How to survive November in Finland


I was recently asked whether I prefer winter or summer. And I realised, I love them both. What I do not like is the time in between… The worst month to be spent in Finland has always been for me, Mr November.

November is behind the door and I literally feel the month of death knocking. “The month of death” describes the atmosphere here perfectly. Everyone complains about the weather and the darkness. Finns are not happy, foreigners try to survive. If you are more sensitive, you should avoid visiting Northern Europe during the upcoming weeks.  

Everything is grey. Sky, sidewalks, our face and our mood as well. Raining is not so frequent so far, but we have the whole of November ahead of us. No worries, the rain will come. And in 30 days we will be longing to wait until the snow finally falls. It will cheer me up and also lighten up the surrounding space. I don’t mind the Nordic winter. I’ve also gotten used to the white nights in the summer. What I have a problem with, and I’m far from being alone, are these long darkish days. We get up in the dark, I walk to and from work in the dark a there is grey in between. And the grey starts around 9.20 AM and darkness again around 3.30 PM.

I am not at all surprised that so much coffee is drunk in Finland. I break personal records in November. 4 cups a day is sometimes not enough. If I liked energy drinks, I would easily have those too. I am also not very surprised that out of 1000 people in Finland, up to 80 take antidepressants. I can speculate about the reasons, but intuitively I believe that weather, sensitivity to seasonal changes, darkness and lack of sunlight play a role. Taking vitamin D is a must. Learning the rules on how to deal more successfully with darkness is highly recommended. Because otherwise, depression is waiting behind the corner…

Timo Partonen, a researcher of seasonal affective disorders at the University of Helsinki, says that up to 85% of adults in Finland experience the effects of seasonal changes firsthand. Changes are visible, especially when it comes to ​​eating and sleeping, and they also affect our involvement in physical and social activities. “Some people who are more sensitive to seasonal changes notice negative body reactions such as lack of energy, sleep disorders, withdrawal from society, desire for carbohydrates and weight gain,” adds Partonen.

What can you do to avoid these negative symptoms, or at least mitigate them? Here are some tips that have worked for me during the last 6 years:

  1. Activate your resources and try to be positive. Finns rely on their inner strength called sisu and there’s no reason not to use yours, even if you don’t have any fancy name for it 🙂
  2. Try to have some schedule and hobbies. Fill your calendar to the extent that you are not socially isolated and at home. This is especially true of people who live alone. Finland’s excellent lifelong learning system offers a wide selection of different long-term and short-term courses. Discover a new hobby!
  3. Go outside regularly, at least for a walk. Ideally between 11.00 and 14.00, when there is the most light. Or rather, the least grey 🙂 If you like winter sports, it’s even better. Take skis or skates and spend as much time as you want in physical activity.
  4. Don’t shy away from society. If you don’t want to go out anymore, call your friends and invite them to your place. Chat and stay in touch with the world.
  5. Take a sauna. In Finland, it is easy, because saunas can be found in almost everyone. It is an excellent thing to relax the body and calm the mind. Your whole organism will overheat because it is being exhausted from the lack of warmth and light. If the energy expenses bother you, I completely understand. In that case, you may try some public saunas in your close-by area.
  6. Don’t make any big plans in winter. Just maintain the status quo and consume energy rationally.
  7. If you have the opportunity, use light therapy. I don’t like it very much, but some people react positively. A lamp emitting artificial light costs around 50 euros and the recommended daily dose is a maximum of 30 minutes. Improvement of symptoms occurs within a few days.
  8. If nothing helps and you still don’t feel well, ask for help. Early diagnosis and proper treatment of depression will improve your condition and can save your life.

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