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21 December, 2019

December in Sweden: 12 things I do to survive the Swedish winter

Do you like December? I admit it’s not all doom and gloom, it has its moments. But let’s face it, if you have opened this article, chances are that somewhere deep inside you find it challenging, as I do.

(Or maybe not so deep? Maybe you wear it on your sleeve. Like I do some of the time)

Natives will complain about December as much as we outlanders do. Admittedly, I come from Russia, where winters are definitely colder and just about as dark (for the record, the Siberian city I come from is about the same latitude as Copenhagen. So, south of here). But I struggle None. The. Less.

So what’s the problem with December? I’m sure each will have their own list, so here’s mine:

Cold

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Nothing for a Siberian like me, but wearing all those layers and thinking through the logistics of tights, socks, and which shoes? A thin dunjacka and a water-resistant jacket, or a full-on winter coat? Can I wear a dress with these boots? Will my ears freeze off if I don’t wear a hat? Will my hairdo survive the hat? Will I boil to death if I hike for forty minutes in this? And if I dress lighter, will I freeze if later I have to wait for the bus (in the winter always late, cancelled, or rerouted)?

Darkness

Yes, it’s nice and cosy if you are sitting it out surrounded by candles in a bubble-bath, but it’s scientifically proven (please google it if you don’t believe me, although I’m sure you do) that it’s bad for you. Not the bath – the getting up, the going to work, the coming from work (if you are one of those nine-to-five people) in darkness.

The ending of the financial year

You need to close those accounts and pay that VAT. Where is that panic button?

If you are a parent: the tantrums

There’s no way in the universe I can put that snowsuit on my kid without one. Every day. Four times a day, fifteen minutes each. One-sixteenth of my waking life. But whatever your child’s age is, as long as it’s younger than 18 (years) – you have to manage someone else’s crisis on top of and in addition to yours.

The flu

And again, for parents: that vinterkräksjuka, the winter vomiting bug. Nice.

With a pretension to scientificity, here is a little programme of December-tackling which I am trying to systematise after a lot of trial and error. Feel free to add, subtract or adjust.

Part One: The body

Yes, it comes first, because we inhabit, in the first place, our bodies. You can try to pretend it doesn’t matter, but only for a little while. And then you are heading for a burnout or illness.

Sleep

Eight hours per night, every night. And more, if needed.

Eat

On-time, breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Healthy: yes, it’s ok to stuff yourself with lucebullar and pepparkakor, washing it all down with varm choklad. But not every day.

My personal definition of healthy food: anything prepared from predominantly raw ingredients which have been pre-processed as little as possible. But that’s me. I guess we all know (by a certain age) what food makes our bodies truly happy in the long run.

Exercise

The word ‘gym’ makes me shudder. I never go there. If you are one of the lucky gym membership holders – good for you. If you are like me: walk. At least an hour, in good shoes, fast, and preferably during the hours with daylight.

Put your stylish Casall yoga mat on the floor (a little cotton IKEA rug works too), and just do whatever stretches you can think of. If you can smuggle in a few yoga asanas, the better. Who said you’re doing yoga? An asana or two don’t count.

Vitamins

Even if you are sceptical, take them just in case. Omega 3 is the key to eternal life, according to my husband. The only ones I ever take are those which are entirely food-based, not synthetic ones – but I don’t know, maybe those work too.

Light

See ‘exercise’. If you can take that walk when there is some (alleged) daylight, do it by all means.

Observe your body – and mind

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As soon as you notice the first signs of fatigue, depressive thoughts, or a cold creeping into your throat – take action. Don’t wait. Shut everything off (yes, including Netflix) and take an extra couple of hours of sleep. Make a giant dose of fresh ginger tea (just grind the ginger on the grinder and put in hot water. Enjoy with honey). Take echinacea (it’s a good idea to stock up on some echinacea drops in Apoteket).

The key is – do it as soon as the very first symptoms set in. And to notice them, you need to be aware of yourself.

Just relax

And I mean it. Chill on the sofa, lie around with a book, and while you are doing it, enjoy. Don’t think about point 3 on the list above of what’s wrong with December. Or any other point on any other list, really.

