Welcome to November! As we are moving into the darkest time of year, it’s time to address the “November blues” that many people suffer from – and while I think we have to admit that it all hits us in one way or another, I have found ways to enjoy this time of year. The darkness in Finnish winter is not easy to beat, but not impossible! So now let’s look at “Kaamos” (the Finnish word for Polar Night), shall we?
The daylight alarm clock is something many people talked about for years, but it took me until last year to take the plunge. Somehow I didn’t think it would really make a great difference – but it did. The idea is that you are woken up by light, as if the sun were rising in the morning.
For me, the absolute worst thing is that moment in the morning when you switch on the light and you go from being deep asleep to brightness.
That really left me in a bad mood for hours. The wake-up light starts with very soft light half an hour before your set alarm, and gets brighter until it your getting-up time, and then some soft forest sounds join in. It has helped me to ease out of sleep and be more alert in the mornings for sure.
Another game changer has been the Philips Hue smart home lighting system. Automated light zones have the lights in the kitchen on when I get up – again avoiding this moment of switching bright lights in the darkness. It’s super easy to set up, and for me it’s been a really good investment to help with seasonal issues!
My mum always had candles on around the kitchen for breakfast in the dark season, and it’s a little morning ritual that I’ve taken on as well. It’s so cozy and makes you feel warm and comfortable when you get out of bed in the morning. An indoor lantern can have the same effect!
You will feel so much more confident and happy when you’re not cold and uncomfortable. That makes the darkness in Finnish winter so much more bearable to begin with.
I’m 100% a material nerd, and it’s for a good reason. Over the last years, I have invested in a lot of high-quality pieces in my wardrobe, especially for the colder seasons. Natural fibres are the key here, but also what you’re wearing. In Finland they say that “cotton kills” as it retains moisture next to your skin and stays wet, and eventually makes you feel cold. Wool can be 70% wet and still keep you warm and feeling dry. Stay away from synthetic fibres, as they are not breathable and will not keep you warm. And feeling warm and comfortable are key to enjoying this time of year!
Avoid: polyester, polyamid, nylon, acetate, acrylic
Go for: fibres like wool, merino wool, alpaca, yak, cashmere and even silk
Mixed fabrics are not necessarily evil, as long as the majority of the fabric is a natural fibre. I love merino wool as it’s so thin and comfortable, yet there is nothing as amazing as a cashmere knit.
Invest in one good sweater, a hat and coat, and cozy woollen socks – and it will change your perception – I promise you. See my full winter clothing guide below.
For me, that means enjoying a nice glass of red wine, lighting some candles and wearing really thick woollen socks.
It’s the time of year when we don’t have to feel bad to stay inside a lot (but not always, see further points), so we might as well make it really enjoyable. Make a list of movies you’ve been meaning to see, stock up on your favourite hot chocolate and get a really awesome pyjama or onesie.
I know it’s stupid to say that it’s all about your attitude, but a part of it sure is. If you want to hate the season, you will hate it. Finding ways to make this time of year enjoyable and connect good memories with it, can make a big difference – and the darkness in Finnish winter can also be something beautiful!
Also, sauna is great in all seasons, and while it’s amazing in the summertime, for me there is nothing better than a hot sauna in the evening of a really cold, dark day. It’s not only good to warm you up all the way to the core, it also strengthens your immune system, it clears your winter skin and it’s just the best for an all feel-good experience. If you don’t have a sauna at home, in Helsinki there are great places like Löyly, Allas, Kultuurisauna or Uusisauna to give you the perfect experience. And then sleep like a baby.
With such limited daylight, it’s increasingly important to take in some of that whenever you can.
But even on your regular lunch break, maybe you can just extend it a little bit and go to that other restaurant a bit further out, or go for another round around the block before returning to your desk.
Now that I’ve recommended all the right things to wear, it’s time to venture into the great outdoors.
You don’t have to go for a run or exercise in order to feel the benefits of being outside, but it’s a long-confirmed way to avoid seasonal affective disorder and depressive feels hitting you. I totally get that it’s not the most appealing maybe, but it makes such a huge difference.
There’s no bad weather, only bad clothing – and I agree with that in 87% of all days. If it’s raining, I don’t bother. But don’t let that wind or those temperatures stop you. Going for a walk in brisk, icy weather is amazing and you will feel so good afterwards.
A happy warm belly is the key to happiness. This season it’s time for stews and soups, and I can’t wait to try out all those on my list here. Lentil stews, pumpkin and apple soup, lots of tasty root vegetables and all that good stuff – it is the highlight of the cozy season and I am here for it. Helsinki has a bunch of well-known restaurant for soup and stews – I have collected them for you:
See the map of my favourite places for soup in Helsinki!
In this season many of us only want to cozy up at home, watch Netflix and order some good food. And while that’s totally legit and sometimes going outside is just not what we want to do, it’s all the more important to continue to meet with lovely people, have engaging conversations and enjoying each others company can make a huge difference in the dark months. I have a regular dinner date with friends where we take turns in choosing a restaurant each month, and it’s just wonderful. It doesn’t need to be expensive or fancy, but it can be – because you don’t need an occasion to get a nice meal.
The darkness in Finnish winter can have actual physical symptoms. While it’s the great season for all them citrus fruit, clementines and oranges, hello! – it’s also the time of year when many people tend to grab some vitamin D supplements, and I do recommend to look into that option. While I strongly discourage anyone from taking any random pills, I do recommend getting your blood levels checked and discuss with a doctor or pharmacist if a supplement is a good idea during this time of year. There are official recommendations, but I personally would always get this in agreement with a health professional.
If you struggle with sleeping and your rhythm in the darkness, you can consider trying Melatonin – it helps many people a lot! Speak with a doctor or pharmacist before taking anything.
In autumn, we all tend to stop doing things. We don’t go out, we don’t go to the hairdresser, we just tend to stay in the comfort of our own home, which is totally fine and I do that a lot.
However, let’s remember not to stop all the things that brought us joy outside of the warm season. Book a hair appointment, set a nice dinner date – let’s wind down but not stop. Doing things we love sometimes gets forgotten when we get lazy.
Book a massage or a pedicure, go out for a little shopping spree or go see a movie.
Keeping yourself occupied and adding some structure to your day can help a lot with staying awake and alert in the darkness in Finnish winter. Things like going ice-skating, a ceramics or pottery class, getting a new cookbook and having a set day every week to try a new recipe, puzzles, a language class or an online-course to learn a new skill, get an adult-colouring book (yes) or the like could be something to try.
Red lipstick brightens even the dreariest of days.
If all else fails: drink extra much coffee.