It’s here. The season of searching for the light. Many newbies and long term expats remember their first winter season in Sweden. As we all more or less have experienced seasonal depression. Myself, I ‘caught’ it too. With humour, my SFI teacher introduced me to this darkness “illness” by saying: “Welcome to Sweden, you need extra D- vitamin intake.” This was new to me, even if I grow up in a Nordic region too. I had not experienced it as I remember winters with bright sun reflecting from the heaps of snow.
My first experience with seasonal depression was in Malmö 2014-2015 winter. Through the years in Sweden, I have collected a few things that help me to survive the winter season. In this article I will share my personal story, maybe it gives to few newbies fresh ideas, maybe not. With the current travelling abroad taboo, you might find an idea on a local “searching joy in winter” trip.
The colourfulness in daily life
Let’s be honest here. Autumn is very beautiful with all the colours in nature. Although most of us prefer the Swedish summer. And we find it difficult to adjust to this season. To make the pre-winter vibe positive across the world we have several colourful and joyful seasonal celebrations – Halloween, Day of the dead, religious candlelight evenings and in some cultures like Baltics have September and November autumn solstices. Another newbie has shared tips on what to do during autumn in this article. These festivities bring some joy, colour and fun and give us something to love about autumn.
But how about Sweden? Noticeably, Halloween has been adopted to Swedish culture during the last few years. We do have All Saint’s day here with the candle lights at the graveyard, but it’s not that fun as Halloween, eller hur? In Swedish autumn culture, we are in luck to celebrate a day for something sweet. In this article Swedish pastry calendar you can find the dates to mark in your calendar and have a fika fest! Oh and let’s not forget – it is the “hygge” season. Candles, warm delicious drinks and watching movie marathons under a cosy blanket.
My personal experience
My personal experience with autumn is melancholic and full of nostalgic moments. October and November have been my healing period months. The months of looking back on a yearly update and trying to stay positive on the job hunt situation. This is a big part of my story which has affected my mental health and quality of life negatively. Yet, to not allow the bad thoughts to get me down, the “healing process” took me to Swedish nature adventures.
These are the most important activities/things and extra that helped me:
- Regular sauna and sea swim bathing through all cold season (Malmö Kallbadhuset)
- Candles, fairy lights and adding colour in the Swedish IKEA black&white interior
- Enjoying every single second of the sun. First time I saw Swedish people sitting or standing with heads up, eyes closed outside – I didn’t understand. What, why? Alien abduction? No, you simply learn to take advantage of each second of sunshine here
- Looking at the forecast where the sunny weather for the weekend in Skåne will be to catch some friluftsliv moments. Or booking a farm stay Airbnb for a weekend.
- Make regular friend-fika meetings
These five things helped to stay on a more positive note. From 2017 a new adventure opportunity came in my life – house sitting jobs in the countryside of Skåne. Most importantly, I had no idea that nature on the doorstop has such a big influence on my well being. Also, having a dog (even if not mine) was the best antidepressant!
- Dog walking, dog sitting job
Living in the countryside
I lived in the countryside during the best time of the autumn. At its peak from the middle of October until early November. Seeing how nature changes day by day and noticing the sunlight changes, brought some calmness and peacefulness in me. This moment I realised my connection to nature, why I need it and why I am naturally such a nature weirdo. By MBTI personality test I am the INFP who literally is described as a forest fairy. However, this opportunity lead me back to my photography. I had neglected my photography because of the studies in university and SFI, while also trying to create a good expat life, you know it all.
On the farm, I woke up within sunrise. Me and my little best friend, in a form of Jack Russel, went for morning walks. It was my new routine – a camera, a dog and a take-away cup of coffee, walking through the forest trails. My experience naturally became my second nature and art therapy. I charged up myself with positive energy that the next dark months started to become easier.
