Sweden, Travel Tips

How Swedes Stay Happy and Healthy All Winter Long

Spending much of the winter in Sweden this year gave me some interesting insight into the local culture.  Since I hadn’t spent any significant time in a cold climate in a number of years, I was particularly curious to see how they managed to survive and thrive in the extreme low temperatures and during the days of scarce sunlight.

With a history of seasonal depression, I went into winter in Sweden with much trepidation.  The thought of fleeting daylight hours, bitter cold, and dreary skies had me sprinting to the nearest drug store to stock up on vitamin D supplements and giving myself mental pep talks every day leading up to my arrival.

It didn’t take long, however, to realize that Swedes have their winter coping mechanisms down pat.  What I learned was not only surprising in many ways, but also proved incredibly valuable to me as I navigated my first Scandinavian winter.  I took cues from locals and applied their tactics to my own daily routine and not only survived but remained downright cheerful throughout!

Here are the main takeaway lessons from my first winter in Sweden:How Swedes Stay Happy and Healthy All Winter Long

They know how to dress.

Dressing appropriately for winter may sound like a no-brainer, but let me tell you, dealing with winters in Washington growing up did NOT prepare me for winter in Scandinavia.  It wasn’t until this year that I’d ever even considered a full-length jacket, but once I arrived in Stockholm I realized this was practically uniform in the winter and I would have suffered greatly with anything less.  Equally important are a thick scarf (not some flimsy fashion scarf like in the photo below) leather gloves (or some other impermeable fabric), thermal underwear to wear under everything, wool sweaters and socks, and a nice fitted hat that covers the ears.

Read More: Packing for Winter in SwedenHow Swedes Stay Happy and Healthy All Winter Long

They get outside.

The reason dressing well is so important is because all through the winter, even on the coldest of days, you’ll find Swedes outdoors taking advantage of what little daylight they are afforded.  And I don’t just mean outside on their way to and from the grocery store, they are outside on walks, skating on frozen lakes, pushing strollers, and otherwise outdoors simply for the sake of it.  Once I caught on to this behavior and forced myself outside even when it sounded positively dreadful, I noticed a marked improvement in my mood and productivity.  It turned out those few minutes of sunlight each day were all I needed to be reminded that the outside world still existed and that there was, in fact, still plenty to live for.How Swedes Stay Happy and Healthy All Winter Long

They exercise regularly.

I alluded to this in the previous point, but Swedes are extremely active in the winter.  Not only do Stockholmers walk to get most places within the city, but they make working out a part of their daily routines.  At any given time you’ll find joggers making use of the footpaths that line each island’s perimeter, couples taking strolls with or without children in tow, and even the occasional brave cyclist.  Even outside of the cities and regardless of the weather, going for daily walks is a perfectly common occurrence, a trend that I wish would catch on in more parts of the world!  Exercise is a known mood booster so it makes a lot of sense to prioritize it during the winter months when temperaments may otherwise suffer.

How Swedes Stay Happy and Healthy All Winter LongHow Swedes Stay Happy and Healthy All Winter Long

They take advantage of natural light.

Have you ever noticed that Scandinavian design typically involves white everything?  I’m talking white walls, white ceilings, white floors, and white decor.  Not cream, not off-white, not eggshell, but white.  And have you ever noticed that Scandinavian homes often have tons of windows?  This is not a coincidence, my friends.  The combination of a white interior and a plethora of windows means that every last ray of incoming light gets used to its full potential.  In Swedish homes, that light bounces off every single surface, energizing its inhabitants and lending the space a cheery feel even in the dead of winter.  It’s one of the things I love the most about the apartments in Stockholm, and something I plan to implement in my own ‘someday’ home.How Swedes Stay Happy and Healthy All Winter Long

They decorate with fresh-cut flowers.

Just about every Swedish home I saw had pops of color here and there in the form of freshly cut flowers–typically tulips. Although tulips are associated most closely with Holland, Swedes are the largest buyer of the flower and even celebrate it with a holiday known as Tulpanens dag (Day of the Tulip).  They are sold just about everywhere around the city; red tulips are popular around Christmastime, mixed colors are popular just about any time, and even white tulips (yes, more white) are gaining popularity.

Swedish Winter

They warm up with a fika.

Taking a break for a coffee and a sweet pastry (known in Sweden as ‘fika’) wards off winter blues in several ways.  For one, it’s a great excuse to get out of the cold and into a cozy cafe to let your fingers thaw.  Secondly, fika is typically enjoyed with friends, and every bit of socialization is important when you’re otherwise locked up in an apartment (especially for those of us with non-traditional jobs that can be done from home–I’d never see another soul if I didn’t make the effort!).  The coffee and pastry warm you up in a literal way, and lastly, I’ve never met anyone whose day couldn’t be brightened with a delicious, chewy kanelbulle (cinnamon bun).

How Swedes Stay Happy and Healthy All Winter Long

I definitely plan to carry these Swedish winter coping mechanisms with me for life.  How do you stay happy and healthy through the winter?

