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Look north for winter wellness

An article about Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

If the sun is needed for life to exist, then that explains why so many of us currently struggle to even get out of bed in the morning. Winter brings us many things: fluttering snowflakes, carol singers, and the warming scent of cocoa. It also limits our sun exposure so much that they had to give the soul-crushing negative impact its own name.

Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, occurs when winter hits and the sun only lights the UK sky for as little as six hours per day. If you work in an office, you’ll know this means travelling there and back in dreary darkness, during a season that feels more like a never-ending night. 

When the gloom of SAD descends, symptoms include depression, low energy and a lack of creativity. But the glow at the end of the tunnel may actually be a northern light. 

Arctic sections of Finland, Norway, Greenland and other freezing Polar territories have literally no sunlight – at all – for up to three months in winter. Due to their geographical position, this also means a corresponding season of uninterrupted daylight in the summer (I can’t recommend visiting the Lapland region in July – when you can sunbathe at 3am – highly enough!).

The culture in these far-north lands is largely a response to extreme solar shifts. Inhabitants fortify themselves against the lights going out, with traditions and a hardy mindset we can all learn from. 

In Scandinavia, people live with some of the darkest, longest winters, yet are consistently ranked as the happiest people in the world. Scientist Kari Leibowitz, of Stamford University, moved to the Norwegian town of Tromsø, 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle, to study this. She described the mindset as: “People view winter as something to be enjoyed, not something to be endured.”

In what seems like an inversion of the way most of us view the year, a dark winter can actually be the happiest of all seasons. The coldest months are when Scandinavia dazzles, with the vibrant aurora borealis colouring the sky above silent, stretching snowscapes. And while that may not sound anything like the drab December scene outside your front door, there are seasonal Scandi secrets you can adopt to stave off the winter blues. 

Embrace the dying light by becoming as “outdoorsy” as possible. While northern folk get active with long-distance skiing and sleds pulled by huskies, you can hop on your bike for a brisk ride round your local park. It’s all about getting the most out of the precious light.

And once the sun goes down, those in proximity to the pole have more creative ideas. “Hygge” (pronounced “Hoo-ga”) is a Danish or Norwegian word for an ideal mood of cosiness, comfort and contentment, created by a snug atmosphere when sheltering from sub-zero weather. There’s no direct English translation, as we don’t have the same extreme blackouts to fight back against, but Brits can channel it to shut out the darkest UK days.

Knitted, chunky throw blankets and candles should adorn your living space, to achieve this nourishing atmosphere of wellness. Add oversized sweaters, thick socks and a flickering fireplace and hygge will be achieved.

Yes, there are those with winters much harsher than ours, so it makes sense to borrow their soul-warming answers. Then, when you emerge in spring, you’ll be stronger for surviving the season and ready for a rebirth of creativity. 

This post was written by Declan Harte. Declan is a journalist and author, and is driven by his passion for creating a safe and healthy platform for those with mental health conditions and disabilities. In his spare time, Declan is a wonderfully committed volunteer on Be Extra’s Marketing Team.

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