To know if you are having a little winter depression creeping in on you, try to answer these simple questions: Do you feel like the sun has abandonned you? Because it’s always dark when you go to work or to school, and still dark when you go home. Are you sleeping more than usual, feeling like you could stay in bed until Spring comes? Do you feel more comfortable with your waterbottle, your tea and your new best friend: your TV, instead of with real human beings that you have to talk to and be nice to? Do you want to have a girl/boyfriend, anyone, just to keep you warm until the sunshine is back?
All of us living in the Northern Hemisphere of this planet, and especially closer to the Arctic circle, like in Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Russia, but also Alaska and Iceland, have a good chance of experiencing a winter depression. What is winter depression? A local mix lack of sunlight leading to Vitamin D defficiency, no energy, sleeping too much and feeling down and a little depressed (medically it’s called Seasonal Affective Disorder, you can check it out). The first good news is that it goes away eventually when your body gets the sun it needs. The second good news is that there are ways to deal with it. The bad news though, is that winter is far from being over. Actually it just started, so you might as well drop the hibernation plan (i.e. sleep until spring, some animals like bears do that) and cheer up. There are many ways to survive your winter depression.
First set of ideas to combat winter depression: learn from the locals, i.e. the masters from the North. In Norway and Denmark they use what I call SAS (and that is not an airline). It stands for Sex, Alcohol and Syden. Usually one gets really sad and needing physical contact with another human being in these dark, cold months. So unless you already have a nice girl/man in your bed waiting for you with chocolate cookies and a cheeky smile, one tries to find all possible ways to get laid. You could therefore go to bars and hook up with strangers to get temporary comfort through sex, as most Scandinavians who aren’t in a relationship do during the winter to fight their seasonal depression. Or try out with someone you know, like for example with an ex. It gets more complicated than a one-night love but you know, you do what you gotta do to get healthy.
The second one, alcohol, is also pretty obvious. You could get insanely drunk every Friday and Saturday oh and also Thursday evening also called “little Friday” and enjoy the beers and the negative temperature in Oslo, Copenhagen or St Petersbourg. Why do you think Christmas parties were invented in December? Comfort through booze.
Third, “Syden” (“the South” in Norwegian), i.e. traveling South for a few weeks, once or twice or the whole winter. To somewhere warm and sunny where you can get a nice tan and brag about it: South of Spain, Thailand, Croatia or some Carribean island. Some also chose to go to some fancy skiing resort in the Alps, or to their “summer house” on the Côte d’Azur where all Scandinavians who can afford it spend their winter months. There you go, more Vitamin D and self esteem already!
I know all this sounds a bit trashy, but think about it. In places like Tromsø or Alaska, the sun doesn’t even come out for 3 long months…can you even imagine that? Of course for someone coming from a tropical place, where there are only two seasons: warm and wet, and warm and dry; and where the sun consistently goes up at 6am and goes down at 6pm, a standard European winter is already hard to get through, with its negative temperatures, grey sky and 5 hours of daily daylight.
Winter depression doesn’t usually come at once, it comes slowly and take you over like a sneaky octopus. First the rain, then the change of time in October, and then before you know it winter is there and it’s going anywhere for a long long time.
Remember that anyone can experience a winter depression, even locals. We all need the sun. It is proven that those who eat a lot of fish, especially fishliver, are less prone to get winter depression. So start yourself on high dosis of codliver oil as soon as October, and eat a lot of fish. The fishoil will give you the vitamin D and Omega 3 you need to feel better (capsules are also available, it does taste a bit gross). Physical exercise will also give you the kick you need to have more energy.
After having learnt from the locals on survival techniques to fight winter depression, you can now get to the next stage. Instead of fighting against it all, you enjoy the winter to combat the depression.
Yes, it is dark and cold outside, and you have the feeling it would be better for you to stay in rather than go out, and you are wrong. You need to get good winter clothes (if there are negative temperatures involved you will need wool) and get as much sunlight as you can get while it’s there. You can indulge in outdoors activities that give you a little sunlight you need, like skiing, sledging, ice-skating, bikini-skiing, bear-hunting or igloo-building. Then get cosy when you are inside. Inviting people in your house can be an idea, making parties, inviting good friends or making new friends (see another blogpost How to Make Friends in Norway). Don’t forget the alcohol and the candles and the good food (aka making things koselig).
Last but not least, you can do a full Nordic integration and become like them: in Scandinavia, many people just close themselves like oysters from October to March, and open up again (socially, emotionally etc.) when the sun is back. So you could decide, like them, that this seasonal depression is part of your personality and that you’ll stop being cranky and sad and mute when the sun and the warmth are back. If you live in Scandinavia that kind of attitude can be considered completely normal.
Finally, you can sit tight for a few months and survive on hope. The hope that, eventually, spring, sun, and everyone’s smiles will come again (and one day it will, I promise).
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