Brunswick resident Heather D. Martin wants to know what’s on your mind; email her at

Well, here we all are. The holiday season has peaked, and now we are slushing and sliding into the new year. How are you holding up?

The question might sound flippant, but I mean it. Winter is hard and while the holidays, with all of the lights and the “making merry” and whatnot, are intended to make the long, cold stretch easier to bear, it would not be unheard of for someone to have the exact opposite experience.

Lack of sunshine combined with a heavy dose of Hollywood-inspired expectations of family time that are nearly impossible to match with reality – well, that is a recipe for a crushing sense of failure, or depression. That is real.

If you, or someone you know or care about, is experiencing seasonal depression or thoughts of self harm, don’t ignore it. Please. There are numerous resources out there to help with depression (seasonal or otherwise) and the national Suicide Prevention Hotline is one of them. Dial 988 to connect with a professional who can help.

For those just feeling the stress of the season generally, get yourself some fresh air.

Wintertime festivals make sense. From an evolutionary standpoint, I mean. The cold drives us inside more and more, the darkness means we have to find something to do – it is inevitable that feasting would ensue. From there it is a short skip to dancing and general revelry, and why not bring the outside in as decoration?


I approve of all this. I think it is how we get through. I love to pull in some evergreen boughs to scent the air and – wait, is this where the term “sprucing the place up” comes from? Hmm, Merriam-Webster says not.

Bringing trees, or tree boughs, inside has a long (pagan) history (no pine trees in Bethlehem), but what really interests me, though, is that thanks to modern science, we can link up this tradition with actual improved mental health.

Well, sort of. That is, if we use the tree as a symbolic reminder to go hang out with actual, live, still-growing trees.

Being out in nature is intuitively a good idea. However, there is some quirk in our culture that requires more than intuition. We demand data. We require studies.

Well, OK then. Studies we shall have. Lo and behold – the studies reinforce our intuitive knowledge that time in the woods is good for us. Really, really good for us. The dedicated, mindful act of going into the woods to, as Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “lose yourself in nature and find peace” is well established in many cultures. In Japan, they coined the captivating term, “shinrin-yoku” which translates to “forest bathing.” How cute is that?

According to articles on the World Economic Forum and Word Forest, walking in nature really does lower stress. Naturally, some folks out there have developed guided meditative walks, and by all means go for it if you want. But science says you don’t need to do anything fancy. Just get out there, ideally for at least 20 minutes at a time, and walk in nature. That’s it.

Lucky for all of us, we live in an area resplendent with woods. Many towns have done an exemplary job establishing nature preserves and creating safe, well-marked trails throughout for all of us to use.

So, if the stress of the season has you feeling a bit frazzled, take a cue from our holiday decor and go immerse yourself in the fresh air and walk among the trees for a bit. Spruce up your day. It will do you good.

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