IMG_5081 (2) Living in the city means whether you like it or not, people are everywhere and in Chicago, busy people are everywhere.  We all have somewhere to go.  Our days are filled with everything from work to new activities, commitments or just the daily chore list.  Not only can these overbooked schedules cause stress, but lately it feels like every time I turn on the news or open up a news outlet there is another disturbing violent act unfolding.  These events leave us debating and questioning the answers to all of it. We have entered times where news conferences start with, "another mass shooting," which results in anxiety and fear for what is to come.  Last week I felt so sad hearing these stories over and over again, as I am sure many of you did.  All of it made me want to go home, crawl under the covers and lock the door.

After some conversation with my husband, colleagues, family and friends, I realized hiding under the covers is the exact opposite of what we need to do.  Instead, I decided to make an effort to find the joy in each day (my favorite coffee in the morning, the way the fresh snow looked, meeting Mike for dinner, the excitement students exude when they have learned something new or seeing a friend smile).  Trying to find ways to balance the fear and anxiety by being mindful, compassionate and grateful. These have been the best tools I have found to find happiness in each day.  And, LORD it's not always easy, but let me give you more ideas...

Have you heard of, "ecotherapy"?  It is therapy through nature.  Huh? It means you can reduce stress, anxiety and depression, by simply enjoying the outdoors and being outside.  I am not kidding-this stuff has science and statistics behind it! We are talking numbers baby!  It's no wonder my friend Kerry is always smiling ear to ear when she sends me pictures of her on the ski lift! Yet, living in the city sets limitations.  We don't have mountains outside our doors, so what can we do to enhance our experiences with nature in the winter?

Here are some simple ways to get outdoors during the winter in the concrete jungle:

  1. Ice Skating:  There are 3 ice skating rinks that I love in Chicago; Lincoln Park Zoo, Millennium Park and my latest favorite, The Ribbon at Maggie Daley. It is free if you have your own skates.  My advice-go grab a pair from Play It Again Sports. I bought a pair of Bauers for $30 a few weeks ago.  Now we can just hop on the ice rink without having to pay or wait in line for rentals.  Totally worth it.  Another fun fact; ice skating can burn around 420 calories for each hour you skate.  That equates to at least one hot chocolate, right?
  2. Winter Running or Biking:  With so much access to trails and the Lake Shore Path, let's take advantage of these higher than normal temperatures and head out for a micro-adventure! Run to your favorite brunch spot or bike to a museum!  A bundled up outdoor adventure will be the perfect way to get those endorphins flowing.
  3. Skiing, Snowboarding, Tubing:  Ok, we aren't talking big time mountains, but while you're saving up for that trip to Lake Tahoe, you can start practicing at some local spots.  Two of my favorites are Devil's Head and Cascade Mountain.  Both only about a 2.5-3 hour drive from Chicago. Totally do-able for just a day trip or plan the whole weekend for a little getaway.  Too far? Check out Northerly Island for some snowshoeing.  Only downfall-there needs to be 3 inches of snow (at this rate you might be waiting a while).
  4. Run a Local Race or Find an Outdoor Event: One of the great things about living in the city is, there is always something going on. Fleet Feet has a list of all the local races in the area.  Sign-up for one and gain a little motivation to get your training outdoors.  Several of these local races benefit an organization or find creative ways to give to others in need.  Plus, you are joining together with people in the community!  Zoo Lights at the Lincoln Park Zoo and Christkindlmarket are just a few ideas for outdoor events.  Check local park district websites, as they always have the latest events going on and lots of kid friendly ideas as well!
  5. Morning or Evening Walk:  One of my favorite moments each weekend, is when Mike and I take our morning coffee walk.  It is a great way to get outside first thing in the morning and see what is going on in the neighborhood. Mike and I get time to talk and set some goals for the day.  Evening works too! Decide to walk to dinner, grocery store or fill-up some to go cups of hot chocolate and see where you end up!

Ecotherapy can also be referred to as,“green exercise," or simply activities taking place in nature.  Studies have shown that several benefits stem from activities in nature like, increased creativity and focus.  Being in nature leads to a better mood (yes please!) and improved self-esteem.  According to Peak Fitness, "One meta-analysis of 10 studies found that physical activity outdoors for as little as five minutes leads to measurable improvements in mood and self-esteem."  Just 5 minutes!  It can even improve vitamin D levels on a dark and gloomy day.  In another study, it was found that people exposed to 46 percent more sunlight after surgery used 22 percent less pain medication per hour.  Talk about healing power!

With all the stress life can throw at us, especially around the holiday season (just seeing a line in a hot store, gives me heart palpitations) it is important to take time to enjoy the little things.  Life can fill us with fear, but we have the choice to not hide under the covers and instead choose faith.  Choose to find the things to be grateful for, show compassion and be mindful of others.  It isn't always easy, but I hope these ideas can help you get outside and enjoy a little peace in nature, a way to adventure well.

“You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day — unless you’re too busy. Then you should sit for an hour.” -Zen proverb