How I (barely) Survived My 1st Swedish Winter

It's finally spring! I want to sing it on the mountain tops - "IT'S SPRING IN SWEDEN Y'ALL!" This past winter was arguably one of the toughest and longest I have ever endured. For those of you who don't know, I am from Atlanta, Georgia. Our nickname is 'Hotlanta' because guess what - it's hot. We sit at about the same latitude as Morocco, so you have some perspective. We do have a "winter," but we don't really expect it to go below 40 F (5C) for extended periods of time. When we get 2 inches (about 5 cm) of snow, the city goes batshit crazy, and the rest of the country makes fun of us. The amount of sunlight we have does change slightly... like we might have 2 hours, max 3 fewer than fall or spring.

So here it is. A comprehensive list of how a Southern Belle survived a Swedish winter.

1. Coffee. Tea. Then a little more tea and coffee.

There is some psychological switch in your brain that just makes you want to sleep the moment the sun goes down even if it's 3pm. I bought a stash of fancy coffees and teas to enjoy when I would be stuck inside. It's a little treat. If you have to be inside and caffeinated, might as well be enjoying the good stuff. 

2. Resist napping.

If you know me, I love to nap during the day. You could so far as to say it's a hobby of mine. I quickly realized that with maybe only 5 hours of sunlight, a nap seriously screws up your sleeping schedule. One time, in particular, I napped for my usual 45 minutes, but then I couldn't go to bed until about 2 am. So I learned my lesson, from then on out instead of napping I just poured another cup of coffee.

3. Spend time with friends.

From November until about early April, I think things in Sweden can get very depressing. I might feel like "ugh it's so gross, I just want to stay home and watch TV." I think that is a terrible idea. You are not the only one feeling gross, and your feelings may only become worse if you stay alone. Call a friend or two to see what they're up to so you can hang out in your PJs together. I think I grew closer to so many people here in Sweden through these winter hangout sessions and this is the only reason why I liked the darkness.

Gingerbread House Making Contest

4. Get outside, even if you don't want to.

Helsingborg does not get a ton of snow, but it was the most snow I have seen in one season (which is not saying much). Helsingborg gets what I like to call "snow sludge" - is it snow? Ice? Or just something a cat puked up? I'm still not sure, but it was not enjoyable. It did get pretty cold, there were some days in February that it did not get above freezing. Through all that, I tried to make a point to bundle up and go for a walk or bike ride if it was not snowing, raining or sludging. Just 20 minutes of fresh air and exercise is lifegiving. 

5. Plan a warm vacation.

So many Swedes take week-long vacations to somewhere in Asia... now I understand. It's warm there. I didn't go to Asia, but in February I did go home for a good friend's wedding. The weather was sunny and warmer than in Sweden, so I was incredibly refreshed and ready to work when I got back. It's worth the money to plan a little trip, maybe next year I'll write it off on my taxes as a medical necessity. 
Friends like Annie are worth a trip home

6. Tanning bed visits.

I'm not proud of this one. However, I did visit the tanning bed at my gym a few times this winter. Especially in January and February when it was especially dark, I could feel my mood and body miss the sun. For all of my health nut readers - I only went once (max twice a week), and the tanning bed is timed for 10 minutes so it would automatically shut off after 10 minutes. The gym kept track of how often one goes to the tanning bed so you couldn't go more than 3 times a week. My goal was not to get tan but to get vitamin D. 

7. Take vitamin D.

In connection to that last one, I took vitamin D like it was my job. I should have started taking them when I first arrived in Sweden back in August, but silly me waited until October to start taking them. After a month of taking them regularly, I could see an improvement in my mood so to combat future Nordic winters I will just continue year-round with my vitamin D intake.

Soak up all that sun!

8. Find hobbies or something to just keep your mind off how gross everything is outside your window

Many of my Swedish friends knit or crochet and did so regularly throughout the winter. With so much darkness, you need something to keep your mind preoccupied from what's happening (or not happening) out your window. This year, I had a full school schedule to keep me very busy, but I did try out some new recipes which were fun, and I have kept up going into the spring. At Christmas, I was given a pair of knitting needles, so next winter I may start to knit (or maybe not - we still have some time to think about it). 

9. Keep your schedule as normal as possible

With the limited amount of sunlight, it is super easy to want to head to bed at a crazy early time. Some days I had to just keep pushing and keep to a somewhat normal schedule. School from 9 to 4, Swedish class 5 to 7:30, maybe a gym class here or there, movie nights with friends, bedtime at 11:30. 

10. Be honest. 

Lastly and most importantly - be honest with yourself. Many times I asked myself, "how are you, Macy? What do you feel or don't feel?". Be open with the how you are feeling, no matter how crazy it may seem, I think when I verbally expressed it I found at least 3 others who felt the same way. Being honest and patient with myself was the best thing I could have done. Knowing that I didn't have to feel or act like a ray of sunshine all day was freeing and allowed myself to work through the winter at my own pace. 
your little mouse

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