Dr. Anna Charbonneau

Therapy for people living with stress, depression, and medical conditions

Six ways to outsmart depression during the Seattle winter

by Dr. Anna Charbonneau | Tags: depression, emotion coping

Right now it’s December in Seattle. I am looking out the window of my therapy office in Queen Anne. It’s cold. It’s dark. It’s rainy. It’s enough to dampen anyone’s mood. And I’m thinking about depression.

Clinical depression is more than just low mood. But let’s face it, low mood is a major part of feeling depressed and the Seattle winter weater isn't going to help. When the sun is shining and birds are chirping, it can feel so much easier to get moving.

When it’s cold, dark, and rainy, it’s tempting to take one look outside and say “No thanks, world.”

It might feel easier in the moment to curl up into a ball and withdraw, but that is going to make your mood much worse in the long run.

So today I'm writing about ways to avoid sliding into depression when you’re living in Seattle in the winter.

One. Get the right kind of lighting going.

The science on whether full-spectrum light bulbs actually help with depression is still out. But on the other hand, full-spectrum (or Seasonal Affective Disorder—SAD for short) lights are cheap on amazon. The standard recommendation is to sit facing the light for 20 minutes. It's fairly low cost and low effort to get a SAD light set up going, so if it might make you feel better, why not go for it.

Besides that, finding a lamp or lighting you love can make a big difference in how you feel. Find and use lighting that makes you comfortable. Many people love the soft white light of christmas lights, which are also cheap and easy to set up. Good lighting doesn’t have to be expensive. But good lighting also doesn’t come automatically with your home or office. Taking 30 minutes to sort out your lighting can boost your mood throughout the tough winter months.

Two. Get outside when there is a cloud break.

There is no replacement for actual sunlight and fresh air. Seattle is at a higher latitude, so that means during the winter our sun is a bit weaker. Still, though, fresh air and blue sky can be rare.

When you peek out your window and see the sun—head outside for a quick break and walk around the block. If it’s warm enough, you could even grab a book, journal, or cup of tea and sit outside for a longer break.

Three. Try out a steam room or a sauna.

Changing up your environment can help prevent boredom and low mood. Spending some time in a warm steamy environment can be a lovely way to warm up and give your body and mind a break from the relentless dark drizzle of Seattle.

Many gym memberships include steam rooms and saunas. And on that note…

Four. Exercise—make yourself hot and sweaty.

Unlike full-spectrum lights, there is a crystal clear answer on whether exercise helps depression. That answer is a huge YES. Exercise can help lower symptoms of depression in people who are already depressed (source). Exercise keeps you healthy and provides a nice mood boost. If you’re doing hard and challenging work, then you’ll likely get an even bigger boost in confidence, too.

What kind of exercise is best? That is for you to decide. Everyone is different. Find a physical activity that you love. Find something that brings you joy. Do you love running on a treadmill? No? Then don’t do it! This is not about ways to add chores and misery to your day. This is about finding ways to bring health and joy into your life.

Walking, swimming, running, hiking, biking, dancing, martial arts, racquetball, indoor volleyball, yoga, snowshoeing, skiing, snowboarding aerobics at home. Is jazzercise still a thing? I think so. There are nearly limitless possibilities, especially if you live in a big city like Seattle.

Find something physical you enjoy doing that gets your blood flowing and your heart beating faster. Do that four or five times a week.

Five. See a play or concert.

Getting out of your regular routine to do something fun in the evening can also boost your mood and prevent depression from setting in during the winter. Do you have a favorite musician or artist? Find a concert, art gallery showing, comedy show, or another event that gets you of the house and feeling good.

Bonus points if you either make new friends at the event or bring a few friends with you. Good social support and staying connecting can fight off loneliness. Staying connected is a good way to keep your mood from sliding downhill (assuming you have good friends, of course). If making good friends has been hard, you can check out my articles on building good relationships.

Six. Make your home smell good.

You can also keep your mood up by making your house smell good. Do you like that christmas smell? You can boil cinnamon sticks and cardamom to get a warm, homey smell going. Or light some scented candles. Keep this to a minimum in the workplace, though, to avoid aggravating people who might be sensitive to scented items.

Make a plan

None of these strategies are going to stop a slide into depression by themselves. But string a few together, a few weeks in a row may really help push you back in the right direction. Making a few new winter habits to stabilize your mood can make a difference and help you pull through the rest of this Seattle winter in good form.