How to Survive the Scandinavian Winter Months

After record-breaking heat this summer and a beautiful autumn season – it seems winter has arrived to Scandinavia. This isn’t my first winter in this part of the world, but the darkness always seems to sneak up on you. So far in November, Sweden is set to have the darkest November on record. We don’t have it as bad here in Øresund region as they do in, say, Tromsø or Luleå, but at the end of the (very short) day, the darkness and cold temperatures can be tough for everyone.

1. Acceptance

The dark winter months can take their toll on even the most jolly of characters. We all have heard of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a winter depression/chemical imbalance caused by lack of sunlight. The main symptoms are sleeping a lot, fatigue, craving for sugary foods, depression, and avoiding social contact. Scandinavians are taught about this disorder in schools, through their family, and by the government. Scandinavians are very aware of this disorder and have made preventing it a way of life. Winter SAD is not stigmatised in the Scandinavian countries, and preventative measures, such as light therapy, are commonplace.

2. Go Outside

Sometimes, the only thing you want to do in winter is snuggle up under a blanket to avoid the freezing temperatures and icy paths. Scandinavians know that this is one of the best times to spend time outdoors and get fresh air. We keep our windows closed during winter, and let the heaters run continuously. This atmosphere can make you feel sluggish. Getting out in the fresh air will energise you again.


People gather at Oslo Winter Park, Oslo’s largest ski resort.

3. get Fishy

In October, many people in Scandinavia prepare for the upcoming winter months by incorporating fish oil into their diet. Cod liver oil can compensate for the lack of natural Vitamin D and contains a lot of good omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin A, and vitamin D. You can also reap the benefits through eating more fish, such as herring and salmon. Additionally, the omega-3 fatty acids found in cod liver oil are strongly anti-inflammatory, and support cognitive and immune system function.


Herring is a typical Scandinavian winter dish.

4. Lights Lights Lights

When it gets dark before you’re done with work for the day, it is easy to feel like you are living your whole life in darkness. As soon as the sun sets, the candles come out – everyone’s apartment (including my own) turns into a fire hazard. I’m joking about that last part, but there does seem to be quite an appreciation for candles in this part of the world and it is normal to see windowsills filled with candles.

Candles are an important element for fighting off the winter blues.

Candles are an important element for fighting off the Scandinavian winter blues.

5. Safety in numbers

Safety in numbers doesn’t apply to just cycling accidents, it also applies to surviving the Scandinavian winter. This time of the year is an excellent opportunity to invite friends and family over for an evening of dinner, drinks, and good conversation. A feeling of “we’re all in this together” really helps to fight off the winter blues.

6. Hygge and koselig

Hygge and koselig are two words found in Danish and Norwegian respectively, but the concept is applicable to everyone experiencing the Scandinavian winter. They loosely translate to a cozy feeling, but that really covers a fraction of its nebulous definition. These concepts have been attributed to why the Scandinavians score so high in happiness rankings.

last resort: Go south

This seems like more of a “first world” solution, but when all else fails, plenty of Scandinavians head south for a bit of holiday in the winter. Thailand is a popular choice for those who can afford it – in terms of time and budget. However, plenty of destinations in southern France, Italy, and Spain offer warmer temperatures and a sunnier climate at a fraction of the cost and time commitment. You won’t be lying on the beach in Cannes during January, but the weather is much milder at this time of year than any place in Scandinavia. An added bonus: no crowds and off-season prices.

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Images from here, here, here, here.

Anna Guastello
25 Nov 2014

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