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Monday, October 7, 2019

Winter is finally over, though here in Denmark it seems to linger on and not want to let go. How did you do this season? Did you catch a case of the winter blues? A lot of us did, but there are some who didn’t. The Norwegians. That’s right, the winter blues are basically unknown in Norway, despite the small Scandinavian country having long, dark and cold winters. What’s going on in Viking land? It’s worth an investigation.

What is the Winter Blues actually?

Seasonal effective disorder (SAD) also known more colloquially known as ”the winter blues” is a recurring serious ailment for millions of people living in the Northern Hemisphere. The symptoms of fatigue, lethargy, insomnia and poor mood, can mimic depression, which is why the condition is also referred to as ”winter depression”. It’s not depression that causes the winter blues though. Doctors are not entirely sure what the mechanism behind SAD is, but they think it is a combination of hormonal fluctuations and psychological factors.

Whatever the cause of the winter blues, there’s no doubt the condition can be debilitating for those hit the worst. Treatment for SAD has traditionally been light therapy using light boxes and cognitive behavioral therapy, but no one cure exists yet.

That’s why I was very surprised to stumble upon a study done by a study done by Stanford professor Kari Leibowitz, which showed that winter depression was basically unknown in Tromsø, one of Norway’s most northern cities.

What makes Norwegians different?

Kari Leibowitz found a curious connection in examining the prevalence of seasonal affective disorder in Norway. The further south you got in Norway, the more people began complaining about winter. Which was strange, because the winters in the south are not as harsh as further north.

Could it be that some Norwegians are simply born to better cope with winter? Like how darker skin helps people living near the equator protect against the sun? One such study actually tried to find out by examining the descendants of Icelandic people in Canada. They did find that these Canadians did better than those with a different heritage. However, that doesn’t explain why there was a difference between southern and northern Norwegians, who are exactly the same people. Perhaps the reason isn’t genetics but culture?

Embracing winter

The recent Winter Olympics in South Korea was a triumph for Norway who dominated the skiing disciplines, alpine and cross country both. That says something about the love of snow for a country of only 4 million people. Which leads me to the next point.

There’s no other people, who quite embrace winter like the Norwegians.

Norway is a country that comes to life in winter, when many other countries shut down. Instead of sitting inside feeling sorry for yourself, Norwegians strap on skis and skate and frolic in winter wonderland. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were actually more people being active outside in the winter doing sports than in summer.

There’s a good reason for emulating the Norwegians. Cardiovascular exercise promotes the production of the brain hormone serotonin, a crucial hormone, which regulates sleep and mood both. It’s our natural happy drug so to speak.

Serotonin is produced in a number of ways, one of them is through exposure to sunlight. However, when it gets darker and there’s less sunlight, our production of serotonin can flatline. This is probably one of the main reasons, why so many people feel down in the winter.

Getting out, staying active, even through the cold of the winter is a great way to replenish your happy hormone. Even if there’s no snow to ski on, you can still take up a sport indoors.

Get cozy inside

While we’re at being happy and healthy, how about making those long winter days into cozy indoor enjoyment. Norwegians have their own word ”koselig” for that kind of warm chocolate, home baked cookie, kind of coziness. If you are invited to a Norwegian family in winter time, you can be sure to be offered many kind of homemade sweets and bakery, perfect for replenishing the calories you spent on the cross country trails. How about it? Could it be worth being a little more ”viking” to get rid of the winter blues?

About the Author

Kåre Eriksson is a danish writer and avid skier. He writes about sleeping better at the danish website

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