As the last tiny patches of snow have been melted by an unseasonably warm few days last weekend and the famously long days are making their highly anticipated appearance, spring looks to have finally sprung in Uppsala. The sudden change in temperature and scenery has been a shock, and it’s not long before you find yourself acting like a true local. Face turned up to the sun at every opportunity, having fika outside not because it’s especially warm, but just because – for the first time – you’re not risking frostbite doing so, admiring blossom and birdsong like you’re an extra in a Disney film… If you thought Brits were known for being ridiculous at the first sign of sun, you clearly haven’t met a Swede.
Joking aside though, the upturn in the weather has sparked some pretty serious conversations about the impact of such a long and difficult winter on people’s mental health. Before I came to Sweden, I had a reasonable awareness of Seasonal affective disorder, but I definitely hadn’t fully comprehended how intricately connected daylight and weather are with physical and mental well-being, especially my own. The notion of biting cold and extremely short days was only a novelty when I was organising my year abroad, and I gave little thought to the fact that my reality wouldn’t be a winter wonderland of hot chocolates and sledding for a week or two, but rather attempting to navigate the mundanities of daily life in miserable, cold, dark conditions, for what ended up being about a five-month stretch.
I don’t intend to sound all doom and gloom, and this isn’t to imply that I regret having moved to Uppsala, nor that I would discourage students from coming on exchange here. Rather, I think it’s really important to have frank conversations about the realities of living in an environment that can, for many people, be very challenging. Whilst it’s very difficult to predict how you’ll cope with a Scandinavian winter, there are definitely strategies that you can employ to make things more bearable. I asked a few friends who’ve also struggled over the winter for their tips and tricks:
1) Be social!
As much of a chore that leaving the warmth and comfort of your bed may seem on particularly dreary winter days, I cannot stress enough the importance of forcing yourself out of the house and meeting up with friends. The Swedish institution that is fika is practically designed for this purpose, so embrace the local culture and consume copious amounts of coffee and cinnamon buns in good company. Uppsala has an abundance of cosy cafes, many open until 10pm, and of course the nations all offer watering holes – VG and OG both have underground bars, which you may as well make the most of when the weather’s poor, as you’ll be ridiculed for sitting indoors when the sun finally makes its appearance.
2) Embrace the cold
Even though I’d opt for Swedish summer over winter any day, I’m really glad for having had the opportunity to experience activities which the mildness of the British climate doesn’t facilitate. Cross-country skiing on a frozen lake is one of the coolest (pun intended) things I’ve done on my exchange, and I can’t deny the beauty of the city when it’s entirely blanketed in snow. Skating, skiing and sledding are all popular Swedish activities which you rarely have the chance to try in the U.K, so make the most of it while you can! Exercise is also a fantastic antidote for low-mood, so you’re killing two birds.
3) Det finns inget dåligt väder, bara dåliga kläder!
This Swedish proverb – “There is no bad weather, only bad clothing” – is something to live by on your exchange. If you’re to achieve the above points, you’ll need to be ready for all that the Swedish winter can throw at you, so pack wisely/ be prepared to invest in clothing that will last and get you through some very cold and damp months. Leggings/tights under trousers is a must, biking (or for that matter, anything) will be impossible without heavy-duty gloves and wool socks are your friend.
4) Keep busy
As a student city, there’s always something happening in Uppsala, and events are often free or discounted. Pub quizzes are regularly organised by the nations and provide a great opportunity for catching up with friends, Musicum (the university music department) often hosts free concerts, and film, music and theatre festivals are a regular feature in the winter calendar. Uppsala also boasts a number of independent cinemas which are a lovely way to spend an evening when the weather’s against you -Fyrisbiografen and Slottsbiografen are my personal favourites.
5) Top up that Vitamin D
As a history student, I have to confess that I don’t fully understand the scientific importance of vitamin D, I only know that my mum insisted on packing me off with a year’s supply of tablets that I was told to take daily. I failed in this instruction, but would pass on the advice to others, as it gets bandied around a LOT here, so I assume it’s a rather big deal. Without many hours of daylight (around 5 hours in Stockholm in winter) and weak sun, not to mention being wrapped up from head to toe, your body’s vitamin D supplies will be seriously lacking, so supplements are the go to. To compensate for the impact of a dearth of sunlight, the university also has a free “light room” to tackle winter fatigue, and I’ve heard good things about light therapy boxes from a friend, which can be purchased online, though a good one will set you back a fair bit.
6) Communication, communication, communication
Most importantly of all if you’re struggling, remember that you’re not alone, and that it’s a difficult season for most people in Scandinavian countries. Talk to your friends about how you’re feeling, and reach out to the university’s student health services if you feel in need of extra support. It can be a tough few months, but believe me, the Swedish spring tastes all the more sweeter for it.