We’re sitting in those horrible ‘in between’ months where the weather’s set to get colder still, and daffodils seem a life time away. A tone is set for Blue Monday (20th January this year) and there’s no wonder a lot of us are left feeling a bit glum. Fortunately, though, we’ve taken inspiration from our friends up in the North of Europe on how to cope with winter and stay happy until the sun shows its face.
Take a spa day
As if you need an excuse to head down to your nearest spa, the Scandis take saunas very seriously – not least for their health properties including better sleep and cardiovascular performance. If you want to reap the rewards further, though, real locals take a dip in an ice cold lake or bath after sweating out any toxins which, apparently, helps to boost circulation which is good for the heart. This might not be an option in the UK, but it’s worth a try if you’re holidaying in Iceland or elsewhere in Northern Europe. And dunking your head in the cold Atlantic boasts similar health benefits.
Make your own glow
Dark winters are something Scandinavians have to get used to, with the Northernmost town of Sweden – Bjorkliden – seeing only two and a half hours of sunlight in the day during winter’s darkest months. Blue Monday (which is on January 20th this year) is the shortest day of the British year and an accumulation of the post Christmas, back to work, lack of sunlight blues, so despite not having quite the never-ending gloom that Northern Europe does – seasonal affective disorder (SAD) still affects a lot of us.
One remedy that we’ve adopted is a sunrise-simulating alarm clock. It wakes you up slowly and naturally with an orange glow that can last between 15-90 minutes. Short and sharp phone alarms will become a wonderfully distant memory.
Cycle to work
If you’ve ever been to Copenhagen, you’ll know their love of cycling means the majority of people living there cycle absolutely everywhere. The roads are awash with trendy Scandis on bikes who never seem to break a sweat on their graceful commute into work. And we’re not talking people in padded lycra on racing bikes – cycling in Northern Europe is mostly a gentle affair with minimal exertion. Of course, Copenhagen is completely flat so if you’re living somewhere hilly, or lacking in cycle lanes for that matter, swapping four wheels for two is easier said than done.
Some of our favourite travel moments have involved cycling into a brand new city. It’s a wonderful way to get a feel for parts of a place that you might not go to otherwise. Along with many others, San Sebastian and Zurich are made for cyclists.
Up your intake of rye and fatty fish
It’s easy to indulge in a little too much comfort food during the colder months, and we’re certainly not suggesting you deny yourself of good food (whoever said carbs are bad is very much mistaken), but one thing Northern Europe does rather well is bread. They usually opt for rye flour which keeps you fuller for longer and quells hunger more so than your average slice of a white supermarket loaf.
Scadinavians also eat plenty of fatty fish like herring, mackerel and trout which are full to bursting with omega 3s and antioxidants. Public Health England actually recommend adults eat two portions of fish a week, one of which should be oily/fatty, and this is because a lot of people have a low intake of omega 3s, which are important for loads of things including a healthy brain and heart.
By now you’re probably fed up with the term ‘hyyge’, which stems from Scandinavian tradition and essentially means taking pleasure, and deriving health benefits, from the simple things in life like brand new socks and cosying up by the fire. Another part of hyyge, though, that turns a gloomy winter’s day into something to be treasured and enjoyed, is atmospheric lighting. We’re talking lamps that emit gorgeous orange hues instead of stark white lighting, and tealights in pretty vases or candles that smell of cinnamon. You might call it an excuse for spending money on small luxuries, but we say it’s a surefire way of turning your house into a home; a place of comfort that blankets you after a long day at the office. You can’t go wrong with Neom’s calm & relax candles.
Get outside despite the cold
The Norwegian saying goes something like ‘There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes’. Scandinavians have to embrace the cold to stay healthy, which means layering up in order to go cross-country skiing or snow hiking. We’ve experienced Oslo in freezing temperatures and a thin coat simply does not suffice.
If you’ve got the right gear, you’re much more likely to get yourself outside. And if you’re running or walking at a pace that gets your heart pumping, your temperature will pick up relatively quickly. It’s worth supplementing your diet with vitamin D tablets between October and March, too. Even if you exercise outside regularly during those months, the sun’s UV rays are not strong enough in Winter for them to have the reaction on your skin that ups your levels of vitamin D, unlike in spring and summer. Vitamin D deficiency has been linked with low mood so it’s worth considering if you suffer with SAD.
The Swedish word ‘Fika’ means making time with friends or colleagues to share a cup of coffee. It’s British equivalent, ‘elevenses’ is similar minus the emphasis on socialising at the same time as drinking refreshments. The latter is the important part according to Northern Europe. Loneliness is well-known as being detrimental to health and a coffee break with friends is the perfect antidote. The Swedes usually pair a sweet pastry with their coffee, too, which we are more than happy to get on board with.
Feeling inspired? How about a trip to Iceland for the real deal? We’ve got plenty of advice on what to do there.