For many people, the first sign of winter’s chill can change their mood in an instant. Winter brings cold temperatures, short, dark days, and few opportunities to enjoy physical activity outdoors. Worse yet, driving or even walking in the winter can actually prove perilous, leaving many people cooped up for months at a time, their depression worsening with each passing minute. For the estimated 10 million Americans saddled with Seasonal Affective Disorder and the millions more with other forms of depression, those long hours spent indoors can mean a worse mood, less physical activity, and a brain fog so heavy that it feels like a Herculean effort to lift. Fortunately, there’s one solution that might just change how you feel: making an outdoor living space for yourself. Here’s why making an outdoor living space for yourself might just be the solution you’ve been searching for.
The very act of going outside can have profound implications for your health and overall well-being. Enjoying the scent of cut grass or wildflowers can boost your mood, and taking a break from the stagnant surroundings of your home or office can make a major difference in your emotional health. Researchers speculate that one of the things that worsens Seasonal Affective Disorder is the amount of time spent indoors without access to natural light during the colder, darker months, but getting outside can help perk you up in no time. Even if you don’t have a long time to spend outside, taking a 15-minute walk outdoors twice a day can help improve your mood and get you some exercise, which will increase your endorphin levels and boost your feelings of contentment.
The very act of spending time in green space can be a major mood-lifter. In fact, a study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health reveals that people with more access to green space, like parks and walking trails, in their neighborhood reported fewer depressive symptoms than those whose surroundings included less vegetation. Even if you only have a small amount of space to work with, like a terrace or garden, you can still reduce your depressive symptoms by adding some greenery. Easy to-care-for plants, like spider plants, aloe, or certain herbs are useful for your health — spider plants purify the air, aloe can heal burns, and herbs are full of disease-fighting antioxidants — and the very act of seeing them when you head outside can brighten your mood in seconds. When you go outdoors, take some time to stretch, smell the flowers, and tend to your plants; this meditative practice is a surefire way to make you healthier and happier.
Having a project to look forward to or work on can be invigorating, even when the winter doldrums might otherwise have you beat. Working on creating an outdoor space for yourself can give you a sense of purpose when your mood is low, and spending your time outdoors while doing it can make you feel energized and excited about the changes you’re making to your space.
While getting too much sun is hardly good for your health, enjoying controlled exposure to sunlight can help you reduce your symptoms of depression and better overall health. Not only does research suggest that vitamin D, bioavailable through sunlight, can reduce depression, a study conducted by researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center reveals that vitamin D can even improve cognitive function among depressed adults.
There’s a reason it’s exciting to travel to new places: our brains love novelty. The same can be applied to the creation of a green space at home. When you carve out some green space for yourself, you’re not only giving yourself a thrilling project to challenge yourself with, you’re also giving yourself a change of scenery right in your back yard. Instead of being confined by the same four walls in your bedroom or having to work at the same Starbucks day after day, you’ll have your own little corner of paradise to operate from. Whether you use your green space to work, meditate, or simply escape from the stresses of your everyday life, the change of scenery can be a font for your creativity, making it easier to feel inspired and lifting that heavy mood your depression has hit you with.
While you can’t change the way your brain is wired, you can make a difference when it comes to your depression. Better yet, doing so might be easier than you think. Creating a dedicated outdoor space for yourself can help you fight the blues when they arrive and give you an escape to retreat to when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Before the winter’s dark days and chilly weather have a chance to get you down, treat yourself to some well-deserved time outside.