Monday, January 19, 2015

Surviving a Scandinavian winter's darkness

Sankt Eriksbron  |  Surviving the onset of a Scandinavian winter's darkness on afeathery*nest  | http://afeatherynest.com
Much as Sweden's summer threw me for a loop, the arrival of winter has as well. Now rather than feeling forced to remain awake later than I'd like, I find myself forced into a lethargy brought on by the early creeping in of the darkness.

Not only does the sky take until 8:30AM (later if it's a cloudy day) to finally get its act together and start lightening, but by 2:30PM it's already darkening again and then the afternoon and evening just stretches on endlessly. The Christmas decorations have just come down, too (in Sweden Christmas ends on the 20th day after, so: January 13th), meaning their twinkling presence and shots of energizing red can't help to light up the darkness anymore, and now it seems harder than ever after the gaiety of the holidays.

Even though the winter solstice was a few weeks ago, meaning every day since then has had and will continue to have have a few more minutes of sunlight until the summer solstice, I thought it'd be better to list a few things that have helped me "survive" (in quotes because it's just before 9AM as I'm typing this and I'm already yawning) to make sure I remember to do them:

+ Follow the clock, not the sun: This perhaps took me the longest to get used to—living according to the sun's loop is no longer an option when it's only out for 5-6'ish hours a day. Especially since I'd be sitting at my desk studying or working away and suddenly notice how dark it was outside, to which I'd respond to by yawning, stretching and padding into the kitchen for a glass of wine since the day was over. Except it was always something like 3:03PM. Now mind you, I'm not thoroughly opposed to daytime drinking (hello, brunch), but that can't be happening every day! Not only was I having trouble getting anything done thanks to my shortened work/study day, but your first glass of wine so early leaves many, many hours before bedtime and one glass of wine isn't going to be enough.

+ Be consistent: This time of year a routine will be your best friend. Having a schedule that doesn't require much thinking brings a rhythm to your days and I found it helped me move through the darkness with more ease. Although completely rote is no fun, so plan outings and fikas and whatnot (even just a Netflix night!) so you have something to look forward to (and to keep you awake).

+ Get some daylight for the soul: After 6+ months of taking Vitamin D I can't say I've really noticed a difference at all, which is good and bad. Bad because, well, I probably should have felt a difference so either I have a bigger problem with using Vitamin D or perhaps I didn't purchase the right product, and good because I can't pretend that a little gelled pill is cutting it and I have to get myself out of a chair and outside for fresh air and actual sunlight (which isn't always so "sunny" up here, hence "daylight"). This is something I've prattled on about before, but I like reminding myself because it's so easy to stay inside cocooned in comfy clothes with candlelight playing off the walls when I know that even though the hurdle to getting dressed is so high, I always feel better after taking a walk, whether to get groceries or just fresh air. Plus, that's the only time I can capture Stockholm's beauty these days.

Bellevueparken, Kungsholmen  |  Surviving the onset of a Scandinavian winter's darkness on afeathery*nest  | http://afeatherynest.com

+ Strike a match: My obsession with lit candles year round comes very much in handy now. Not only are they cheery and cozy for your psyche, but also useful with their warm, glowing circles of light. Hoard tapers, pillars, tea lights: you'll need them all.

+ Stock up on greens for the blues: This is the same regardless of what hemisphere you find yourself in—winter weather calls for strengthening, energizing greens tangled with garlic and spices. Followed with lots and lots of oranges, pinks, reds, and yellows (eat whatever citrus you can get your hands on, too!).

+ Go fishing: True, I have an advantage living in the Nordics now, but seriously, have some fish (or take some vitamins) on the side of your plate of greens. People don't harp on about this as a huge conspiracy—at least I don't believe so, since I do find myself feeling a bit perkier if I've had some oily fish (speaking of, it's actually been a few days...).

+ Enjoy the season: There are few things I love more than wandering aimlessly around a city. Even if I had a car or a Vespa, or if I have a fully-loaded public transit card (in addition to Cleo), my first choice for getting around is always walking. Better still when I can just walk with no destination in mind. I've gotten to know Stockholm so well this way, and I've noticed so much more, too. More than you can notice if you're hurrying somewhere, buried in your phone, or navigating tricky intersections from the saddle of a bicycle. While I walk all year long, there's something special about it to me now, when I can crunch through the snow and appreciate (even more!) Stockholm's colors against the often colorless sky, and see its decorations and visit its Christmas markets.

But enjoying the season can just as easily be done inside, too. It's cold and dark out: light a few extra candles, bake some cookies and snuggle on the couch (this is the time of year I indulge in a yearly re-reading of the Anne of Green Gables series). Or meet friends in a cozy cafe and have lots of spiced rum and hot toddies and glögg (or hot chocolate...with a drop of something from the bar)—might as well, no?

Karlsbergssjön / Karlbergskanalen, Kungsholmen  |  Surviving the onset of a Scandinavian winter's darkness on afeathery*nest  | http://afeatherynest.com

+ Say "no" (sometimes): Contrary to the last item, though, don't always say yes to everything. It's easy to overextend yourself, especially around the holidays (and when you're new to a city and feel the need to experience all your "first's" as soon as possible), and that's when colds and flues and wheezing coughs hit. Take it easy...sometimes.

+ Raise your temperature: Nothing will make you feel better about the cold and darkness if you actually always feel cold. Get the right underthings and outerthings so that every moment spent outside isn't done so in misery. It'll help you enjoy this time of year (and get some much necessary activity in) if you're comfortable. For all my previous winters here I never had a proper, Scandinavian-worthy coat. I had long wool coats that served to a certain temperature, and shorter puffy ski-type jackets that worked if the wind wasn't blowing, but finally after my trip to NYC (and it's non-25% sales tax), I have a long, Swedish-winter-suitable coat and it's made such a difference.

And of course I can't mention warmth without suggesting the healing powers of a few hours spent in a spa and indulging in a sauna and steam.

+ Scrub away the blahs: With the cold weather outside and heaters running full speed inside, and the desire for a hot-as-can-be shower, your skin takes a beating this time of year. And when it feels bumpy and scaly, you (or at least I) feel a bit yucky in spirit, too. Get (or make) some nice scrub, preferably in a warm scent (vanilla, honey, chocolate, etc.) and give yourself a good once (or twice) over in the shower every week so you feel comfortable in your own skin (maybe that's where the saying came from?).

+ Challenge yourself: When I first began knitting again as an adult it was most definitely because I wanted to stop working at a computer all day–first in the office and than pottering around online at home after dinner. I wanted to create something tangible, too (as my work is all idea based). But now that I think about it, I also began in late fall—I think I also wanted to give myself something new to learn to keep me busy and engaged as the season sloped down towards darkness. (Another homegrown theory: maybe that's why we make New Year's resolutions?)

Karlsbergssjön / Karlbergskanalen, Vasastan  |  Surviving the onset of a Scandinavian winter's darkness on afeathery*nest  | http://afeatherynest.com

+ Count down to spring: If you don't already have a home filled with greenery and flowering plants, get some. And while you're out, grab something you can grow from a bulb. Watching the little wavy brown scraggles take root and slowly, slowly grow a stalk and then bloom will help you mark time until spring comes. Plus, there's something so satisfying about watching a root come to life and burst into color and scent.

Anything else you do to keep sane and happy this time of year?
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One year ago: The last stitch 
Two years ago: Winter oil concoction &
Embracing a gray Sunday &
Joining the EU

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XOXO,
J.