Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Beating the Wintertime Blues

Finland can be a tough country in the wintertime.  It gets extremely cold.  Below zero is the norm, and temps can reach to a frigid low of -25C where I live and as low as -40C in Lapland.

Days are short and nights are long and dark.  Here in southern Finland (Helsinki area), we get about 5ish hours a day of daylight, but in Lapland in northern Finland, the sun never rises!  On top of that, even when it is daylight, most of the time the sun doesn't shine.

Of course, one beautiful thing about wintry Finland is the snow.  It makes the night seem a little brighter.  Plus, I'd rather see clean white snow on the ground than yucky mud because it rains a lot. 

Being from a state in the US where we get more sunlight, warmer temps, and almost no snow, winter is specially rough on me.  I've even spoken to some native Finns who struggle during the winter.  And they've lived here their whole lives!

After spending the previous winter in Finland and am now in the middle of another, I've developed a few rule of thumb for handling the winter weather and the blues that sometimes come with it.
 Keep in mind, most of these I learned to do by doing the exact opposite and getting really depressed.

#1. Go outside everyday (preferably during the day)

This is extremely important.  Something about being outside just refreshes you, no matter if its warm or cold, light or dark.  I do recommend however that you try to go out during the day, and especially if its sunny out.  Seeing natural sunlight does wonders for the spirit.  Even if I have no class and have nothing that requires me to leave the house, I make a point to walk to the mailbox or walk down the street for a few minutes.  

Even if you miss the daylight hours, go out a night.  You will still notice the difference being in fresh air makes.

#2. Keep a regular sleep schedule

Here in Helsinki, daylight hours are few. Make sure you don't sleep through them!  I recently met an exchange student who was leaving Finland.  He was so excited to be going home because he had become severely depressed once winter set it.  After talking to him, I thought one of his biggest issues what that he had an irregular sleep schedule.  He stayed up really late at night and slept until early afternoon (around 2 or 3 pm).  The sun in Helsinki sets around 3 in the darkest of winter, and where the student was living (middle Finland) it goes down even earlier.  His sleep schedule made him miss all of the daylight hours!

#3. Time vitamin D

One of the perks we get from the sun is vitamin D, which boosts the mood.  Since there isn't much sunlight, one way to compensate is to take vitamin D supplements.  I take these all winter, whether its a sunny day or not.  Here stores also sell sun lamps and other various gadgets that give off this sort of "artificial sunlight".  I have not had to resort to using one of these.

#4. Exercise

Exercise is great for boosting those "feel good" chemicals in the brain, so it will pick you up when you are feeling low.  Plus, it's great for maintaining your fitness during winter when your body naturally wants to go into hibernation mode.

#5. Make time for socializing

Socializing with friends has a similar effect like exercise.  It produces "feel good" hormones.  Plus, it gets you out of the house.  It is all too easy in the winter to hibernate in your apartment and never leave.  Even if you can't see your friends, go out and be around people.  Sometimes, if I don't have class for a few days, I take a book with me to the local coffee shop to read, enjoy some coffee, and just be around people.

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