Here in Scandinavia, at higher latitudes, we face a major drop in sun exposure for months, that really hits in November. The most sensitive people experience the first winter blues symptoms due to reduced light already in September. We see nature going into hibernation mode, and we would like to join the club. What should you do, when you are having low energy, feeling tired all the time, getting annoyed by small things, and you would like to just eat and sleep?
Winter blues is not the same as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), but a milder form of SAD without the actual diagnosed depression. The symptoms of winter blues are similar to the symptoms of SAD, just mild or moderate. The specific symptoms emerge due to darker days, and include sleeping more than usual, fatigue, low energy, craving more food, especially starches and sweets, and weight gain. Winter blues is common at higher latitudes such as in Scandinavia, SAD on the other hand, is not.
I can’t remember the exact moment, when I realized I’m affected by winter blues. But I have noticed that my winter blues have intensified year by year. It’s a schoolbook example of winter blues: I feel the most fatigue first time in November, December is a bit better, January hits hard again, and by March winter blues starts fading fast. During the darkest days, working inside in a dark office without a break outside, makes my winter blues a million times worse.
I have tried and tested many things to help myself survive the Scandinavian winter. Today, I am able to focus on my work and manage my weight also during the dark times. These are the ten best tips to combat winter blues – straight from the darkest but happiest country in the world, Finland!
1. Light therapy
A bright light therapy device is your best friend during the winter days. According to research, a consistent light therapy treatment has a positive effect on winter blues symptoms. At higher latitudes, you should start light therapy already in October, and have light exposure early in the morning. There may be side effects such as headache or dry eyes. I use a light therapy device Innolux Rondo Led. Light therapy treatment should be adjusted to each person.
2. Daily dose of exercising outside
Try to go out and exercise every day. Consistent moderate physical activity helps with winter blues symptoms. It’s hard to exercise when you are having low energy – try doing what is easy for you, maybe walking half an hour? If possible, go outside in the middle of the day. Going outside in the evening is still better than nothing.
My easy exercise is running, but I may still use a couple of hours just to get going when it’s cold and dark outside. Getting outside is difficult but rewarding every time. Give yourself a high five for doing your best.
3. Try limiting carbs
It’s easy to say that avoid eating chocolate and sweets, when you are craving starch and just wanting to cuddle a soft blanket at the sofa. But eating more carbs makes you even more tired. Try to think something else to do or eat. Peel some carrots ready to your fridge and keep apples and mandarins on your table. When your brains tell you to eat candy, take a five-minute break outside – brains may forget the candy. Repeat as many times as necessary.
Maybe you don’t feel like having cold salads during winter, but you could try mixing something warm like grilled fish into your salad, or just warm up the whole salad. Basically, avoid high blood sugar, as it makes you feel worse.
4. Cold swimming and ice-swimming
The Nordic classic! Cold swimming and ice-swimming are good to your body and soul. The hardest part is just getting yourself going, but if you can push yourself a little, you will be rewarded. Cold swimming gives you energy and makes you sleep better. It may also boost your immune system.
5. Cut all unnecessary things – JOMO
Do only things that you have energy for. Joy of Missing Out is a great approach to life during the winter season. Don’t take any additional tasks, and don’t try to manage the same bulk of things than in the summer. Stress increases fatigue and makes your sleep worse.
As an introvert, social situations strain me, and an introvert with low energy gets even more loaded. I spend more me time during winter focusing on things I really like. But if you get energy from spending time with people, why not hanging with friends more? Make yourself cozy and comfortable – whatever feels good.
6. Change your sound and color atmosphere
Are you one of those people who are easily affected by music? Then toss away all your sad and melancholic playlists and play anything that cheers you up. My play list to fight winter blues consists of cozy cafe jazz and Christmas jazz, and Pharrell Williams Happy type of cheerful music.
And if you are used to dress in safe black, why not trying bright red or happy yellow clothes? A little bit of make-up makes wonders too, even if you were just working at home.
7. Adjust lightning at home
Candles and soft light belong to the Scandinavian hygge living but may cause you to yawn more. Put on more lights than usual instead. Electricity is expensive right now, luckily the days are getting longer already in January!
8. Not too much red wine and mulled wine
The festive season is just around the corner. So is red wine and hot mulleted wine. Along with the drinks goes easily lots of ginger breads and cheese. Remember the carbs? Alcohol also makes the quality of sleep worse, and makes you feel more tired. Try drinking mineral water, chai or ginger tea, and vitamin C rich hot black currant juice. Don’t feel guilty, if you like red wine and mulleted wine better.
9. Dive into vitamin sea
We get vitamin D from sunlight, which means no vitamins during winter in the Nordics. I take vitamin supplements. In addition to vitamin D, I have vitamin C and Zinc for strengthening immune system, vitamin B to have more energy, and iron to keep my iron levels in balance.
I was diagnosed with low ferritine and serious iron deficiency in Spring 2022. Iron influences hormones and has a major role in energy levels. Both iron deficiency and winter blues are more common in women than in men.
10. Be kind to yourself
Love the small things and reward yourself every day with something special (not with chocolate or french fries). For example:
- go to bed an hour earlier than usual
- change luxuriously soft linen to your bed
- ditch a semi-important chore and go to a beauty salon instead
- make an outdoor trip to beautiful nature – try snowshoeing or cross-country-skiing in beautiful winter landscape
- immerse yourself in planning the next summer backpacking or road trip
- start a new knitting project even if you haven’t finished the current yet
- tell yourself that you are good enough also today.
Come up with more ideas to make you happy!
Disclaimer: I’m not a medical professional, but I’m living in the Nordics and I’ve been suffering from winter blues for many years. These are based on general research open to everyone and my own experiences. If you are depressive, please contact a medical professional.