The challenges of winter

Many people find the short, cold, dark days of January and February a challenge. This is hardly surprising as our body clocks are disrupted because our daily routines are not aligned with the natural daylight hours. Unlike our ancestors who adjusted their days to fit with natural light, we behave in an unnatural way; the sun rises after we have woken and sets before we return from work meaning that we do not have enough daylight to maintain our serotonin levels. Low levels of serotonin are associated with depression. In addition, the increased levels of darkness means that more of the body’s sleep hormone, melatonin is produced leaving us feeling sluggish and lethargic.

In Denmark where daylight hours are very low in winter, you would expect rates of depression to be high, but it is one of the happiest nations on earth. What can we learn from the Danes to help us through this time of year? Recently I heard about the Scandinavian concept of ‘hygge’, a difficult word to translate as its meaning seems to include a mixture of well-being, the pleasure gained from comforting and soothing things, a feeling of contentment and connection.

How positive psychology helps

To me, this idea reflects some of the practices documented and researched in the field of Positive Psychology such as savouring, positive connections and self-compassion. Hygge can include many actions and thoughts, such as lighting candles, stoking an open fire or the smell of freshly baked bread, but let’s take cooking a winter’s stew for friends. When planning the meal and preparing food, we can do this in way that is appreciative and relaxed. Savouring the chopping of the vegetables, doing it in an unhurried way, feeling gratitude and anticipation for the good food and the time to be spent with friends. When friends come they arrive to a rich, welcoming aroma and you can devote your attention to them, sharing in their stories and increasing the general feeling of hygge.

Show self-compassion

When alone we can also benefit from hygge, through being kind to ourselves and showing self-compassion. By allowing ourselves time to relax and restore we can fight the winter blues. Maybe a relaxing bath or a good book will do it. Or perhaps a walk through the crisp winter’s day followed by a warming soup or cup of coffee. Whatever it is , do it slowly and appreciatively to feel the benefit.

I think we naturally do these things at special times during the winter, such as holidays or Christmas, but let’s make it more the rule than the exception and see what a difference it makes.

About the author: Read more about Bryony here.

 

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