There is a scientific explanation for the importance of this tip. If we are lying on the sofa thinking of different lists and points, our sympathetic system is running, releasing adrenalin into our body as if we were hunting or running away from danger. So we get no extra points for that. Only a waste of time. And if you find it difficult to switch off your mind when you are trying to relax – read on.

Part Two: The mind, the soul and all the other non-material (or partially non-material) dimensions

Since you live in Sweden, you must have heard of seasonal depression. The steps above are crucial for preventing it, but they may not be enough.

Meditation

I never thought I would say these words: I am paying for a meditation app. After having tried for years, on and off, including Vipassana here in Sweden (read all about it here) I finally fell this low. Guilty as charged: I use a meditation app. And I have to say, it should be called Charm, not Calm, because it works like one. I admit complete and absolute defeat.

If meditation is really not your thing, there are millions of things you can do to hold yourself above water.

Go somewhere scenic

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What? In December? Just be like the locals: there’s no bad weather, only poor outfit. So gear up, grab your thermos and take a boat/bus/hiking trip… somewhere. Sit alone on a rock, looking at the sea – or bring some company.

You need to dig out that Viking in you at some point, so why not at the darkest and coldest time of the year?

In the summer, it’s all too easy, and therefore doesn’t count. Just remember to do it when there’s daylight – and take some pictures.

I do this nearly every day – I take a 40-minute walk along my beloved Edsviken. Perhaps you have your own favourite spot? If you really have no idea, go to Artipelag.

You don’t need to spend money on exhibitions or fika if you don’t want – just go for a walk there and bring your own picnic. It takes a while to get there by bus, so make it a day trip for it to be worth the commute time, but it’s strangely satisfying.

Umgås (socialise!)

RSVP ‘yes’ to some of those Lucia fika invitations. If you are anything like me, chances are all you want to do is to crawl under the blanket (and you should some of the time – see ‘Sleep’ and ‘Relax’ above). Yet it’s also a good idea to venture out and meet some human beings which are just as light-deprived and desperate for a holiday as you are.

Swedes really know how to do it: create a low-key, friendly, extremely cosy and beautiful atmosphere at the darkest time of the year. It’s one of the occasions where the usual barriers are lowered, and you can actually feel a bit more part of a community.

Go to a concert

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Treat yourself to some live music in your favourite genre. It instantly gives an extra bar or two to the nearly flat December batteries.

(We recently went to hear Björk. My husband hates her, kind of. However, thank heavens her concert turned out to also be a climate campaign, featuring his favourite, Greta. Next morning it was all over his Instagram feed.)

Take a class/workshop

In anything. Make your own Christmas wreath, paint, bake Lucebullar or learn how to write a spoken word. Nothing boosts one’s confidence more than learning something new. Taking on a challenge to expand yourself a little.

Waiting for a perfect moment to try something new? Newsflash: there won’t be one. Do it now.

Go dancing!

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My husband probably hates flamenco, too, by now, because it has become my obsession (which has increased his babysitting hours… Can there be a better father-and-son bonding opportunity than mother disappearing in a dancing studio for hours on end?).

For this article not to spill over a few dozen pages, I will probably write a separate post about it (in the meanwhile feel free to have a look at something I’ve begun to write on it here).

So here I’ll just say: it has given me more energy than any powerhouse. Music, bright light, warmth, movement, and a community of people just weird passionate about dancing as yourself – it will really make your December (or any other month) not only survivable but very ‘driveable’.

And… if all of the above fails (sigh)… just buy a ticket to somewhere sunny and warm. And see you next year.

Does any of the above sound relevant to you, and/or do you have better ideas? Share your tips for surviving December (October, November, January…) in Sweden with us!


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Tatiana Sokolova
Tatiana Sokolova is an investigator, collector and classifier of cultures, places, and ways of expression - the very things which often defy classification. She lives in Stockholm with her intercultural family. She is a researcher, a freelancer of various trades, and a little bit a photographer. Also a little bit a writer of short stories, and an aficionada - a lover of flamenco song, guitar, clapping and dance.
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