On the Trails: Nature helps fight off winter doldrums

By Kaitie Eddington

As many know, I am not an Upper Valley native.

I grew up in Utah and moved to the Upper Valley in 2017 after graduating from Southern Utah University. I was excited for life in New England and getting to know the landscape of the northeast. The green trees, flowing rivers and lakes of Vermont and New Hampshire looked straight out of a Bob Ross painting, and I couldn’t wait to live in a place that isn’t in constant threat of wildfire and drought.

Like many life changes, the move was an adjustment but none more difficult than tackling my first winter in the Upper Valley. Mentally, I had prepared for the freezing temperatures and large amounts of snow but was not expecting winter to continue through April and go so many days without seeing the sun. I started feeling depressed, lonely and helpless — feelings not typically felt. It became overwhelming, and I sought help from a mental health professional.

After a few sessions, I was informed that what I was experiencing is known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). It’s a type of depression characterized by its recurrent seasonal pattern and commonly experienced by New Englanders.

Despite it still being cold and snowy in Utah, the winter season is pretty tame, and the sun shines very often. My baseline expectation for winter involved enough sunshine that the changing seasons didn’t alter my mental state, making the transition to an overcast Northeast winter unexpectedly difficult. Mental preparation is one thing, but experiencing it is entirely different.

I was told outdoor activities and exercise would help alleviate my symptoms. I made a conscious effort to go for outdoor walks daily, which soon led me to discover some trails near my home. Before I knew it, the trees were in bloom, the sun was shining, and spring was in the air.

Connecting with nature helped me examine my mental health and ease the negative feelings I was experiencing. This also helped me connect with my new home and appreciate the beauty of winter in the Northeast.

This experience, among other reasons, is why I support UVTA’s Passport to Winter Fun program. Kids are not immune to Seasonal Affective Disorder and need help learning healthy coping mechanisms for negative emotions. The Passport to Winter Fun program is not only meant to connect families to nature but promote physical health as well. Participants of the program are required to complete at least 60 minutes of outdoor activity a day in order to qualify for prizes.

This program has been received with tremendous support by local families, teachers and the businesses that generously donate prizes for participants who earn incentives throughout the program. In a time of such uncertainty, self-care and engaging with nature to improve your health could not be more important.

To learn more about Passport to Winter Fun, visit www.uvtrails.org. For more information on Seasonal Affective Disorder, visit www.mayoclinic.org and search Seasonal Affective Disorder. To locate a mental health professional, visit www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapists or see what services your employer has to offer.

Published in the Valley News on March 4th, 2021.