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Hot Tips From a Professor to Survive the Finnish Darkness

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Picture: Seppo Sirkka for Finland Today

The autumn leaves have come and gone with the cool breezes of the early fall having passed into cold wind chills signifying the oncoming of the Finnish winter. Bears have gone into hibernation and soon, the lakes will freeze over, and the snow will fall in abundance and Finland will glow white in the layers of snow and ice that usually line the sidewalks all the way from Helsinki to Lapland. But for a country high on happiness and life quality indexes, Finland has a dark secret.

During the months of November and December, there is very little sunshine in Finland. In southern Finland in November, the sun, when it chooses to appear, rises around 8:30 and sets at 15:30. During December, the sunrise at 9:30 means that most people head to work and school in darkness and return home in a similar situation. As many Finns eventually escape to warmer parts of the world for the holidays to avoid the winter blues and a well-deserved vacation, the colder months, particularly towards the end of the year can be detrimental to those living in Finland, and especially shocking for those new to the country. Sunrays are also important for mental health and well-being.

The lack of sunshine leads to a depletion in levels of Vitamin D in humans and according to research conducted at the University of Turku, 20 percent of Finns suffer from low moods and tiredness starting around October. These symptoms usually start when the amount of light decreases, and the weather is filled with rain and darkness. As a foreigner who has taken a few years to adjust to the darker months, I wanted to find out what a professional would recommend as a remedy so I called Professor Simo Saarijärvi from the University of Turku. Professor Saarijärvi is an advocate for a concept called “light therapy.” “Light therapy brightens the mood and makes you feel more energetic,” Saarijärvi has said previously.

The amount of snow on the ground also plays an important role in providing much-needed light.

Professor Saarijärvi recommends light therapy as a form of treatment for the low moods caused by the lack of sunshine. Research has suggested that light boxes are best used daily and in the early morning for periods of 30 minutes to two hours. “Bright light lamps, which are available everywhere, should be made use of. People should buy their own personal lamps which can be employed at home. One must also make use of natural sunshine. In the rare occasion that the sun is shining, take advantage of it and go outside!” Professor Saarijärvi said.

The amount of snow on the ground also plays an important role in providing much-needed light. “People in Lapland can be less affected by seasonal affective disorder (a clinical form of winter blues) than those living in the southernly states due to the amount of snow on the ground,” Saarijärvi said. The reflection of light from the snow can play a role in reducing the surrounding darkness to keep the blues at bay, providing another reason to go outside despite the gloomy weather.

For those who cannot wait for those rare moments of sunshine that pass in between the grey skies that so often linger over Finland during the winter months, I have found that exercise helps to keep away the effects of this seasonal downturn. Taking walks with my dog, jogging and strength training have all played an important role in keeping thoughts off the darkness. Developing a daily routine through work and volunteering my time has also proved an alleviating factor.

Based on my experience, it is best to prepare for the cold darkness that will be at the forefront of the Finnish landscape until the midnight sun resurfaces for the summer and the lush leaves of the Nordic scenery bloom once again.

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About The Author

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Shashank is an Indian-born writer and sports coach living in Finland.