Brooklyn Botanic Garden Hosts 'Chase Away the Winter Blues' Tour

Free, hour-long walk, led by a social worker, aims to show people the merits of getting outside, even in cold weather.

Chilly air never stops Lynne Spevack from walking outside. In fact it spurs her on.

The 53-year-old clinical social worker strives to get out during the year’s coldest months because doing so provides her relief from the “winter blues.”

“Winter blues,” refer to dips in one’s energy or mood that can happen during the coldest and darkest season of the year, says Spevack. In her practice, she specializes in the condition as well as non-medication approaches to relieving anxiety and depression.

Spevack isn’t the only one coping with seasonal mood dips. At least half of all New Yorkers have some type of winter blues, she estimates. Seasonal affective disorder, or winter depression, represents the most severe end of the “winter blues” spectrum, Spevack says.

Two antidotes to the winter blues are to get into the fresh air and to exercise, Spevack suggests. So for the past four years, she has been championing her monthly “Chase Away the Winter Blues” guided tour at the .

“People don’t think of coming to the Botanic Garden in the winter time,” Spevack said, “so I think it’s kind of fun for me to show them around and say ‘look at all these really cool things. You can have fun here in the winter too.’”

One Sunday a month from November through March, Spevack, also a veteran tour guide at the garden, provides a narrated, hour-long tour of the Garden’s Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden for whomever shows up for it. The next one will take place on Sunday Feb. 6 at 1 p.m.

In addition to the winter blues, the February tour also focuses on the differences between eastern and western gardening styles. Traditional western gardens are more symmetrical and colorful, while typical eastern gardens are more asymmetrical and subdued in appearance, Spevack notes.
Those who participate in the tour tend to represent a cross section of New Yorkers, Spevack said. They range in age and reason for attending. Some come because they are interested in learning about the winter blues, while others attend just because they relish time in a natural setting. The number of people participating on each tour varies from month to month, ranging from one to 40, Spevack says.

57-year-old Katherine Patton, a vice president at JPMorgan Chase & Co, who lives in Prospect Heights, took her first “blues” tour in January.  There were over 20 others who joined her for the tour, she recalled.

In the spring of 2010, Patton had major reconstructive surgery on her foot and ankle which severely limited her mobility for four months. By January 2011 she had recovered, but the blues started settling in again as she faced her final reconstructive surgery (scheduled for next week).

“I just thought it (the tour) would literally help me chase away the winter blues as well as other blues,” she said.

When the tour concluded, “I felt very good,” Patton said. “I felt uplifted by it.” Patton is also a volunteer weekend guide at the Garden. She said that after the tour was over, Spevack offered to speak more personally with participants about problems they were facing with winter blues. While she didn’t, a handful of other people stayed to talk to Spevack.

It took years for Spevack to get inspiration to offer guided winter tours.

Although she had been leading tours through the Garden for over 20 years in the warmer months, she never considered the winter tour until one day four years ago when she was out walking by herself.  She saw freshly-minted rabbit tracks in the snow.

“And that sort of inspired me one day to realize that instead of walking around here alone, I could be taking people on a tour and walking around with a group of people showing them what’s really fun and beautiful about the winter garden,” she said.

During the tour, Spevack gives out handouts about the winter blues and how to cope with them.  According to her handout, you may have the winter blues if during the winter you: Experience a dip in your mood or energy, sleep or eat more than usual, feel like you have to push through things that once felt easy to do find you are avoiding social or leisure activities, feel lazy or like you are procrastinating, are not thinking in as sharp and quick a manner as you generally do.

If you are feeling blue Spevack suggests: Getting outdoors, arranging your indoor environment to maximize natural light, getting enough sleep (most adults need about eight and a half hours of sleep, she says), avoiding stimulants like caffeine and cigarettes, eating more foods with omega-3 fatty acids such as flaxseed oil and salmon. Omega-3s have been found to have a beneficial effect on mood, she notes in her handout.

“I hope they’ll learn something about overcoming winter blues,” Spevack said about the tour. “And ... how to feel good throughout the winter.”

Those interested in taking Spevack’s February 6th tour should meet in front of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s Visitor Center at 1 p.m. No reservation is required.


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