Surviving the winter in Gothenburg is not always an easy task, especially during those long months! Many of us internationals from the tropics experience a huge weather/climate shock when moving to Sweden. To our utter dismay it can be difficult to adapt not only to the harsh coldness, rain, and strong powerful winds, but also those long dark days when the sun sets around 2 P.M. As an extremely active person who absolutely loves the sun, warmth, nature, and being outside; my first year in Sweden was one of the most difficult years I had ever experienced. Having moved half way across the world from Los Angeles, California during the summer, I didn´t take full advantage of those long hot summer days – the first year around, thinking that most days would be similar throughout the year. How gullible was I? I was definitely in for a huge awakening!
Those dark cold Swedish days crept up like a shadow when the sun starts to set. I just couldn´t believe it! Walking home on occasion I literally felt my bones shiver, the rain hit me from all angles, and those horrible gusts of wind would be so strong that even my umbrella would turn inside out! This was not so cool to me – and I did not want to accept this as my reality. I was used to wearing flip-flops and my bikini underneath a plaid button down Abercrombie t-shirt not thinking twice about any kind of rain or cold weather. Now I was stuck with layers of long johns underneath my clothes and having to wear penguin looking winter coats – I did not feel stylish and wasn´t happy looking like a fat penguin. I would attempt to go shopping around noon and then it would get so dark unexpectedly, that I would not be able to find my way home! Walking around the city, with all the streets iced over I would watch the Swedes slip and slide dropping their groceries and bags attempting to walk back to their homes. Was this my reality? I felt as if I was in Siberia!
During my first winter I had experienced in Sweden, I became sick over twenty times completely unprepared for this experience I had gotten myself in. I had been sick with a fever, shakes, sore throat, stomach sickness, and a whole lot of other illnesses. On top of being sick all the time I had an extreme case of the winter blues! I had spoken to a woman who explained to me that usually it takes around three years to completely adapt to a different country´s weather conditions. I felt impatient, annoyed, and a bit on the bitter side wishing I could handle winter the way these strong Swedish Viking type people handle it… and without a complaint in the world!
The second year I planned to have a much better turn-around and really make the best out of it. No more complaints, no more getting sick all the time, and waking up with a smile no matter how dark and mysterious it looked outside of my window. Goodbye winter blues and hello winter wonderland! I made myself a checklist – in order to keep myself stable, happy, active, and make the best out of the winter season!
IMPLEMENTING A WINTER ROUTINE
Staying active is highly important during the long winter months! I tell ya – idle time is no fun when you are sitting depressed or bored in your little apartment or home looking outside of a window, wishing you were somewhere else. Keeping yourself in a routine – and pushing yourself to be active is one of the easiest ways to enjoy the winter and make the best out of it!
Scheduling Morning classes/ Swedish Courses – As an international it´s great to join a Swedish course or have your university classes early in the morning. You end up pushing yourself to get up when the sun rises, even when its freezing and force yourself to head out into the cold and start your day fresh! You challenge your mind to learn new intellectual things – and this creates a productive mind!
Work – Try to schedule work in the mornings so that you have a productive day and can end work having been focused and feeling great that you have accomplished a good work day!
Bastu/ Sauna – It is always great to hit the sauna in the evenings after classes or work, sometimes in combination with a good work out. The sauna gives you extreme warmth, helps with detoxing the body, and makes you feel bright, glowing, and fresh!
Workout Plan – It´s a good idea to design a good workout plan whether at home or at the gym 3x a week at the least. This helps keep you active and in a good routine while also releasing endorphins which help with an overall content mood. It keeps you in shape so that when the summer is near – You have an excellent body shape and overall healthy physique inside and out!
Joining Organizations and/or Clubs – I highly recommend this! Being around other people whether it is relating, or discussing, or being involved within the community helps a great deal with feeling overall content and a feeling of gratitude. There are many organizations and meet ups – whether it be at the language café, or cooking group, or even an innebandy sport group. This also keeps you accountable so that you don´t trail off and become anti-social due to not wanting to step outside and be in cold weather conditions. You feel as if you have a purpose by being involved and being a part of something wonderful. It´s always great when having social accountability and it makes you feel as if you have a social purpose.
Study partners/Work out buddies/ Movie buddies / Sambo partners– Keeping your social meter up is extremely important during the dark drawn out winter months. We all need people to connect with and relate to! Studying by yourself can create a feeling of loneliness and so partnering up is always a productive way to keep your grades up while also being sociable. Work-out buddies are highly recommended because you have someone that you are accountable to and someone to push you harder than you would normally push yourself. Sambo partners are recommended that is – if you feel genuine about that partner. A sambo partner is someone one you are romantically involved with and live with. It is psychologically proven that when oxytocin gets released – “a chemical that creates a feeling of love, warmth, connectedness, and comfort,” it helps us feel as if we belong and creates a wonderful feeling inside of us. When we touch, hug, cuddle, or sleep next to someone this released the chemical – oxytocin. This is one of the most important chemicals to have reproduced within your body.
Mediation/Hot Yoga – Meditation is highly recommended as it helps discipline your mind to weed out the negative thoughts and focus on the positive. The mind is like a messy closet full of drawers that need to be cleaned out on occasion. Wiping your mind of toxic thoughts, worries, and issues helps design a feeling of peace and tranquility. Yoga also assists with anxiety by creating a feeling of calmness and tranquility.
Afterwork – Many Swedes have something called “afterwork” during the winter months because it helps keep people involved with one another whether it be colleagues, university friends, or just old pals that you want to catch up with. Afterwork basically means joining friends at the pub after work. It´s good to have a beer or two in the evenings before heading home due to the fact that it creates a feeling of coziness, and social ability, while also helping you distress from a hectic work day for the time being.
