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How to Support Mental Health and Well-being during Winter in Utah

Many Utahns feel depressed during this time of year and experience seasonal affective disorder. Here is what they can do to feel better.


How I learned to love Utah Winters

I grew up nestled in the foothills of the Wasatch Front. While I enjoyed the snowy winters of my 90s childhood, the bad inversions and lack of sledding days in my early adulthood caused me to really hate winter here. I traveled a lot the past several years, largely driven by the urge to flee winter.

Utah winters might seem mild compared to the dark, gray, and freezing humidity of places like the northeastern US. Despite this, many Utahns feel depressed during this time of year and experience seasonal affective disorder — perhaps with the exception of those who frequent the ski hills. However, I’m now pleased to say that I have come to really relish this time of year, and I don’t even ski! How? Certain lifestyle changes have made all the difference.

Foremost, I shifted my attitude to embrace cyclical living and accepted that the winter season is a necessary part of our beautiful Utah ecosystem and climate. I began prioritizing rest during this season and generally following a slower pace of life. In my diet, I prioritize nourishing and warming homemade meals like soups and stews with root vegetables and winter squash, saving smoothies full of tropical fruits for the warmer months.

I make sure to view the sunrise as many mornings as possible, which is easier this time of year when it’s after 7am. I also make sure to step away from my work desk so I’m outside the last hour of the day, even when that’s around 3:30pm in December. I make sure to spend at least an hour outside everyday. When it’s snowing, I bundle up in layers that keep me warm and dry. I avoid bright overhead lights after sunset, opting for candles and soft lamps instead. And lastly, I do both cold plunges and heat therapy every couple of weeks.

It turns out, these are key practices for optimal circadian health, which is vital for thriving during the winter. Circadian health refers to how the body registers the cycles of the day as well as the cycles of the year, and how that impacts our health and wellbeing. Along my journey, I’ve come across some other Utahns who thrive at this time of year and are offering their services to the community.

Local Coaches to Support Winter Wellness

Shelley Mehr is the first certified Wim Hof instructor in Utah. She offers individual and group experiences facilitating ice baths, breathwork, and sound healing using crystal bowls. As a level two instructor, she educates about the science and theory behind cold exposure and breathing practices.

Rachel the Stoke Coach is an outdoor fitness coach offering a winter conditioning program designed for aspiring winter sports enthusiasts who want to enhance their strength, endurance, and mobility before safely hitting the mountains.

Wild Women Tribe is led by Renee Huang, offering transformational outdoor experiences and wilderness workshops for women. Join her community for a morning hike, snowshoeing, or a group ice bath.

Quantum Visionaries is led by Burnell Washburn, a collective of creative community leaders around Utah offering services like darkness retreats, cold river plunges, breathwork, sound healing, and coaching to help you thrive in the dark and cold.

Cold plunge bath. Courtesy of Plunj.
Nordic-style Sauna. Courtesy of Plunj.

Hot & Cold Exposure Services

Verve Haus is a sauna and cold plunge studio in Farmington offering contrast therapy, so visitors can quickly alternate between cold and heat exposure.

Plunj is a Nordic-style sauna and cold plunge bath house in Provo, with plunge pools set to varying degrees of cold and a space to rest between visiting the sauna.

Plenty of spas and tanning salons offer red light therapy, which is a way to support circadian wellness when you’re exposed to red light in the morning (plus it’s nice and warm!).

And finally, if you’re looking for something free of charge, you might consider starting your own local community group to support your intention to be outside for sunrise and sunset, to go on winter hikes together, and to maybe even find private saunas available for use in your area. And of course, Utah has many rivers and hot springs providing “hot and cold therapy” for free. All you have to do is get out and visit them.

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