The majority of us will be thinking about the upcoming year at some time in the near future. If you are anything like me, you’ll find yourself gazing backward before looking forward. Dwelling on things that have already happened is not always beneficial, especially if it consumes more of your time than is necessary. Gaining perspective, on the other hand, can frequently result in a sense of learning that can assist you in moving forward. This is not an article about New Year’s Resolutions (there are plenty of those floating around already), but rather a post about coping while also thriving in difficult circumstances.
Nature, and more specifically the seasons, are one element that remains consistent throughout our lives. Whatever is going on with climate change, they simply keep coming, year after year. We can map the course of our lives by them. Spring and the first half of Autumn, before it gets too rainy and damp, are two of my favourite seasons. Spring, since it heralds the beginning of fresh life and the lengthening of the days. As most of the world awakens from its winter hibernation, optimism reigns supreme. For me, this is a little window of opportunity before the sweltering heat of summer sets in. After a few months of struggling with winter weather, which is usually grey and wet in this region of Northern Europe, with a few cold, clear days thrown in, I find myself being more active and forward-looking throughout Spring.
Autumn, on the other hand, is a welcome respite from the hotter weather that has traditionally accompanied the lengthening of the days. While summer can be pleasant, the heat can make things a little uncomfortable, and the cooler weather provides much-needed relief from the scorching temperatures. It is a fleeting sensation that will pass as soon as winter arrives. As someone who has experienced seasonal affective disorder (SAD) in the past, I have never looked forward to the shorter, colder, and more rainy days of winter. I have the impression that I am walking in treacle at this time and generally look forward to the three or four months with dread.
Yes, winter is a time of reduced anticipation, as well as the niggling feeling that one’s liberties are being stripped away from one’s shoulders. To wait for better weather to arrive, we hibernate, restrict our activities, and subject ourselves to the notions of dry eyes and throat caused by central heating, among other things.
However, what if we could anticipate winter with the same zeal with which we approach other seasons? What if we could prepare ourselves through a process known as “wintering” in English, which is a translation of the Danish word “Hygge”, which was the 2016 word of the year? It is a concept familiar to Scandinavians, who appear to regard those further south with surprise and perplexity regarding our attitudes toward the cold season. Scandinavians prepare physically and psychologically for winter in a manner reminiscent of our forefathers, whose preparation for winter readiness began with depression. In some ways, they viewed depression as a call to action.
I stumbled upon a great book by Katherine May titled “Wintering… the power of rest and retreat in challenging times”. While it is mostly about an illness that stopped her from work over one winter, it provides several lessons for coping with the winter season. She recounts a visit to Iceland, where she met Danes and Finns who described how they survive some of Europe’s hardest winters. She met a Finnish woman who suggested beginning this procedure in July by harvesting fruits and vegetables for pickling, a Scandinavian specialty. She then said that practical steps are taken, like fixing buildings and roofs, preparing cars, and ensuring adequate fuel is available for heating.
While this example may seem to be common sense given the circumstances they live in, it is the Scandinavians’ attitude toward winter that distinguishes them from others. They anticipate a difficult winter and a shift in their body clock. There are months when there is little daylight and others when it is bright till midnight. Above all, it is terribly cold, and any efforts to go outdoors are fraught with danger. As the Finnish lady said explicitly in the book, more sleep, less vitality, and a sensation of “bunkering down” must be accepted. She said that Scandinavians see winter as a time of relaxation, and that they make every effort to make their homes warm and inviting. On a daily basis, they also visit hot springs and steam saunas. These are often located outdoors, and the body is exposed to both warmth and cold. There is a distinction here. We tend to shun the cold, but the Scandinavians embrace it.
It’s probably too late for this winter to implement anything I see as valuable in the book, but I’ve already set my plans for next winter after enjoying Spring and portions of the other seasons!