The Cinema – It´s always a good idea to head to the cinema with a group of friends during a weekend due to the fact that you are forced to push yourself to go outside to experience an indoor activity. Movies in theatres are always fun and exhilarating when you have the ability to forget your life for a second – and dive deep into a movie about someone else’s life.
Fikas – It is always good to have a routine set of fikas every week in between work or classes during the day. Having a fika and drinking hot tea or cup of coffee while mingling with others, has proven to keep your overall mood up and also your productivity. This is why fikas are so popular in Sweden and also why Swedes take long fika breaks!
WINTER INDOOR ACTIVITIES
Baking, Cooking, and Making Hot Coco – It´s always fun to get involved in culinary arts and learn new cooking crafts while indoors during a heavy winter. Buy yourself a cook book and start learning how to cook some fun Swedish dishes. Baking traditional Swedish kanel – bullar, smorgas tortar, princess tortar, and even banana cakes can make for a fun evening/afternoon!
Movie Nights- Before the winter hits I usually pull out a notepad and write down a list of fantastic movies. I re-watch the entire James Bond series, the Terminator movies, Star Wars, and the collection of Indiana Jones series just for kicks. I love to organize movie nights with a group of friends with some chips, dip, and some wine. It´s always fun to cozy up and enjoy a good movie with a group full of fun people. Putting together a list full of wonderful old Christmas movies always helps put me in the winter mood!
Games – Board games like monopoly and candy land are always fun to pull out and play with family members, roommates, or a group of friends. Twister, charades, and video games have never failed to entertain me during a strikingly cold and long winters!
Reading – I really enjoy reading especially when I have some down-time during the winter. I pull out a collection of books or find myself hanging out in libraries and bookstores just reading up on random facts and entertaining biographies. I usually update my ipad and laptop with a ton of fun and entertaining e-books and enjoy some light reading in the evenings after a long tedious day of work or classes.
WINTER OUTOOR ACTIVITIES
Building Snowmen – Usually when it snows in Sweden – it really snows! It´s always fun having snowball fights, making snow angels, and getting a group together to build a fun artistic snowman! It keeps us in touch with the season and gives us a reason to really enjoy the snow.
Ice skating/Hockey- Ice skating and hockey are very Scandinavian and popular within the Swedish community. There are quite a few local ice skating rinks in Gothenburg and it´s always exciting to get out and play around on the ice. Hockey is a very competitive sport and usually very fun to put together a team, hit a puck around with a few hockey sticks, and score a few goals!
Winter Hiking – Scandinavia and areas of Gothenburg are very mountainous and rocky. Putting on some snow shoes and doing a bit of hiking around some of the old nature trails can be fun and amusing – especially when trotting through a bunch of snow and seeing how the Swedish nature looks in the winter time.
Skiing and Snowboarding – There are a few skiing areas not far from Gothenburg. It´s always great to plan a spontaneous ski trip, rent a lodge over a weekend, and hit the slopes! It´s exhilarating and challenging skiing and snowboarding down some heavy hills, mountains, and moguls. It really brings out that winter feeling!
Snowmobiling – Getting together a team of people outside of Gothenburg and snowmobiling can be one of the most popular activities, especially when racing another snow-mobile. You get to see the beautiful nature around you, potentially even some wild animal life, and experiment with some twists and turns while driving a snowmobile on some curvy paths.
Dog – sledding – I am a huge animal lover and playing with some of the beautiful huskies is something I absolutely adore. Jumping on a dog sled with a group of people always proves to be a fun activity, especially when hearing the huskies bark and enjoy the excitement of team-work while trotting and racing through the snow.
Ice-Climbing – This is something I have yet to try and have heard it is a bit difficult if you haven´t had the experience of trying it before. I have heard of many people ice –climbing everything from mountains to glaciers and they usually thoroughly enjoy the challenge!
Witnessing the aurora borealis – Tracking down the aurora borealis can be a difficult task especially if you are within the city limits. When traveling outside of Gothenburg you can track down an aurora aurora borealis using a special application on your cell phone and witness one of the most beautiful mysteries this earth has given us! Taking pictures and finding the aurora is a fun activity within itself!
Heading out to Concerts and Local bands – Sweden has proven to be one of the most artistic and music invested countries in the entire world. The music genres and the talent of many eclectic artists are absolutely mind-blowing. Scandinavian artists and DJs really put forth raw talent and effort into their music. Joining in on a concert and or hearing a band play always brightens my mood!
Another tip when enduring the winter is to stock up on natural remedies and vitamins. It is important to realize that the lack of sunlight can cause an imbalance of the natural chemicals in the body that humans produce through sunlight and activity. The sun produces Vitamin D and serotonin – which is the chemical that assists with your overall mental mood. Lack of sunlight also causes humans to want to go into hibernation mode. The body usually becomes a lot more tired and exhausted than usual. Try visiting a health store and picking up some vitamins such as Vitamin D, B 12 – to regain energy, and 5-HTP – which helps boost the serotonin and assists with a more positive overall mood. Furthermore, during the winter your body naturally works harder when dealing with harsh environments and this is another reason we all get bouts of exhaustion and feel tired. Morning shakes high in vegetable, fruit, and protein gives you an extra boost of energy before heading out and enduring the harsh winter climate! I hope this excerpt helps anyone who is having a hard time coping and adapting with the Scandinavian winter, and proves to provide some useful information! Good luck, keep positive, and enjoy the winter season. It only comes around once a year!
– Claire Hultin