Before arriving in Finland, one of our biggest concern was the long winter darkness and the potential for developing SAD (seasonal affective disorder). I’m glad to report that it’s actually not as bad as we imagined it would be – especially now that we’re heading well towards the spring equinox. We did, however, make a lot of effort to stave off the depressing effects of the darkness – this worked for us, but we can’t guarantee it will work for you…

Sunlight! Yes please!

Some of the commonly recommended measures that we read about and implemented (to some degree) were:

  • Lights, lights, lights…  In autumn we bought an extra three lamps for our small apartment, and in mid-winter we upgraded a few of our light bulbs to higher wattages. We tried to keep our rooms well lit and always turned on extra lamps. We also had a lamp in each room on a timer-switch (can be found cheaply at Clas Ohlson), set to turn on just before our morning alarm. The idea behind this was to simulate sunrise, hopefully making it easier to wake-up and to keep our  bodies’ internal clocks on track. We didn’t get a light-therapy lamp, but they do seems to be an important treatment for those who really suffer from the lack of light. If you’d like to build your own light box for light therapy, check out the instructions here. Alternatively… if you’d prefer to spend lots of cash, you should check out the Valkee system (see Wired’s review here) which shines light into your ears! I’ve also been keeping the curtains open as much as possible – any natural light it welcome!
  • Vitamin D supplements – since our bodies are capable of synthesizing one type of vitamin D in the presence of adequate sunlight, it is thought that during dark periods we may suffer from a deficiency of this vitamin. It is easy to spot in the pharmacies here – it almost always has a cartoon of the sun on the packaging! If taking supplements sound too boring or artificial,  vitamin D intake can also be boosted by eating more fatty fish or eggs. Other benefits have also been linked to vitamin D in Finland (see for example here and here and here). It’s not clear why, but Finnish public health officials have recently also advised that certain groups of people should take year-round vitamin D supplements (see Helsinki Times news snippet).
  • Staying active – socially and physically. While the dark and cold makes it a little less appealing to venture outside, it has been suggested that physical activity and social interaction are both beneficial in keeping SAD away. I definitely found that exercise helped me to maintain a daily rhythm.
  • Sunny holiday break. While this is not an option for everyone, many Finns that we’ve spoken to have agreed that a short break to a sunnier destination is a very good treatment.
You can find advice some others at WikiHow (here and here) and Wired’s How-To Wiki (here) – but if in doubt, it’s probably best to consult a professional! And for a Finnish point of view – you can check out this post at This Is Finland (it lists coffee as very important!).
On a slightly different track – one of the most useful things that we learnt about the long dark days here, is the importance of reflectors. Pinning a safety reflector onto you jacket or bag helps motorists and cyclists spot you in the dark, which is particularly important in icy conditions when their stopping distances are longer than usual (it is also a legal requirement if you are on the road after dark). You can find some really fashionable reflectors (e.g. the LifeSavers brand) and just cheap ones (e.g. from Clas Ohlson) – interestingly, the story goes that these were invented by a Finnish farmer wanting to keep his carts safe (according to Wikipedia…).
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