From the countryside life, I took with me to the city the new routine of a daily walk. I know it sounds such old news. I hadn’t noticed the everyday positive habits because my life was a little bit more active before moving to Malmö. Suddenly, the only thing to do was the job hunting which was draining the energy as much as the November’s darkness. As you see, I had enough time on my plate to research how to positively get through the darkest season.
I hope that this inspires someone to find a house-sitting job for a few weeks during autumn, or rent someone’s stuga out in the woods for your vacation. It is worth it, and it is, I believe that, one of the best ways to get to know Sweden, it’s culture and people. In my experience, the countryside people make better friends since we were meeting for dinners more often than I was meeting the always so busy city friends. To understand Swedish people through the connection with nature kind of gave me insights to their solitude way of life, short language and their funny expressions. Maybe that is a topic for another blog story later?
A little bit more serious note on winter darkness and health
A side note. After reading on Newbie guide’s Instagram the discussion on how to cope with the dark season, it got me to wonder about this whole story and my experience. This experience which I described, is not going to heal you if you suffer from depression. I only speak from my personal experience. My first winter’s in Sweden, I only had the lack of D-vitamin issues and in general the seasonal depression. With my “new habits” I described above, I could get through winter. However, once I experienced an extreme issue with lack of D-vitamin. To some people, the lack of D-vitamin is not so serious, but someone else might have more health issues because of it.
The dark season has treated me in many various ways. It has been a wonderful time of the year. And it has also affected my health and caused some serious issues too. Once the “dark season illness” begun to affect my life so negatively that I couldn’t understand why I felt okay mentally but otherwise I felt like my body is collapsing. I paid a visit to the doctor. I found out it was caused indeed by the darkness and my vegan diet (some products which I was allergic to). In other words, please be on guard with your health during winter.
Nowadays, we are self-proclaimed doctors by google search or listen too much what people say about health online. If you do feel your winter “blues” are starting to affect your life too much, reach out to a doctor, not Instagram, Facebook, online friends. As you know, in the Swedish health system, you need to be persistent when visiting Vårdcentralen.
Local tourism as winter medicine
In the summer, I shared with you my philosophy about the local tourism/travelling on an article about bike-packing adventure to Stockholm and back, which you can read here. Having a countryside experience in autumn just in the local region was my kind of “trip to sunny-land”. I was never able to plan such a trip. I focused on what can I do in the local area to survive the seasonal mood. From this mindset, I was lead to these several autumns and even summer opportunities to house-sitting jobs. The main duty was being a “nanny” to 12 dogs (3 different households), two bunches of sheep, several horses and even llamas and pigs!
I never expected by booking a farm stay Airbnb, it will lead me to this experience. Yes, this is how I got my opportunities by having a connection with the farm Airbnb owners straight away.
Now, new beginnings in 2020 autumn
Currently, I live in a forest in a cosy cottage between a lake and the sea. This autumn, I am able again to connect with nature, observing changes and adjust to my recent move to Stockholm from Malmö. Exploring the new surroundings, I felt like a child at an amusement park. It’s impossible, to describe in words my emotions finding a new beautiful nature spot.
The best part of my new neighbourhood is a small sauna with a view of the sea. It is only for the locals of this forest village. Do you think it is easy after this discovery to do apartment hunting in Stockholm? No, it is not easy. But it gave me a dream. Experiencing my autumn’s out in the countryside gives me something to look forward to how I want my future to be.
The dark season has its positive sides with all the celebrations, but the dark side of it can be tricky to get through. Be careful with recommendations. In a few words, I will remind you of this: Get out more outdoors or try the warm healing of sauna. Also, do rent that amazing local Airbnb stay and explore the nearby nature parks. On a serious note, stay alert with your health and you will get through this season! The spring is just around the corner.
Please, share in the comments or on newbie guide’s Instagram your autumn and winter outdoor spots you love to visit.
This is my story for The Newbie Guide blog. If you are curious to see more of my photos of autumn colours – Instagram or read the longer in-depth story, you can find it on my blog: adventures of an introvert. Photographs © Elina Nomad photography.