Clever Ways for Handling Darker, Shorter Days

Written by Susan Helmick, Graduate Assistant for the Graduate College 

UC students walking on campus on a winter day

The shorter days and longer nights of winter can often bring about feelings of gloom, doom, and a desire to hibernate for many people. However, it is possible to master the art of thriving during the darkest days of the year, even in the challenging period posed by the transition of Daylight-Saving Time. Instead of chasing the ever-elusive sun, give these simple tricks a try for managing dim days and cold nights.

Let There Be (Sometimes Artificial) Light: Make your indoor living spaces brighter by opening your curtains and blinds during the day to let in as much natural light as possible, and position your work or study space near windows, if feasible, to make the most of the available daylight. When natural light wanes, light therapy, or phototherapy, which involves sitting in front of a specialized lightbox that emits bright, full-spectrum light, can help mimic natural sunlight, regulate the body's internal clock, and reduce symptoms related to SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) – but be sure to consult with a healthcare provider for guidance on the proper lightbox and duration of use. And when all else fails consider candles. Candles can transform a room's ambiance to positively influence your mood. Scented candles, like lavender or vanilla, are known for their calming and stress-reducing properties. Speaking of…

Hygge Your Home: "Hygge" (the Danish word for coziness) is a cultural and lifestyle philosophy associated with Denmark and other Scandinavian countries that has gained popularity around the world. Hygge encompasses a sense of well-being, warmth, and togetherness and is often used to describe the feeling of finding joy in simple moments. It's a concept that Scandinavians have elevated to an art form. Don't just sit in the dark; create a warm and inviting atmosphere by surrounding yourself with blankets, soft pillows, and a good book. Wearing comfortable and casual clothing, such as sweaters and warm socks, is also a hallmark of the hygge mindset.

Retain a Routine: With the time change, your sleep schedule might be disrupted. Stick to a consistent daily routine, including regular sleep patterns. This can help regulate the body's internal clock, improve mood, and ensure the right amount of rest, which is vital for overall well-being (and graduate studies). On the other hand, consider taking advantage of the earlier sunrise by waking up a bit earlier to make the most of the natural light in the morning, which can boost mood and energy levels. Whether switching or sticking to a routine, the key is consistency – shift for the season, not just a day.

Eat a Balanced Diet (When you Can): Comfort food is a necessity during long winter nights and indulging in warm, hearty dishes is like a bear hug for the culinary soul. Consuming a diet rich in whole foods, including fruits, vegetables, and foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, also offers mood-enhancing effects. But it’s best to avoid eating too many sugary or processed foods that can lead to rapid spikes and subsequent crashes in blood sugar levels. These fluctuations can result in mood swings, irritability, and fatigue, leaving you anxious or moody. But what’s the holiday season without cookies and cake? Though it can be challenging, designating certain days or occasions for treats, and sticking to healthier eating on other days can help prevent overdoing things at seasonal spreads. Gifting sweets or sharing them with family, friends, or colleagues can also reduce (or at least disperse) the temptation. If holiday desserts are simply a festive fundamental, regular physical activity can help offset extra calories and boost mood. This brings us to our last recommendation…

Get Outside (Yes! THAT Outside!): Despite the darkness, don't let the winter keep you cooped up! Staying active during the winter is an important part of maintaining overall health and well-being. Whenever possible, spend time outdoors during daylight hours, especially in the morning. Even on cloudy days, natural light exposure can be beneficial. Embrace outdoor winter activities if you have access to them, such as winter sports or simply taking a walk in the fresh air. Too cold? Explore indoor exercise options like joining a gym, participating in fitness classes, or doing home workouts. And be sure to stay connected with friends and loved ones. Social support can provide emotional comfort and reduce feelings of isolation.  

Winter doesn't have to be a gloomy affair. With a bit of planning and the right mindset, you can make the most of the season, whether it's by savoring crisp, sunlit mornings, creating a warm and inviting sanctuary at home, or enjoying the unique activities that winter has to offer. The clocks may have turned back, but you have the power to positively push ahead, and before you know it springing forward into daylight and longer, warmer nights again. Replace with your text