As if the isolation during the pandemic has not been enough, here in Alaska, we are currently watching termination dust make its way down our beloved hiking peaks. The colors that were once multiple shades of green have turned to green, red, and golden hues. Our fireweed is bloomed to the top, our fish is stored, our berries are picked, and the sun is setting earlier. Moose and caribou hunting seasons are around the corner. Fall is here, and winter is coming. However, some of us are not ready for it.
Our gorgeous greenery will soon be replaced by a winter wonderland and below-freezing temperatures. For some, the outdoor activities continue with snowboarding, skiing, winter camping, and ice fishing. One set of gear is simply traded for another.
Winter in Alaska is not for everyone. During your first winter here, you will find that you either love living in Alaska or absolutely hate it. Depending on where in Alaska you live, snowfall could start as early as August and break up as late as May. In Utqiaġvik, Alaska's most northern village, the sun sets in November and does not show itself again until January. Freezing temps and long stretches of darkness have the potential to lead to depression, anxiety, and self-medication.
There are ways to maintain mental wellness during the long months of the Alaskan winter. We might not be able to go outside as much, but there are countless things we can do with our time aside from binging on Netflix, gaming, and junk food.
Alaskan communities understand the need to have a variety of activities. If you live in hubs like Juneau, Bethel, Anchorage, or Fairbanks, you are fortunate to have a large range of options to choose from to pass the time. Facebook and Meetup are good places to find like-minded people who are interested in the same hobbies that you are.
Studies show that exercise and physical movement help increase overall wellness. Exercise can be anything that works for you; it does not have to mean lifting weights or performing a lot of high-impact movements. You don't need a gym to exercise either. All you need is a bit of motivation and possibly some equipment. You will be able to gather all the equipment that you need at a local department store. If you are on a budget and don't mind buying gently used gear, look at places online such as Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace. If you prefer new gear and don't mind the wait, order from an online retailer.
If you want to exercise at home, find the workout of your choice on Youtube. (Keep in mind that, with Youtube, you might occasionally have to listen to some advertisements during your workout.) If you don't mind paying for your video or audio workout session, there are several apps and programs to choose from. Google what kind of workout that you want and do your research. Some programs offer free trial periods so you can try them out with no commitment.
If working out on your own usually ends up with you on the couch, watching the people on the screen workout, maybe you need something more motivational. There are several gyms, such as The Alaska Club, Planet Fitness, and Anytime Fitness, that offer affordable memberships. If you need something more intense, there are several small group training and cross-fit gyms across the state to choose from.
Most Alaskans will agree that it is not healthy to be inside all the time, even in the winter. Who cares if the temperature is below freezing? Bundle up and get outside. Spending time outside decreases depression and anxiety symptoms. By spending time outside, you will also improve your immune system by getting yourself a dose of vitamin C. In a bad mood? Step outside. Yes, spending time outside in the winter has the potential to improve your mood.
Sometimes, exercise and going outside are not enough to combat the icy darkness. Tanning can be a great way to improve your mood. Not only does the bright light enhance your state of mind, but you get a tan in the middle of winter! If you haven't tanned before, start with a few minutes and build from there. If tanning is not for you, there is the option of purchasing a S.A.D. light. S.A.D. lights are portable lightboxes that you sit in front of or near to improve your mood.
Alaskan winters can feel harsh. The extreme temps and prolonged darkness leave individuals not wanting to get out of the house. This self-imposed isolation often results in issues with depression. Sometimes the early darkness and the freezing cold make us want to stay in the confines of our homes. However, do not let either one of those things keep you from enjoying Alaska all year long. Get out and enjoy the community that you live in while learning new things and meeting new friends. Staying warm does not have to be expensive; you can find gently used layers at local thrift stores and retail chains. It is OK to reach out for help when the winter months get to be too much to handle. SokyaHealth can provide assistance and treatment regarding your depression issues. If you or a loved one needs help, call us today at 866-932-1767.