Colorado’s Wildfires: Why Those Gray Skies Might Be Making You Feel Blue
You step out your front door for your early morning run, only to blink away a smoky haze, cough a little, and retreat back into your house. You make plans with friends to meet at your favorite summer restaurant – you know, the one with the great patio – only to decide to eat inside, out of the 90° heat that shouldn’t still be present at 8:00 at night. Your hiking plans have been changed because the park you were planning to go to has been closed.
You’re not alone.
Many Coloradans have been feeling the effects of the wildfires this summer. We watched the news in horror as firefighters battled the High Park fire and cringed when we saw the photos in The Denver Post of the homes that burned to the ground in Colorado Springs. To say that this summer has been a little depressing around here…well….
That’s an understatement.
Some of us here in Colorado are no stranger to the Winter Blues. Our days are short and gray, snowy and slushy. We expect to spend most of the winter indoors (if we’re not out skiing or snowshoeing) and we’re okay with that, knowing that when summer comes around those blue skies and usually mild temperatures will bring us all back outside.
But not this year.
This year, we broke record temperatures and for a record amount of days. We’ve been trying to avoid a gray haze for weeks during a time of the year when we would normally be spending most of our free time outside. Many of us are spending as many hours inside, because of the heat and smoke, as we might during a series of winter storms in January.
And that may be causing us to have one of the worst bouts of Summertime Blues since Eddie Cochran introduced us to the concept in the 1950s.
“Stifling heat can cause depression,” says Denver-based counselor, Beth Patterson. “We’re cooped up when our expectations during the summer here in Colorado are that we will be outside and active. This can also make us feel out of control because we’re not doing what we would normally do at this time of year.”
And it’s not just about the heat. Many of us are on alert after watching what has happened in other parts of the state. We’ve all known that wildfires are a possibility, but many of us in urban areas assume that the threat is always at a distance. Watching large residential areas burn makes us all feel vulnerable and, these days, if we step outside and the smell of smoke is a little stronger than it was yesterday, we wonder if we might be next. This isn’t the first year we’ve been under a fireworks ban due to dry conditions, but it’s the first time in years that not even a sparkler could be purchased in the days leading up to the 4th of July.
That would be enough to make anyone “sparkle” a little less.
So what can we do? How can we cure these Summertime Blues?
- Identify the Problem: Not feeling like yourself lately? Try a little exercise in self-awareness and ask yourself why. Do you miss seeing blue sky? Do you have an underlying worry that your neighborhood is in danger? Sad that you haven’t spent as much time outside with your kids as you normally would in the summer? Are you just plain tired of smelling smoke? Sometimes identifying the problem can help you overcome it.
- Don’t Stop Being Active: If you would have normally taken hikes or walked daily, don’t let the heat stop you. You may just have to find an alternative. Sure, working out indoors when you’d rather be outside may not be as much fun. But stopping altogether won’t get those endorphins going. And that will only make your depression worse.
- Try Some Vitamin D: Studies have shown that low levels of Vitamin D may cause depression. Since we’re not all outside as much as we would normally be, we may not be getting enough. It may be time to supplement a little.
- Turn Off the Television: Yes, we all want to be informed. But don’t forget that many times your kids may be watching with you and frightened by what they’re seeing. It may be time to switch channels or turn it off altogether and do something as a family. Not only that, but watching the news every night, being inundated with stories about the wildfires, may not be doing you any good. “Pay attention to how you feel when you see these images,” says Beth Patterson. “If you feel like these stories are stirring up some deeper emotions, perhaps from a previous trauma, it may be time to turn off the T.V. and seek the help of a professional.”
- Rethink How You Entertain: During what would be my usual “peak entertaining season,” I have had hardly anyone over – mainly because it’s just not pleasant to sit out on the patio and have dinner. It’s time I bring the outside party in: Crockpot Pulled Pork Barbeque, floating candles in some mason jars on the table, and some cold white wine.
I’m feeling better already.
Catherine Tidd is a writer, widow and mother of three. She is the founder of www.theWiddahood.com, a free peer support website dedicated to anyone who has lost a significant other and has a Facebook peer support page under the name Widow Chick. She has been published in several books about grief and renewal and also writes a blog on anything that pops into her nutty brain called Bud Light Wishes and Cheeto Dreams.
Special thanks to Beth Patterson for her contribution to this article.