelings of hopelessness) develop “during late fall or early winter and go away during the sunnier days of spring and summer.” Some estimate that as many as 20% of Americans are affected each winter.
“The sun does not shine for a few trees and flowers, but for the wide world’s joy.”—Henry Ward Beecher.
At some level, even instinctively, we understand the importance of getting outside. Parents often encourage kids to get outside and get some fresh air. Particularly as the weather turns warmer, they try to steer them away from the video games and toward more healthy and active alternatives outside.
As with many things, we need to remember that cabin fever, and its accompanying symptoms, does not discriminate based on age. It can strike young and old alike and can be particularly hard on seniors. Many seniors tend to feel isolated already, and feel all the more so during the winter months.
This winter has officially come and gone, giving us a chance to focus on the many warm months ahead. As with anything, ideas for outdoor activities vary according to an individual’s interests and their abilities. Some go fishing, take in a sporting event, or listen to a concert in a park. Others enjoy a walk, gardening or playing board games. There is no right or wrong answer.
Those who are less mobile still benefit from getting outside to sit on a porch, visit with others, or just watch the people and traffic go by. Even if setting an elderly loved one up outside is too much, experts believe they can still benefit if engaged with the outdoors as much as possible. For example, a bird feeder can be set up outside someone’s window or perhaps the person can be exposed to more natural lighting.
As always, good judgement, and a person’s individual capabilities need to always be top of mind. Beyond that, perhaps add a New Year’s Resolution (to take the place of a long forgotten one?) to make sure your loved ones are safely enjoying the outdoors the rest of this year as much as they are able.