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Coping With the Long Game of Short Days

Daylight savings time until the shortest day of the year, December 21, is less than two month stretch of time. To me and many here in Minnesota, it feels like forever.

The days get progressively shorter, and many of us leave home before the sun comes out in the morning, and return home after it’s gone down. The shorter days didn’t bother me so much when I was younger and through my college years, but once I started a big girl job and was in an office each day the lack of sunshine and fresh air during this time of year started to really get to me.

That first winter after college was really terrible. I was tired all the time, super irritable, and felt blah on good days and pretty hopeless on bad ones. Even with an office with a huge window with lots of natural light I was out of sorts. I realized if I wanted to be a working adult in Minnesota during the winter, I needed to be intentional about how to deal with effects the more than average darkness was having on my mental health.

After much experimenting, I have a solid list of things that help get me to December 22, when the days start getting longer bit by bit, and out of the winter blues into spring.

Go outside, even when it’s dark

I think when people hear “Winter is terrible for me”, they assume it’s because of the cold. The cold can be unpleasant for sure, but for me it’s the lack of time outside that gets to me rather than the temperature.

Discovering this made me feel a bit hopeless at first. How can I go outside when it’s dark all the time? Easy. Go out in the dark. So obvious, but it didn’t occur to me that if I go running after work all fall, spring and summer long, I can go running after work in the winter too, even though it’s dark. I ordered a reflective vest and headlamp from Amazon and hit the road.

I thought I would feel a little unsafe running in the pitch black, but I don’t at all. I realized my neighborhood functions pretty much the same, just dark. I see lots of other well lit people out running and walking too, and people who drive by still wave. Being able to exercise outside all year long is a life saver. It completely relieves me of the “cooped up” feeling short days can cause, and for that I am very grateful.

Be aware of how temperature affects you, both inside and outside

This seems such a small and petty thing to focus on, but it makes a big difference for me. I don’t like being too hot or too cold, and being uncomfortable due to temperature really impacts my mood and my ability to focus. Again, I feel so whiny and petty admitting this, but it’s the truth.

I make sure to always have what I need to be dressed appropriately. This means doing what parents and grandmothers have told you to do since forever - DRESS IN LAYERS. Or at least have the layers handy.

I always massively bundle up so I won’t get cold walking into work. I wear my dorky (super warm) snow boots and bring my nice work shoes in a separate bag. I always have mittens and a big scarf, and I get great use from the bulky hood on my jacket. I look like a burrito about to make a mountain trek, but at least I don’t start my day off shivering!

The building I work in is over 100 years old, so the temp varies day by day. I, along with several other people, have a work blanket (fleece pashmina scarves or wooly ponchos) and extra sweater handy for then the office gets on the chilly side. I even have a pair of fingerless gloves stashed away somewhere just in case. I usually run on the warmer side, but it’s nice to be prepared so I don’t end up sitting at my desk cranky and shivering.

Sleep, sleep, sleep

One of my favorite lines I’ve ever read is from Tom Rath’s Eat Move Sleep:

Sleep is a treasure, and it should be valued as one.
— Tom Rath

It’s important to get enough sleep all year long, but this time of year I pay special attention to getting to bed at a decent time and making the most of my mornings. In the summer, I naturally start to get sleepy and want to get ready for bed when it gets dark out. When it gets dark at 4:30 in the afternoon, I lose track of time and before I know it I’m exhausted and should have gone to bed two hours ago. This makes mornings hard, which makes whole days seem long. Ugh.

I’m always fairly strict about my bedtime routine, but this time of year I follow it religiously. I know I’ll feel happier and be more like myself, and I’ll be much easier to be around for everyone else if I get enough sleep and show up to whatever is happening each day well rested.

Combat loneliness with connection

Do shorter days feel lonely to you, too? Because it’s so cold and dark, it’s easy to just stay inside and be a hermit. Now don’t get me wrong, I love a good hermit day every now and again, but a whole season of cancelling plans is bad for even my introverted psyche.

When I’m feeling blue, I reach out to a friend I haven’t talked to in a while with a text or phone call. I’ll go visit my grandparents, or write someone a letter and hope they’ll be delighted to get something in the mail. Sometimes even throwing the frisbee in the yard for my dog is enough to boost my mood. The key is to not let the lack of daylight isolate you. There’s still lots to do, even if it’s been dark for several hours.

If this time of year has you feeling really low, go get help. The season is too long and the years too short to be feeling lethargic and blue. I hope you enjoy the winter months no matter where you live. And if you live somewhere cold and dark, remember that winter can be really beautiful, too!


Questions: Do you love winter, or spend the colder months wishing for spring? What gives you a boost when you’re experiencing the winter blues? Do you have a work blanket?

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