6 Ways to Brighten Your Day When It Gets Dark Earlier

It's winter for six months of the year where I live, and this is how I plan to survive. These ideas might help you channel your inner sunshine too.

Published October 14, 2023
woman sunbathing in winter

Every autumn starts out pretty and bright, but about the time "fall back" happens, things can feel a little bleaker. When it starts getting dark earlier this year, there are a few ways you can combat the blahs.

I live in Minnesota, and I'm not even joking when I say that winter can be half the year. The cold is definitely a challenge, but for me, the lack of daylight can be an even bigger deal. This year, I'm planning to take an intentional approach and have better days, even if they are a little shorter. Here's what I'm doing to combat this downside to the change of seasons.

1. Make Time for Morning Sunbathing (Inside)

woman sunbathing inside home on bed

If you're a cat owner, you've probably seen your feline friend lounge in a spot of sun on the living room carpet. It may seem a little weird, but there's no reason people can't do that too. Sure, we don't have time for feline-level laziness, but we can spare 10 minutes to sit in the sunshine. This is actually a powerful form of self-care, and 10 to 15 minutes of morning sun exposure can make a big difference in energy levels and even how we sleep later that night.

My plan? Try to snag 10 minutes of "me time" in the sun near a window or in my car every morning. I figure it doesn't have to be totally unproductive either; I can answer emails or check homework while I'm doing it if I want.

Quick Tip

When does it start getting dark earlier? How dark depends on where you live, but many people really start to notice the shorter daylight when we set our clocks back in early November. That's when it feels a lot darker in the evening.

2. Ditch the Sunglasses

I wear sunglasses anytime it's bright, but a few studies suggest that wearing them in winter might actually set you up for seasonal depression. This is an area that needs more research, but it's an easy thing to try to brighten your day when it starts getting dark earlier. The idea behind this potential solution is that the sunglasses can block the visible light reaching your eyes and potentially contribute to feeling blue when you're getting fewer sunny hours overall.

It's bright where I live, especially when there's snow to reflect the sun, but I'm planning to wear my sunglasses a little less often this fall and winter.

Need to Know

Although many of us just have the "winter blahs," there's an actual name for depression that comes on when it starts to get dark earlier and there's less sunlight: seasonal affective disorder (SAD). If you think you might have it, it's worth talking to your doctor about strategies that could help.

3. Get Outside in the Middle of the Day (When Possible)

father and toddler son exploring nature

Listen, I live in a place where the winter temps can drop to -20 degrees Fahrenheit and the windchill is bad enough to give you frostbite. I know there are days this winter when I won't be able to safely spend a lot of time outside without a ton of gear. That said, I'm going to try to get out whenever I can.

Even just a few minutes outside may make a difference, especially if it's in the middle of the day when the sun is highest in the sky. Even if you're bundled up against the cold, you'll be out there moving and breathing fresh air. If it works for your schedule, a short lunchtime walk could help.

4. Stay Warm Even When It's Cold Out

Woman wearing Brown scarf with beanie and gloves matching

While you're getting outside, though, make sure you're staying warm. Some research indicates that being cold can actually negatively affect your mood (anyone who has fought their spouse over the thermostat knows what we're talking about). The amount of sunlight might be the thing we notice, but feeling cold could be part of what's responsible for those winter blahs.

This winter, I'm planning to utilize as many strategies as I can to stay warm enough. These are a few to try:

  • Invest in a warmer coat and other winter gear.
  • Buy a small space heater to keep near your desk, living room chair, or reading nook.
  • Use hand warmers and foot warmers when you're outside.
  • Dress in layers with sweaters that will keep you cozy.

5. Bring on the Artificial Light and Firelight

Woman with headphones reading in living room with fireplace

The sun may be going down earlier, but that doesn't mean it has to be dark in your house. In the mornings and evenings, brighten your day by turning on artificial lights and lighting candles or your fireplace. It's not sunlight, but it will chase away those shadows and help you feel warm and cozy.

Some people turn to artificial full-spectrum lights as a treatment for seasonal depression. If you feel like the winter blahs have a serious impact on your life, talk to your doctor about the most recent research on these therapy lights.

6. Reframe Winter to Have a Better Day

The words we use and the way we think about things can have a huge impact on how we feel. That's way easier to see in other people (I can spot it a mile away in my teenager) but a little harder to recognize in ourselves.

This year, I'm going to try to use different words to talk about winter. I plan to lean into the coziness and play that up when I talk about the season. I'm going to try to focus on the moment instead of counting the days until spring.

Brighten Your Day With a Combination of Strategies

There are lots of ways to brighten your day when it starts getting dark earlier, and chances are, you'll use a combination of them. You can even change it up depending on the weather and how you're feeling. Even just the act of trying something to help may make you feel like you're taking an active role in feeling cheerful and energetic during the dark and chilly months of the year.

6 Ways to Brighten Your Day When It Gets Dark Earlier