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  • Reply Terra February 28, 2016 at 1:54 pm

    Great post! I am with you and wish that daily walks would become more popular in other parts of the world. Its also nice to hear how people cope with winter and less sunlight, something I oftened wondered about.
    Terra recently posted…Shiraito Sake Festival in ItoshimaMy Profile

  • Reply Lauren February 28, 2016 at 5:43 pm

    These are great coping mechanism for the winter anywhere! I ought to utilize these methods, especially exercising. The cold and the dark really make it hard for me to get out and work out haha. It makes sense that Swedes are the happiest people on Earth!

  • Reply Gemma February 28, 2016 at 11:02 pm

    I found this so interesting! I’ve not been to Sweden but always noticed their homes are so white (and I love it!) and that they generally seemed to have such healthy lifestyles.

    Gemma x
    The British Feather – A Travel & Lifestyle Blog

    • Reply Leah Davis February 29, 2016 at 8:46 am

      I love the white interiors too! I think it looks so nice and clean, and you can avoid making it sterile looking by adding some colorful accents 🙂

  • Reply Kaelene @ Unlocking Kiki February 28, 2016 at 11:03 pm

    Getting outside for just a few minutes each day really does make such a different. These methods are all similar to what they do here in Iceland, I am still amazed at how many people will be outside walking on the coldest of days!
    Kaelene @ Unlocking Kiki recently posted…5 Hikes Near Reykjavik to do in the WinterMy Profile

    • Reply Leah Davis February 29, 2016 at 8:44 am

      I’m starting to think there are quite a few similarities between Sweden and Iceland (and Norway) and I’m dying to see Iceland for myself!

  • Reply Mandy // Movin'n'Groovin February 29, 2016 at 1:37 am

    I try do to the same here in Germany, but I’m not very consistent with my workout…
    Anyways, I’m looking forward to visiting Sweden this summer – hopefully with warmer temperatures. 😉
    Mandy // Movin’n’Groovin recently posted…Unterwegs in Buenos Aires – meine Tipps für Bus/Bahn/TaxiMy Profile

  • Reply Flora February 29, 2016 at 2:47 am

    These are great! London may not be quite as cold as Sweden but we definitely employ the same avoidance tactics when winter sets in… but maybe it’s time to pop outside for a spot of fika (or an English version, at least) now you suggest it :p

    • Reply Leah Davis February 29, 2016 at 8:50 am

      Fika is ALWAYS a good idea if you ask me 🙂 What’s the English equivalent? Probably swapping coffee for tea, I imagine?

  • Reply Rachel February 29, 2016 at 5:01 am

    This is such an interesting post! Some revealing tips in there, in particular the white interiors. I’ve just spent 5 weeks in Finland and discovered it to be very similar, in particular the fact that everyone is outside, regardless of the fact that it is -20c: walking, running, tobogganing, skating and playing ice hockey.
    I was there through the whole of January and strangely I rarely felt cold, and I’ve been frozen since coming back to the UK, I think it’s the fact that the Nordic winter is drier, it lacks that damp, windy cold we have here in Blighty! I found I consumed vast amounts of coffee in those weeks, and I never went out without a cosy thermal layer under all my clothes, and my god it was beautiful!
    The whiteness of the snow kept everything looking bright and uplifting!
    The winner for me was sauna, that was certainly the way I kept healthy and sane throughout those short winter days and sub-zero temperatures! Bliss!
    Rachel recently posted…Unexpected things I love about living in a van.My Profile

    • Reply Leah Davis February 29, 2016 at 8:48 am

      I really wish we’d had more snow in Stockholm! It was pretty how it was, but the whiteness outdoors didn’t last long. Would love to visit Finland in the winter, I’ve seen photos and it looks absolutely stunning!
      Leah Davis recently posted…Friday Snapshots: A Sunny Week in StockholmMy Profile

  • Reply chewy February 29, 2016 at 9:32 am

    I dated a Finnish guy for a few years, and visited at various points before, during and towards the end of winter. I loved having rich, comforting soup whenever I was in Helsinki. It made me really appreciate soup in general, and of the kind that is really different from what my Chinese parents usually make! I like your suggestions, though, and I’ll have to put some to use. We’re getting more light in London now, but it still can be depressing!

  • Reply Alex March 3, 2016 at 5:56 am

    Ugh, Scandinavians are just so darn practical 😉

    • Reply Leah Davis March 3, 2016 at 2:26 pm

      Tell me about it! Making the rest of us look bad 😉

  • Reply Eva Casey March 8, 2016 at 7:36 pm

    Woah, this is so interesting! As someone who decided to run away to Central America this winter rather than face another NYC February, this post has me thinking I could possibly survive a Scandinavian winter! I wonder why we don’t adopt these tactics in other parts of the world where it gets just as cold? Mostly our tactics include watching as much Netflix in bed as possible to avoid dealing with life for three months. Or is that just me? Lol

  • Reply Tek-naw-luh-gee? I heard that was unhealthy. | arcticjourney May 28, 2016 at 8:05 pm

    […] excuse to hermit ourselves away from the long arctic winter. I found an interesting article about how to stay mentally healthy during the winter and not so surprisingly, it did not involve the use of technology! As an aside, this article […]

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