With the extended warm and dry weather Oregon has been experiencing, it is tricky to remember that our generous daylight hours are slipping away. The local garden store warned residents in poem form: “Hello darkness, my old friend, soon you will be here at 4 pm!” Shorter days are often interpreted as increased gloom, but that does not have to be the case! Here are some helpful tips and tricks to bring light and joy into the darker days ahead.

Artificial Lighting

There are some locations on the globe that have acclimated to a lifestyle of extremes, living about half the year in endless sunshine and the other half barely seeing the sun at all. There have been multiple scientific studies on how decreased natural light can negatively affect mood, energy levels, food relationships, and personal motivation. This is called seasonal affective disorder (SAD) or winter depression. Periods of little-to-no natural light are typical in Scandinavian countries such as Iceland and Finland, yet these places consistently rank within the top 5 happiest countries on Earth! This is largely thanks to their avid support of hygge (hue-guh), a lifestyle concept defined as a space, object, or moment that is enjoyable, pleasant, and inviting. Achieving hygge during the darkest months depends entirely on warm, balanced lighting. Step away from the strong, cool, blue lights of modern technology, as they are known to cause headaches, eye strain, and trouble sleeping! By adding a few low-energy rope lights under cupboard ledges, on support beams, or along walkways, a home radically changes from cool and dark to warm and welcoming. There are plenty of natural-light lamps flooding the marketplace today, which offer help typically attached to a hefty price tag. Bringing warm light into a home does not require a thick wallet! Purchase a multipack of plain tea lights from the discount store, scatter them safely around your living room at different levels, and relax on the couch by candlelight. If you have the option, light up the fireplace! This type of low-level, ambient lighting efficiently counteracts SAD symptoms and encourages feelings of comfort and peace. Rather than flipping on all the bright overhead bulbs, find subtle ways of incorporating hygge-style lighting in each room of the house as the natural daylight hours slip away. If the winter blues are a serious problem in your household, it is crucial to prioritize healthy routines and make room in the budget for light-therapy items. UW Medicine’s article on winter mood boosting has extra guidance and support for those who suffer during the darker seasons.

Healthy Routines and Thoughtful Schedules

Commuting to work in the dark just to drive home in the dark is something no soul looks forward to. Still, maintaining a consistent routine for each family member is important for overall health, no matter what season it is! Even when the sun does not rise as early as it used to, it is wise to keep a reliable friendship with the alarm clock. Increased dark hours often trigger a hibernation response in humans, meaning they become less active, stay indoors, eat more, and sleep more. As summer activities fade away, isolation sneaks into the schedule. These factors create a volatile combination that slowly erodes morale if you are not mindful! If you or your kids have acclimated to frequent social activity, find ways to continue that pattern into the colder months—transition from splashing in the river to splashing in the pool. Find local groups of common interest and stay involved. Pull out the board games instead of flipping on the television. Make weekly social dinners a priority. Plan outdoor activities whenever the weather allows. Try not to let that defeatist attitude slip in, remembering that thoughtful clothing choices and a balanced schedule can make the colder months equally as pleasant as the warmer ones! While the excess dark hours may tempt you to cancel plans, crawl back into bed, or grab too many donuts, remember that these choices will only exacerbate depression symptoms. Having consistent check-ins to source and fix imbalances in daily habits or routines is an essential duty of a high-functioning family. Staying accountable to goals always works better in a team! Physical exercise, connections with loved ones, and positive sleep hygiene are solid building blocks for a successful winter.

Embracing the Darkness

Many people spend too much time lamenting what they cannot do in the dark versus examining what they can only do in the dark! Here is a brief reminder of a few things the darkness offers. When the clouds cooperate, this is an excellent season for stargazing. More dark hours means more chances to see and learn! October 20th-21st heralds the Orionid meteor shower, November 8th is a total lunar eclipse, and November 17th-18th is the Leonid meteor shower … so Oregon is not nearly finished with the glorious night sky shows! If stars are not a huge family interest, what about games? Many classic games like hide-and-seek or capture the flag can take on a whole new level of fun when played in the dark! Assuring the playing area is safe for after-hours fun, try new spins on old favorites like freeze tag by making new rules or utilizing glow sticks and noisemakers to communicate through the darkness. Look at this article to explore more options for games in the dark, and remember that something as simple as a glow-in-the-dark football is a great starting place! You ask, what other things can be done to get the most out of extra dark hours? Tell spooky stories. Have a bonfire. Play an instrument. Do some improv poetry. Turn on some music and dance. Search for nocturnal creatures like owls or bats. Try some yoga or hula hooping. Make shadow puppets. Darkness does not limit opportunities for fun unless you enable it to! 

Reaching Out for Help

Sometimes the dark seasons can become overwhelming, especially for those who may not have strong support systems or struggle with pre-existing mental health conditions. It cannot be said enough that there is no shame in reaching out for help! Oregon maintains constant resources for different Behavioral Health Services, one of which is a crisis line with call, text, and chat options. We should all do our utmost to check in and offer care to those who are lonely or at risk, keeping in mind that sharing a warm meal with pleasant company can make a vast world of difference to lingering clouds of doom and gloom. It is no small coincidence that humanity’s biggest holiday events centering on thankfulness and generosity are during the winter months! Make daily efforts toward inclusion, encouragement, and motivation during this season of darkness, and communicate quickly and clearly if there seems to be a severe mental health situation. There are those who wish to help, such as Oregon Suicide Prevention, so those struggling have options and are never alone.