How to maintain your mental wellbeing during winter – the Swedish way

The Swedes have developed ingenious habits to not only survive winter but to appreciate it as well. From a year-round love of the outdoors to decorating windows with light, here are some top methods that architect-turned-writer – and recent emigrant to Sweden – Lynne Myers adopted to get through winter the Swedish way. Maybe they’ll work for you too?

WORDS: Lynne Myers

Why lighting windows can create a positive and festive atmosphere

One of the first things you might notice about Sweden in winter are the window lights. Even after dark, many people keep their curtains open to display small, softly lit lamps on the windowsill. And, as it gets closer to Christmas and Lucia – a traditional Christian holiday in Sweden celebrated on 13 December – people add illuminated paper stars or electric advent candles to their windows, making whole streets look festive until spring. Just like Lucia, bearer of light, Swedes bring their own light to the darkness.

How the Swedish mys concept can help cheer you up during winter

You’ve probably heard of Danish hygge, but Sweden has its own concept of comfort and cosiness, called mys. This cosy way of being permeates Swedish culture and is attached to a variety of compound words. As temperatures drop, everything becomes mys. Examples include fredagsmys (cosy Friday), familjemys (cosy family) and mysbelysning (cosy lighting), all of which are about taking it easy, staying in and creating a warm, homely atmosphere, especially during the dreary winter months. Think hot drinks, good food, board games, films and lots and lots of candles.

Why spending time outdoors is important for your mental health in winter

‘There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes,’ goes the Swedish mantra. While the first taste of Swedish winter would make anyone want to run for cover under a blanket, the locals know that getting outside for fresh air and exercise is essential to feeling good. And they make sure to have their daily power walk whether the sun is shining or heavy snow is falling. Even slippery ice won’t stop them, they just put spikes on their snow boots. This year-round appetite for nature and the great outdoors is encapsulated in the Nordic concept of friluftsliv, which translates to ‘open-air living’.

How the Swedish fika attitude can help you get through the challenging winter months

A good work-life balance is essential to Swedes. Flexible hours are standard and many companies offer wellness hours for employees to enjoy 60 minutes of health- and wellness-related activities every week. Testament to this balanced attitude is Swedish fika. Both noun and verb, it can most simply be translated to taking a coffee break, but it means so much more. Fika is about the ritual of taking time away from the desk to connect with colleagues or friends, or simply recharge alone.

Why it’s important to keep socialising during winter

With everyone staying in and getting mys, winter in Sweden, like in most places, can be a lonely time of year. That’s why it’s especially important to stay connected. Do it the Swedish way by going out for fika and a walk with friends or inviting family over to play board games on cosy Fridays. And if, like me, you’re new to town, do it the very un-Swedish way by initiating small talk with your neighbour or lingering an extra minute to chat to your local barista.

Whichever tips and tricks work for you, just remember that, however dark winter gets, a brighter season is just around the corner.


Read more articles about wellness and mental health in Breathe 60.