Seasonal Depression: Things That Help Me During the Dark Months

Posted on November 22, 2023 at 6:00 am

By Savannah Stewart

The changing of the seasons brings delight with bright colored leaves against a blue sky and the smell of earth as everything starts to decompose in a pleasant way.

Unfortunately, this time of year also brings something that I dread—and it isn’t the cinnamon-scented pinecones and brooms that appear at stores (although these are no fun for someone with an allergy to cinnamon).

No, the thing I dread this time of year is the darkness. Because with that darkness, seasonal depression is coming to wreak havoc on my life. If you are unfamiliar with seasonal depression or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), it is a type of depression that usually appears during the fall and winter months when there is less sunlight available each day.

Fortunately, over the years, I’ve learned a few things to help keep the worst of my seasonal depression at bay. Here’s what helps me.

Note: The following should not be taken as medical advice. If you think you may suffer from SAD or another form of depression, please seek medical advice before making changes to your diet, supplements, or medication, and before implementing any therapeutic devices.

Light Therapy

I have a happy light, and I recommend looking into using one and seeing if it is a good fit.

You may think, “How much is this light going to actually help me?”

I received one as a gift last year and it made such a difference. I had more energy and felt hopeful after using it regularly. To illustrate how well it works, let me share with you what happened right after I first got it.

I left the new happy light on the dining room table and then went to bed. I woke up the next morning to find the dining room illuminated with a super bright light and my partner super wired.

I asked him how long he had been sitting in front of the light (they recommend starting with 15 minutes per day to ease into it). He said most of the morning. The man was acting like he had 5 shots of espresso, and he excitedly told me that it was “as bright as 1,000 suns!” 

New this season, you can check out a Day-Light Lamp from the Library of Things collection.

Vitamin D

Are you getting enough vitamin D in your diet? We live pretty far north, so many of us could be vitamin D deficient. Your medical professional can order a lab test for you to check.

I’ve found that a good vitamin D supplement can do wonders for my energy and mood during the dark months. And during the rest of the year too, actually.

Get Outside

This is a big one—even when the weather is icky and you would much rather hang out inside your blanket burrito and scroll the internet.

Bundle up and get outside! Just 10 minutes a day of outside walking will do wonders. Try to be present when you’re out there. Look around. Notice the trees and birds and the sky.

I like to make it a ritual by bringing a cup of tea or coffee with me on a walk.

For an adventure beyond your neighborhood, you can check out a Discover Pass Backpack and head to some Washington State Parks. It’s free with your in-district library card.

Try a New Hobby

Fall and winter are the perfect seasons to get cozy and create something with your hands.

It’s so satisfying to do something different with your hands besides typing on the computer or playing on your phone. I’m a very tactile person, so being able to play with different fabrics or textures is important. I tend to lean towards crochet or knitting. A great place to start exploring your options is on this OverDrive booklist filled with handmade projects waiting to be tried.

Cooking and baking are also great to try with your hands during the cold months. The library has some online World Cooking classes happening in 2024 with local chefs. You could try a new recipe while learning about the culture of the dish.

I suggest picking something you’ve always wanted to try and diving in. If you have an in-district library card, you can choose from hundreds of creative classes on Creativebug. The how-to videos are amazing and will have you crafting in no time.

Go Big with Gratitude & Delight

I know it can be annoying to have seemingly happy people tell you that the road to happiness is being more grateful. Guess what? Here I am, a slightly depressed, anxious person telling you the same thing.

I sometimes get bored with the usual, “What are you grateful for today?” question that we should all be asking ourselves. Instead, I tend to lean into the question “What are some things that delighted you today?”

I think being delighted and being grateful aren’t very far apart. Plus, it’s easier for me to get to delighted than grateful. The littlest things work for this approach.

My feet were cold, and I put them under a soft blanket. Amazing! I looked outside and heard the raven that lives in the neighborhood. Incredible! I had a bite of a chocolate chip cookie and the ratio of ingredients was perfect. How marvelous!

All it takes is a brief moment of noticing and noting it to yourself to find these small delights.

Read Books

You can really go any way with this—books can take our minds to many places.

I have to be careful what I read during the bleaker months because I enjoy true crime and thrillers and those can go to some dark places.

Nonfiction can be exciting because I usually learn about something that gives my brain a bit of a workout in an invigorating way. New information tends to get the wheels turning and my mind humming. For books about mental health, meditation, gratitude, yoga, QiGong, prayer, and exercise, you can peruse this list on OverDrive: Mental Health Matters.

I can also read a fantasy novel to escape to another world—those moments of living in the author’s imagined world can be engrossing.

Browsing the library’s catalog to find books that may bring you joy can be an enjoyable activity in and of itself (though sometimes also overwhelming with all the possible choices).

If you feel like you’ve read every book by your favorite author or you’ve exhausted the genres you love, consider trying Book Butler, the library service that does the browsing for you.

With Book Butler, you spend less time looking for a good book and more time reading one. You fill out the form sharing what types of books you’d like to read, including any past favorites or ones you disliked, and then a librarian chooses three to six titles that fit your interests. You may discover a new favorite author or a book that you might not have found browsing on your own.

Getting Help

If you are really struggling and nothing is helping, you may need more than a walk outside and a happy light. And that’s okay! I know it can get scary when that happens, and it’s even scarier to admit that something may be wrong.

Chat with a trusted person, a professional, and/or check out this blog that offers crisis resources and national and local helplines. It is always okay to reach out and ask for help.

One size doesn’t fit everyone when it comes to seasonal depression, and I don’t pretend to have all the answers. My seasonal depression symptoms usually lift after doing these things. And if they don’t, then that’s a sign that I may not be dealing with SAD and need help from a medical professional.

Knowing your triggers and how to help yourself takes time to figure out, and it’s not easy! I find solace in friends and loved ones who have been here too.

Also, beware the cinnamon-scented pinecones…

Savannah Stewart, communication associate at Spokane County Library District

Savannah Stewart
 is the Communication Associate with Spokane County Library District. She enjoys spending her time reading, hiking, traveling, and eating delicious food, including the homemade pizza her partner makes. To relax, she meditates, practices yoga, and snuggles with her kitty Zelda.

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