winter blues

Living in Finland: Fighting seasonal blues

It is that time of the year again when the dipping temperature and the falling leaves bring back the same sinking feeling we are all very familiar with. The bad feeling worsens after the colourful autumn makes an exit because the weather is always gray. There is something in the weather that makes us all lethargic, motivationless, and even depressed. So it is very true that Autumn and Winter-time depression is a serious thing and it can actually hamper our overall well-being.  Sometimes, the moodiness intensifies right before Spring as people can hardly wait for the brighter days to arrive and as always waiting is the hardest thing to do.

This may not be the case in every place but in the places located pretty far from the equator (and especially here in Finland) have harsh and drastic seasonal changes which can cause severe depression. The lack of light and sun can leave one feeling very irritated and even physically sick. In extreme cases, such conditions can lead to seasonal-affective disorder (SAD).

I remember very clearly the day of my arriving in Finland for the first time on a very depressing February evening and being unable to see the sun for a quite a few days at a stretch. Over the period of next 3 weeks, I was a bit enveloped in sadness as the weather and all the changes in my life had played their part in making me feel that way. It was not so bad but in my boredom, I went ahead and penned down a sad post about this feeling of ‘everything upside down’. The post was published somewhere and it took a lot of efforts to convince my husband that this had nothing to do with him or our new life. Looking back, now we laugh about it as it was only the weather!

But in case, such feelings persist, what should we do?

I have read innumerable blogs about this topic (SAD) and this is not a very new thing to discuss but a long chat with my friend today made me realize that it is very important to know how to combat these changes so that it doesn’t spike up our anxiety level to the extreme. One moment you are perfectly fine and suddenly you are wary of your surroundings, possibly feeling hopeless and lost.

The good thing is we are not alone. Almost everyone feels the same way. The bad thing is, if everyone feels the same way, this has to be taken seriously but we don’t.
But every morning no matter how dull we feel, we have to show up at work or for whatever commitments we have. Not to mention, the sickness that comes with the changing season makes it more difficult to go on with our daily chores.

Here are a few ways how I have been tackling that sinking feeling over the past 3 winters. These days, these are the things which are helping me in showing up every morning at school even though it is very hard to concentrate and feel energetic. I hope you have your own techniques to get past this phase but, for the time being, I thought of sharing mine.

Monitor the physical signs:

First of all, I do not ignore the physical signs which point out that my body might be needing some Vitamin D. It is no secret that the deficiency of Vitamin D can lead to various health problems including depression. Thus, it is very important to know the symptoms first. Bone & back pain, fatigue and hair loss are a few of the symptoms that should be taken as strong signs. Fortunately, it is not very difficult to cure such deficiency. So if the weather is rainy and grey, All I have to do is to load up on the vitamin by taking tablets and eating foods that help in increasing the intake of it. For me, salmon works. Also, it makes a nice comfort meal.

Be outside:

Even though I am not much of an exercise person, I think, physical activity is a must in winters. Even if the gloomy weather asks me to stay indoors, I make sure to take some fresh air and move some muscles. Besides, isolation can only increase the sense of hopelessness. Simply go for a walk in the park helps a great deal. But I have been procrastinating about going to the gym for a while now and it is high time I materialized my plans. Having said that, I just realized the word ‘Procrastinate’ appears a lot in my posts which is definitely not a good thing. Note to self: stop procrastinating and get things done instead.

Winter wonderland Helsinki

Travel or discover new things:

I travel if possible. With some planning and a little bit of effort, one can always get away to someplace sunny and if that is not possible a little autumn feast out in nature can do wonders to the tired mind. Last winter, I managed to visit Rovaniemi, Lapland and even though it is not a sunny place in winters, meeting our very own Santa was indeed a happy kick. Or weather permitting, I plan a little picnic with friends just before the winter arrives and when the snow arrives I get out on a self-guided tour around the city. Because you never know what you are going to discover. Every time I am out on my own, I discover new things even on the ever familiar route.

Read all about my trip to Rovaniemi here.

winter blues

Add warmth:

I add colours to my environment. So don’t cringe at the sight of my neon-yellow sweater as it keeps my spirit floating in these dark winter days. Also, I like to bring some warmth to the living room when I don’t see it outside. Some lights, some candles here and there, a new lamp, and even some colourful cushions: the mood is not so dark anymore. The Christmas feel doesn’t have to wait till till Christmas. For me it starts with the India festival of Diwali when I put up some lights and never take them off till new years eve.

Get creative:

This one is my most favourite. After the sinking feeling of my first winter in Finland had passed, I bought myself a camera and there has been no dull moment. So what I am trying to say is, getting a new hobby is important and even this very blog was the result of the same goal.  Besides, having a hobby is the even more important in wintertime. Ask me how taking picture help me and I would say that it helps me to concentrate so that it doesn’t take away my focus from the good things in life. However, if I may be honest, when one feels depressed, one doesn’t feel like taking up any hobbies. The idea is not to push yourself but to try seeing things from different perspectives so that some amount of interest can be awakened.

Cozy up:

I find myself cozy places to hang out. Be it the neighbourhood library (Because in Finland they have an excellent library system with amazing architecture) or a cozy coffee shop, I just get out and spend hours people-watching. Recently, I have discovered a new kind of place. This secondhand book-store come event place in Helsinki is the ideal place to be on a winter evening. A warm place with warmer people is what we need to lift our spirits. Or the best thing to do is get inside a sauna and forget all the worries. If I am willing to spend some extra bucks then I fancy going to a day spa where soaking in a warm pool feels like the only good thing in life.

Be excited for new things:

Create anticipations and be hopeful for anything new. Every year, I eagerly wait for my annual home-trip to India. In moments of sadness, I dream of those warm and sunny winter afternoons when I will be sitting down with my family outside the house. I anticipate happiness and start counting days from the very beginning of Autumn. The hope of seeing those familiar faces  again keeps me going. But even if the trip does not happen, I will  find something to look forward to.; perhaps, some more travel, a new job or some new adventures.

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