Time to Get Outdoors, Whatever the Weather….

I guess it is stating the obvious to say that the weather has a massive impact on our mood.  When the sun shines we generally feel better than when it is wet windy and grey.

Normally I don’t mind a bit of rain and wind; after all, us Brits are used to it (sniggers from my friends and relatives in South Africa) but the last couple of months have been a real struggle for me.  It seems as though every day I have had to battle through high winds, and wade through sticky, gooey mud.  I battle depression anyway, but I find that the worse the weather, the lower my mood.

One of my neighbours recently saw me walking down the road with Leo in the rain; he smiled and said “that’s why I have a cat….” can’t really argue with that.

This year the storms seem relentless, and the normal, cold crisp, frosty days of winter that I really love, have been very scarce.

This morning, on our walk, I picked up Leo’s poo in a bag, the wind gusted and somehow blew the poo out the bag; all I will say is that I am thankful I wasn’t stood down wind…..  I wrestled with the bag in the wind, desperately trying not to get any poo on my hands, and all I wanted to do was burst into tears.

“It’s a living hell up here. What with the bloody rain, the bloody loneliness, and that bloody, bloody wind.” – Ray Walston (Mad Jack Duncan, Paint Your Wagon)

It feels as though all sense of fight has literally been blown out of me; I’m finding it harder and harder to deal with adversity and that also includes fighting the elements.  As I continued on my walk the buffeting made me want to just curl up in ditch and give up.

Thankfully I kept going; Leo could obviously tell I wasn’t in good shape because when this happens he keeps running back to me and gives me full body waggles.

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I find that I focus on negative things when walking in the bad weather; when the sun shines I definitely feel more optimistic and creative.  As you may know, I post pictures of my Morning Walks on Instagram, as a way of practising mindfulness; this is definitely harder to focus on in the bad weather, simply because my head is down, and my mind is focused on something negative.

Recently I read a book called Positivity by Barbara Fredrickson, and she highlighted scientific research carried out by Matt Keller (Assistant Professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder), and he found that people who spent at least twenty minutes outside when the weather was nice had more expansive and open thinking.  Even their working memory span was larger, which means that they could literally hold more thoughts in their mind…… So, being outside in nice weather can make you smarter!

This isn’t an excuse to stay indoors when the weather is bad, because it is still good to get out, especially into nature, if you can.  Today, there were brief moments where I was sheltered from the wind and I was able to take some pictures and become mindful of what was going on around me.  The farmers were out working on their fields, seagulls were flocking around the tractors as they dug through the earth, and the sun was actually out.

This brings me on to light, in particular sunlight.  Exposure to light stimulates the production of serotonin (the happy neurotransmitter) and other important brain chemicals.  In his book Optimum Nutrition for the Mind, Patrick Holford explains that many of us rarely expose ourselves to direct sunlight, and certainly not enough to maximise serotonin production.  Most of us spend most of our time indoors (23 out of 24 hours) we get an average of 100 light units (lux); that’s compared to an average of 20,000 lux on a sunny day and 7000 lux on an overcast day.

It’s worse in winter (for obvious reasons) and can lead to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

Stress can also rapidly reduce serotonin levels, so if you combine this with low exposure to light then the affect on our mood is huge (I’m thinking of everyone stuck in an office).

Office - Photo by Alex Kotliarskyi on Unsplash

This is actually worse for women than men.  Apparently, men produce serotonin twice as fast as women, allowing them to re-balance from any serotonin depleters, without prolonged low mood.

So what’s the answer?

Keeping serotonin levels high is really important to dealing with SAD and depression.  Physical exercise helps reduce stress, and light helps stimulate the production of serotonin, so get out when you can, even if it is for twenty minutes, and even if the weather is overcast; you will be getting more lux than if you stay indoors.

“I hate all those weathermen who tell you that rain is bad weather.  There’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothing, so get yourself a sexy raincoat and live a little.” – Billy Connolly

There are also special lamps you can get for use indoors, which apparently is a good option as opposed to medication.  I might look into these ready for next winter.

Make the most of the days when the sun is out.  If you can, plan a winter get away to a sunny destination.

Kim always laughs when she sees people in the UK literally stripping off and heading for the local parks at the first sign of spring/summer; coming from South Africa, she never experienced this behaviour.  Maybe this is a natural response from our mind and body craving light after the long winter months?

Anyway, Leo needs to go out again, so it’s time to battle the wind and get some lux…..

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

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