Suzanne Klein

It may be slow to arrive this year, but there’s no denying it: winter is coming.

The last of the leaves are making their way to the ground; the Halloween decor is packed away and (ready or not) the Christmas lawn ornaments are being hauled out. We eagerly anticipate stuffing ourselves at Thanksgiving, then segue into our Christmas-cookie-and-candy-eating regimen. We can’t ignore, though, that along with the festivities come colder temperatures, less daylight and for some of us, the seasonal blues.

I grew up with tales of my parents’ Midwestern winters: the bitter cold and biting frost. Here we still experience the frigid temperatures, but at least it’s “dry cold.” The greatest difference my parents noted was the sunshine. In the Midwest, the sun is absent for days, weeks at a time, they said. Here we may still be freezing our socks off, but at least the sun is out. That little bit of sunshine, however watered-down and weak, brings us back to life.

Yet if our winter is so much brighter, why do some still struggle with that nagging, restless moodiness of the wintertime blues? The truth is that while Moab does see 244 days of sunshine a year, that light source is not equal year-round. You may feel a change as early as August, when days begin to shorten. By November you’d be nearing full hibernation mode, were it not for the demands of the holidays. But what can be done? It’s winter: that’s just how it is. Well, yes and no. You can’t outrun the hours in the day, nor the chill in the air. You can, however, take a few winter survival tips from someone who has tried and tested a long list.

Let’s start simple. Is the sun out? Can you take half an hour to go outside? Do it.

This may get you two birds with one stone, if you can exercise while you’re out there.

When you’re feeling sluggish and depressed, physical exercise is likely the last thing on your mind. Even so, I can promise it will make you feel better than the same amount of time burrowed into the couch.

That being said, couch time need not always be avoided. This time of year, we all have a holiday to-do list. Seasonal mood swings will only compound that holiday stress. You may feel guilty for just curling up with a book or your favorite TV show, but scrambling through those bullet points won’t offer the relief you’d been expecting.

Rather than feeling fulfilled, you may feel just as anxious to move on to the next.

Sometimes instead of a checklist you just need something nice. And perhaps that something nice could take place on a couch near a sunny, south-facing window. Two birds, one stone.

It goes without saying that proper diet and a normal sleep schedule will also help you shake the sadness. I feel a bit hypocritical advising this, though – these are the first two to go when I begin to feel off-kilter. Honestly, I feel better when I follow a hike on Slickrock with a burger and tots; if it’s salad for you, then salad is what’s on the menu.

Your task is to find those things – vegetarian or otherwise – which boost you up on a cold, dreary winter day.

On that note, you’ll notice that I’ve spent most of my time describing those physical things we can do to feel better. If you find yourself feeling down, it can be hard to believe that any external actions will affect what’s going on inside your head. I still struggle to believe that, on the worst days. But if you’re willing to step outside, move around, eat healthy and sleep well, a bit of mental exercise isn’t too much more to ask of yourself. Give this a try: think of a moment when you felt happy. Mine, for example, is on a hike. Now think of three or four sensations from that moment. One: the sand is soft and loose under my shoes. Two: my dog’s small paws pitter-patter behind me, then go silent as he stops to sniff. Three: there is the sudden smell of sage as the branch brushes against my arm. Four: the sun is warm on my skin. For a minute, I hold this thought in my head. When I am done, the day is no lighter, no brighter or warmer. But that moment did happen, will happen again and I will be ready for it.

Suzanne Klein is from Boulder, Colorado, and has been exploring the Moab desert for more than a decade.