People who live in countries like Norway and Demark that have incredibly long, dark, and cold winters seem to thrive better than those in North America. What’s their secret? Part of it seems to be based on their attitude about these winter months. Learn to adapt some of their strategies so you too can thrive through this pandemic winter. 

by Mary Ann Baynton, MSW. Director of Collaboration and Strategy for Workplace Strategies for Mental Health

I’ve been studying research about people who thrive in winters that are cold and dark like those in Norway and Denmark. What’s remarkable is that in many of these places people seem to be mentally healthier through these long winters, with less sunlight than those of us in North America. So many of us feel our vacations in the south are the only way we can cope with our Canadian winters. What do those in Norway and Denmark do that we don’t?

In Norway, where some parts have darkness from November to January, they have a word, koselig (pronounced “koosh-lee”) which is roughly translated as “coziness,” but includes more than your surroundings. Critical components of koselig include enjoying the company of others and a connection with nature even when there is no sunlight. 

Hygge (pronounced hue-guh) is a Danish word described by some as the art of creating intimacy, either with yourself or with others. It is seeing life in the winter as an art form rather than something to just tolerate. Some words commonly used to describe Hygge include coziness, charm, contentedness, comfort, kinship, and simplicity. 

Strategies for Thriving Through Winter

In these studies, there were many examples of how people cope with the winter. The most important is the attitude we have towards this season, but some really practical strategies are also offered. I’m personally incorporating many of the findings to not just survive but thrive through our pandemic winter and wanted to share them to inspire you to create your own strategy.

My strategies

  • Most importantly I will stop saying, “I hate the cold. I wish I were on a beach. And I don’t like winter.”  Instead, I’ll say, “I am going to learn to love and embrace winter as a time of slowing down, being cozy and enjoying a softer life.”
  • I will choose soft lighting in the evening. Candles – I love the wooden wick candles that crackle, but even electric candles provide soft lighting. If you have a fireplace that’s great, but dimmer switches or lower watt light bulbs can also help.
  •  I’ll create a playlist of music that I love and play it on low as the soundtrack for my evenings. I love chill versions of classic rock songs thanks to the inspiration of my friend Joti. 
  • After work, I will change into comfy clothes to transition to a different mindset. My aunt calls loungewear her “uniform” and it signals that her “work” now is to chill out, mentally and physically.
  • I will turn the television off more often or decide on a series that I’ll watch one episode at a time. I’ll make it into an event with popcorn, a glass of whatever, a warm blanket. Then I’ll share my thoughts about each episode with someone who is also enjoying the series.
  • I will curl up with a heartwarming book to read – something about the art of Hygge, daily inspirations, or a juicy novel.
  • I will go outside every day, even if only for 10 minutes. Thanks to the advice of my friend Joanne, I now have those grippers for my shoes or boots so I can walk on ice. I also have walking poles for when the snow is high and will dress like the Michelin man to stay warm. Fashion will not be a concern, but comfort is not negotiable. (Read Mike Harnett’s blog on the importance of sunlight – this is still true in the darker months).
  • Nature will also be brought closer to me by bringing plants and flowers into my home. I plan on buying bird feeders and setting them up close to my windows so I can enjoy watching the birds (and undoubtedly the squirrels) feed. 
  • I will eat food that satisfies and nourishes me. Hearty soups or stews are nice, but my comfort food is toasted peanut butter and jam or Kraft dinner – they evoke happy memories even if they don’t evoke nutrition. 
  •  I’ll purposefully schedule in time with people that raise my energy. Virtual gratitude circles to celebrate birthdays where each person online shares why they value the person is always fun. Outdoor visits (with a propane heater to stay warm) or socially distanced walks will allow me to have face time with people I love.
  • I will move every day. Do just 5 minutes of a yoga flow called Sun Salutations every morning, but it’s enough to get me going and wake me up. I also do a 15-minute workout (arms and crunches) through the Portal with my sister most nights. We laugh and catch up and feel fit. Sometimes I just march in place while I watch television. Short spurts are much more sustainable for me than committing to 30 minutes or more. This year I may even use my dusty elliptical if I can’t get in my 10,000 steps. (Read Janice Mitchelle’s blog on the connection between physical and mental health).
  • I will meditate or quiet my mind every day. I prefer guided mediation. And have Calm, Aura, Breethe, Headspace and other apps so I get a wide variety of options. (Read more about Meditation on Dr. Joti Samra’s blog).

Build Strategies for Thriving Winter

My hope is that you look at my list and make up your own strategies for thriving through this winter. You may be allergic to peanuts or don’t like yoga. That’s okay. What would your favourites be?  

It really doesn’t matter what we do as long as we take steps to:

  • Breathe in the fresh air every day
  • Energize through movement 
  • Find joy in the little things
  • Calm our minds to reduce stress and anxiety
  • Nourish our bodies

These are not expensive or even terribly time-consuming things to do. Please make the decision to do what will work for you so you will thrive rather than just survive our pandemic winter.

More About Mary Ann

Mary Ann Bayton is a CSA Developer and PH&S Consultant with MyWorkplaceHealth. She shares practical strategies for managing workplace issues in a way that protects both leaders and employees, and is responsible for supporting senior and front line leaders who want to take their skill set to the next level. Mary Ann has extensive experience in resolving workplace issues such as performance, conflict, team dysfunction, low morale or stress at work and is passionate about workplace health as she believes we all want to thrive at work and can better do that when we remove unnecessary stress. Read her full bio here and reach out through our contact page to book a workplace consultation.