December brought in a thick blanket of snow, and Pittsburgh looked like a winter wonderland. As I write, from my chair looking out into the wonderland, I am reminded of the beauty that nature has to offer and the splendor of Pittsburgh’s seasonal climate. While all I want to do today is curl up with a good book next to a fire sipping a hot drink, I am aware that too much indoor time is not the best for my wellbeing as it can reinforce the “winter blues.”
I personally find that getting outdoors is the best way to re-center, reconnect, and restore my wellbeing. As described by Bratman et al. (2012), “for hundreds of years and across many cultures of the world, influential traditions in science, philosophy, poetry, and religion have emphasized the role that nature plays in providing feelings of wellbeing. In the modern era of scientific enterprise, a large body of work has demonstrated the importance of nature to human physical health, characterizing the numerous ways in which people depend on the natural environment for security in the supply of food, water, energy, climate stability, and other material ingredients of well-being.”
However, while beautiful, winter can make it difficult to get out and get reconnected with nature. So, how do I get out in nature during the winter months? Here are some tricks that I use to keep a hike comfortable during the colder months:
1. Stay local! The days are short, and there are limited daylight hours – if you stay local, you get to make the most of the shorter days. Staying local also allows shorter outdoor time commitments if it’s too cold, too wet, or there’s just not enough time in the day.
2. Layer up! We produce a lot of heat when we are active, and we might need to add or take away layers while outside. Layering up (or having layers available) allows us to maintain a more comfortable temperature while outdoors.
3. Protect your feet! This is a big one for me. My feet’s comfort are my gauge for how long I can stay out. Good socks (or layered socks) with waterproof boots or shoes can really make an outdoor adventure in winter enjoyable. If you are really into the winter hiking, snow shoes or shoes with ice spikes might be necessary for the more adventurous types.
4. Eat! Bring snacks and keep your metabolism going. Being outdoors in colder weather requires a lot of energy; so bring those snacks! Don’t be afraid of those Christmas cookies if you’re outside burning all those calories!
5. Be Cautious! Do your homework on where you are going and bring a friend if possible. Knowing the terrain ahead of time and looking up the safest route(s) can help you make the most of your trip. Having someone with you is also important for both safety and overall enjoyment.
Sometimes, it’s just not possible to hike safely during the winter months. Poor road conditions can make hiking sites inaccessible, and extreme temperatures and weather can create hazards. Sometimes, you just don’t have the time, or you are feeling under the weather. Well, there are little ways that you can still reconnect with “nature” indoors. You can grow indoor plants, watch nature TV or programs, read about nature, or even paint/draw nature. Get creative on how you bring the outdoors inside.
If you are feeling the winter blues or you feel out of sorts – try reconnecting with nature. It could be the boost to your wellbeing that you need to get through the indoor season.
Heather Hulton VanTassel is Assistant Director of Science and Research at Carnegie Museum of Natural History. Museum employees are encouraged to blog about their unique experiences and knowledge gained from working at the museum.
Bratman et al. (2012). 118–136. New York Academy of Sciences. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.2011.06400.x.