Winter is upon us in the Northern Hemisphere. How do you feel about it? If, like many people in the US, you view the winter as a dark period to get through—by commiserating with colleagues over the weather conditions you endured to get to the office or dreaming of your summer vacation plans—perhaps it’s time to change your mindset. By reframing how you think about winter, you might just find that your experience of the colder months changes entirely.
Think like a Norwegian
Researcher Kari Leibowitz discovered something interesting while living in Tromsø, Norway, a city that approaches the Artic Circle and from mid-November to mid-January does not see the sun.
Rather than dreading the onset of winter, Norwegian friends around her seemed to be excited about it—they looked forward to the opportunities to spend time outside in the snow or cuddle up at home under a blanket practicing koselig, the Norwegian version of the infamous Danish hygge.
Leibowitz found that these positive “winter mindsets” become more pronounced the further north in Norway one lived. They allowed Norwegians to enjoy, rather than endure, the winter.
By taking their lead and changing her own thought patterns, Leibowitz found that her winter experience was radically altered. The blue light, rather than being dark, became “cozy.” Rather than fearing time outside, she embraced friends’ invitations to walk or ski to outdoor meetups.
Change your mindset
Science supports the mental and physical benefits of this kind of mindset change. In an article about her research, Leibowitz talks about how the work of her mentor, Alia Crum, whose work focuses on subjective mindsets, which she defines as “the lenses through which information is perceived, organized, and interpreted.” Some people tend toward having what are called “growth mindsets,” which embrace improvement and change.
Leibowitz hypothesized that positive, growth-oriented mindsets played a role in the relatively low rates of seasonal depression in Tromsø, despite the long, dark winters. One study done by Crum showed how people who have a positive mindset toward stress—seeing it as productive rather than debilitating—were able to maintain healthier levels of cortisol. Teenagers with growth mindsets were also able to develop stronger coping strategies during the COVID-19 pandemic, improving their mental health outcomes.
Warm up to winter
Even if a growth mindset isn’t your natural orientation, we can all work to change the ways we think, starting with our feelings toward the winter. First, think of some things you might appreciate about the season, without even realizing it.
For example, if you’re a social butterfly during the summer months, perhaps you’re looking forward to having an excuse to stay home alone curled up with a good book. If light bothers you in the morning, maybe the onset of darker days means you’ll be getting better sleep.
Otherwise, try thinking of ways to embrace the season for what it is. Cold and snowy outside? Hit the slopes or go snowshoeing! Bright and bracing? Try meeting a friend for a brisk morning walk.
Practicing mindfulness can also help you to enjoy the season. Indulge in a guided meditation or pay extra attention to the softer lights around you. You’ll be feeling the winter bliss in no time.
The Polar Night
That’s the name for the winter season in Svalbard, a cluster of islands between Norway and the North Pole where people wear headlamps during waking hours for two-and-a-half months of the year.
When to seek help
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that occurs during the same season each year, usually during the fall or winter. Its symptoms match that of major depression and it may be triggered by changes in the amount of sunlight that you receive. If you find your winter blahs feel more like unshakeable winter blues, talk to your doctor to make sure a more serious condition isn’t at play.
Having an off day? Consider the following ideas.
Journalling is a powerful way to deal with overwhelming emotions, manage anxiety, and reduce stress.
Meditating even for a short period of time, can help you to manage your emotions.
Spending time in nature can improve your mental and physical health even if it’s cold outside. British fellwalker Alfred Wainright once said: “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.” High-quality winter gear can be expensive when brand new, but second-hand stores are often replete with affordable options.
This article was originally published in the November 2023 issue of delicious living magazine.