How do you stay sane during Cascadia’s dark, wet winters?
When I first moved here, I got some great advice that I completely ignored. It was logical, sure, but it went against deeply ingrained biases. When I finally started heeding it, though, everything about our 9-month rainy season changed for me.
But let me backtrack for a minute.
There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with hunkering down during the cold, dark and wet of winter. It’s supposed to be a season of turning inward, of the hearth fire. If your people come from anywhere but the equator, you’re physiologically wired to balance the bustle of summer with the slower pace of winter. It’s normal to be sleepier, to be less energetic, to hibernate. It’s the world around us that demands we behave differently. Slowing down in winter isn’t necessarily a disease.
But for many American living closer to the poles, winter weather means winter blues.
The official definition of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is clinical depression that also includes a component of seasonality accompanied by excess fatigue, overeating, oversleeping, weight gain and social withdrawal (“hibernating.”) It’s a problem when it gets in the way of doing the things you want and have to do.
If the winter season hits you especially hard, know that there are tools that can.
To address SAD naturally, there’s one thing I recommend people buy that unlocks access to scientifically and clinically validated treatments that are free and available on your own schedule.
My No. 1 prescription for SAD:
Yes, rain gear.
That means not just a rain coat, but also rain pants and footwear that will similarly keep your feet dry. (I wear a baseball cap under my hood to keep raindrops off my glasses.) As someone on the Internet recently said, there is no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing.
When I first moved to the Pacific Northwest, I just couldn’t get myself into rain pants. It reminded me too much of outfits that led to grade-school bullying, and those lessons were profound ones. But I also love being outdoors, and for much of the year here that means dealing with rain.
One day I was hiking in the Oregon Coast Range in the rain. The trail was largely sheltered by the trees, but the understory was saturated. I was wearing winter outdoor wear for a different climate: flannel-lined jeans. It wasn’t terribly cold out, and the hike kept us relatively warm.
After a while, though, moving became more and more of a chore. Because I wasn’t just carrying my pack and body weight, but also a heavy, sodden pair of cotton pants. It really sucked some joy out of the experience of being out in nature.
I bought rain pants after that, and it’s made all the difference. Wet weather is no longer a thing to fight. One of my favorite feelings is moving through the cold and wet while feeling warm and dry. Bonus: rare solitude at popular hiking spots.
Once you have rain gear, you’ll have immediate access to both daylight and nature — both shown to be powerful and free treatments for SAD. Nature in daylight also translates into exercise, the most potent anti-depressive prescription at any time of year.
If you get the winter blues, I hope this article helps. To get more personalized recommendations, click the button below to schedule an appointment.
— Dr. Orna