‘I Live in a Place Where It’s Dark 20 Hours a Day All Winter—Here’s How I Stave Off Seasonal Depression and Keep to a ‘Normal’ Schedule’

Over the summer I visited Iceland, and I couldn’t believe how the sun was up for 20 hours and how little nighttime there was. It blew my mind that I was able to wade in the must-visit Blue Lagoon at 11 p.m. with the sun still shining bright in my eyes. At the time, it was easy to see why, along with the other Nordic countries, Finland, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, Iceland was once again rated in the top seven of the Happiest Countries in The World for 2022. But what I really want to know is how Nordic people stay happy during winter when these same countries face more than 20 hours of darkness every day.

Experts In This Article
  • Celine Westlund, Celine Westlund is a Swedish abstract artist based in Stockholm.

So how do Nordic people keep seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which affects 10 million Americans each year, at bay whilst living with so little daylight? To find out, I spoke with Swedish artist Celine Westlund of Studio Celine W, known for her abstract skies and landscapes on social media, about how Nordic people stay happy during winter.

“I’ve lived in Stockholm my whole life, and I am used to dark winters, but somehow I seem to be just as surprised every year," she says. "Last November, we did not have one hour of the sun for the whole month. We can complain a lot about the cold and darkness, but just as we get surprised when the winter comes, it’s just the same when summer is around the corner—no one takes any season for granted, and I truly believe that we enjoy it so much more because of its contrast and variety.”

With these types of extremes, Westlund shares that it’s helpful to be living in a big city as there are others to rely on during the dark period. “It feels more cozy than just dark and depressing,” she says. “People are friendlier around the holidays, and all the restaurants and bars are always full of people.” Below are three more of her tips for making the most of dark winter months.

Mindset matters

Westlund says living with so little sunlight for many months can take a mental toll, but how you think about it can make things better or worse. It's common in Nordic countries to try and spend as much time outside in the daylight as you can, depending on your work schedule. But that alone isn't enough—they also focus on make the most of their evenings, as well. “I get more inspired to have nice dinners, game nights, or just an evening stroll in the city,” she says. “There are lights and music everywhere, and there are always a bunch of people wherever you go. Even when you’re outside the city, families are always out and playing in the snow or out on a walk with friends.” There's even a Danish term for this outlook on life: hygge.

Here's how to pronounce it properly: 

So does getting serious about self care

Westlund says the weather absolutely affects her mood, but by implementing tried and tested ways to boost her spirit and take care of herself, she not only gets through the season, but calls winter one of her favorite times of the year. “I burn a lot of candles, take long warm showers, long walks, long dinners with some good pasta, have a bunch of games ready to play when friends come over, and of course—red wine,” she says. “Winter is one of my favorite seasons because of how cozy every day gets. It feels like the weekend every day.” There's even a

Adjusting your schedule around daylight is also a game-changer

“Since I’m a full-time artist, I can make my own schedule, but generally, I wake up around 7 and start my day slowly to rise with the sun," Westlund says. From there, she gets to work capitalizing on the natural light for painting or shooting content. “It can be very stressful to have a full admin day when it’s sunny outside because you don’t know when you will have that again,” she says. So it's not uncommon to prioritize enjoying a sunny day, and tweaking your schedule to soak up some vitamin D while you can.

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