This post is a second version (not an exact translation) of one I wrote in Portuguese for the blog Brasileiras Pelo Mundo.
Every country has its extremes but if we consider the seasons, I believe Finland could be on the top of any index considering Summer and Winter. Not exactly because of temperature since this is not the coldest country in the world, but the 4th, but because of light and dark. Finland´s territorial extension goes beyond the Arctic Circle making it the great winner as the darkest country in the Winter and the lighter in the Summer.
I live in the capital; here we have about 7 hours of sunlight during November and 6 in December and January. In the middle of November sun rises at around 8:20/30am and sets at around 15:45 pm. It gets about 10 minutes darker every week until the Winter Solstice – between the 20th and the 26th of December, this year it will be on the 21st – when the opposite starts to happen. During the darkest weeks of the year in the south sun rises at around 9:30 am and sets at around 15:12. It´s a cycle and only in February we start to have at least 8 hours of light again. For those who work in offices or factories, for example, it’s pretty easy not to see the light of the sun for three months, because it is dark when you arrive at work and dark again when you leave. The chart bellow is from 2015 but it won´t vary much. As you can see, the north is another story…
The meaning of the word November in Finnish already shows a bit of the drama to come: “marraskuu” means the month of death, the month of mud, when trees lose their leaves, flowers and grass die, it rains a lot and the days are gray and colorless. The few colors that survive in nature pale.
It is normal not to snow in November in the south of Finland. This specific November of 2016 has been different, it has already snowed a lot but usually, the temperature oscillates between negative and positive and this also affects the humidity of the air. This oscillation is quite bad when there´s snow since it causes it to melt fast. It is also normal to rain and snow at the same time, which makes the landscape dirty and muddy. It´s also quite dangerous for falling since the ground gets really slippery.
During this period, cases of depression and suicide tend to increase and many people are affected by the Seasonal Affective Disorder or S.A.D. (see also: seasonal depression and winter depression). It is a mood disorder in which even people who don´t have depression problems, during the winter acquire negative symptoms such as:
- Difficulty in waking up in the morning (morning hangover)
- nausea and headaches;
- too much sleep and lack of energy throughout the day;
- craving for carbohydrates;
- weight gain;
- difficulty concentrating and completing activities;
- tendency to isolation;
- reduction of libido.
Of course not everyone acquires all symptoms but it’s always good to pay attention if you recognize some of them. The consequences of this disorder are not good and can lead to severe depression. The cause is related to the reduction of sunlight, which leads to insufficiency of vitamin D. The absence of sun and low temperatures can also cause the increased need for other vitamins in our body, which reacts immediately.
Doctors recommend that we take vitamin D throughout the year, increasing the dosage a little from October until the end of winter. The correct dosage should be prescribed as it may vary from person to person. I personally have a very strong tendency to SAD. I usually increase my daily dosage of vitamin D to 50 micrograms from November to March. I also take omega 3 tablets and eat fish at least once a week. These things help me to fight against the disorder but I might say that when November approaches, I start to get the shivers.
Another good tip that many Finns follow closely is to increase the level of physical activity during the winter. Go out for a walk or jog, do activities that take you away from home and make you spend energy. Giving laziness a chance during the winter is one of the worst decisions you can make. I know it’s very difficult, but you have to find willpower.
In the last 7 years I´ve been making a list of things I consider positive during this period so that SAD does not win the battle. Here are some things that help me:
- It’s a good time to feel beautiful. Get a nice haircut, buy a cool coat, colorful scarves and beautiful boots. At least in my case, feeling beautiful makes me feel good.
- Go out for a coffee or to eat something after work at least once a week, alone or with someone, it doesn´t matter. Break the routine of home-work-home and have relaxed moments where you can see people.
- Try to exercise at least twice a week. Three is ideal but if it’s too hard for you, try two. It doesn´t have to be a gym, a good 30-minute-walk already makes a big difference.
- If you are not the kind of person who likes to go out at night, invite your friends over for get-togethers, they will help you and them, as a serious symptom of SAD is isolation.
- Start some project or a hobby to keep your brains busy and exercise your concentration and creativity. The municipal cultural centers called “Kansalaisopisto” offer several courses which are very cheap. Painting, photography, crafts, sewing, gastronomy, languages, dancing, you name it!
- Take vitamin D and omega 3 every day.
I know this list shows only obvious activities that can be done all year-long, but it’s just these little things that if we’re not careful enough, we eliminate from our lives when SAD appears.
For those who are around, good luck and let´s hope the snow won´t melt away completely these next days…