Four ways the Norwegians are winning at winter wellbeing

As the UK moves into a second lockdown, our stress levels are soaring while our joy de vivre is crashing.

For a lot of us, this time of year is always tough. Many people’s mental health takes a battering every winter with Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, which brings about low moods and lethargy. Throw into the mix things like a global pandemic, a recession and a lack of uncertainty about when all this is going to end, it ain’t pretty.

Then there's lockdown – for those of us in England, at least. We’ve done it before, yes. But this time around there’ll be no park picnicking under blue skies and balmy evenings of al fresco dining. Cold, dark nights in isolation don’t sound promising, do they…

So it’s high time we turned our attention to how the Norwegians do it. After all, some parts of Norway go without any direct sunlight from mid-November to mid-January every year. Yet they often top the ‘happiest countries in the world’ charts. They have truly honed the art of making winter wonderful. According to research led by May Trude Johnsen at the University of Tromsø, there seems to be no real change in their mental wellbeing during these dark winter months.

There are a few simple habits common to their way of winter living that we can all kickstart to stay upbeat and stress free during these tricky months ahead.

1.     They embrace the great outdoors

There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes.

Yes, I know it’s cold. And windy. And often rainy. But even on the dampest, darkest days, fresh air will boost your mood. Just sticking your head out of your window and taking a deep breath to get some fresh air can help.

The Norwegians have a saying, ‘There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes.’ So get wrapped up, step away from the screen and get outside. The Norwegians feel the benefits of this so much, they often go out in the dark with a head torch. Getting outside first thing brings about the most benefits to our body clocks, but any time of day is going to improve your wellbeing.

2.     They keep active in mind and body

Now’s the time for jigsaws and puzzles to keep the noodle ticking over. And while I’m not supporting the idea of some ridiculous fitness goal to hit this impending lockdown, it is important that we move our bodies on a regular basis. This is especially important given that we’re at home all day, most probably sitting at a desk or on a sofa. The body and mind crave movement. Nothing grand – walking, simple stretching, a spot of gentle yoga perhaps (shameful plug, sorry) boosts our moods and energy levels, helps us sleep better and helps us tackle stress and anxiety in one fell swoop.

Start small rather than setting any big goals. Give yourself a chance to notice how you feel afterwards – maybe even note down how you feel. Once you find the habit, you won’t want to be without it.

3.     They seek out the feeling of ‘Koselig’

Without a direct English translation, Koselig is similar but not identical to the Danes’ hygge. It’s all about cosiness, connection, warmth and happiness. Think thick blankets and hot chocolate, candlelit rooms and comfort food. It’s reframing how you perceive winter: rather than feeling stuck inside, embrace the opportunity to get cosy and watch Netflix.

They even have a word for enjoying ‘cosy Fridays’ after a long week at work – Fredagskos. We need this in our lives right now, surely?!

4.     They see challenges, not threats Norwegians show great resilience during the harsh winters they face year after year – and it’s all down to their mindset.

As the saying goes, “life is 10% what happens to us, and 90% how we respond to it.” I write more about this in my article about stress and the second dart but in a nutshell, how we deal with a stressful situation will determine the impact it has on our wellbeing. When we see a stressful situation as an opportunity, as something to learn from, we’re much more likely to cope better and adapt faster than we are if we perceive it as a threat.

How do we change our mindset though? As with everything, it takes practice. I’m a big fan of affirmations – I have around 8 to 10 in my phone and when I’m out walking, swimming, meditating, washing the dishes, I repeat them to myself. I can feel my mind shift to a more positive outlook as I repeat them in my head. It’s a great way to start the day.

So there we have it. Four simple ways we can emulate the happiest country in the world. I, for one, will be using this lockdown as a time to recharge my batteries, enjoy some proper R&R with lots of reading, reflecting, walking and probably a fair bit of gentle yoga thrown in.

Roll on Fredagskos.