New Englanders are not strangers to the stresses of winter. Many have come to love this seemingly seven-month season, but others dread these dark and cold days. Seasonal Affective Disorder, commonly known as SAD, impacts nearly 20% of Americans (Psychology Today, 2019). This yearly onset of depression is normally treated with light therapy, individual counseling, and medication (NIMH, n.d.). In addition, this year we have the added bonus of COVID-19 affecting our mental health. We need to be purposeful and prepare for this winter any way possible.
Let’s take a page from our Scandinavian friends, who also lose sunlight during the cooler months. I would like to bring to your attention the Danish concept of hygge (pronounced Hue-gah).
The closest meaning for this word in English is cozy. Practicing Hygge requires first taking the time to reflect on what makes you feel comfortable, content and cozy. Think: soft pajamas, lit candles and a mug of hot apple cider warming your hands. However, hygge is meant to be more than a feeling. For those who practice it, it becomes a way of life. Like mindfulness, Hygge can become a daily practice to foster inner peace and self acceptance.
The World Happiness Report reflects that Denmark is the second happiest country in the world (World Happiness Report, 2020), and hygge is a huge factor in this. Finding peace and relaxation in one’s home, and taking note of the good things in life, can reframe the mind. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) teaches that our actions affect our thoughts; repetition, routine and a focus on positivity are foundational for how CBT works to change our brain.
During the Holiday season, we make a point to decorate our homes, light fires, drink seasonal drinks and eat seasonal foods. These traditions tend to end with the coming of the New Year. I imagine hygge to feel like those holiday evenings with hot chocolate and slippers. This winter, my challenge to you is to get cozy; find a good book, light a candle, sip some tea. Discover the things that bring feelings of relaxation and peace, and prioritize them. The winter does not have to be so dark after all.
Written By: Ashley Diehl, LMHC, is a licensed mental health clinician in the Family Counseling Associates Danvers office. We encourage you to reach out to our intake team at FCA if you need help during the winter season.
Seasonal Affective Disorder. (2019, February 07). Retrieved November 17, 2020, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder
Seasonal Affective Disorder. (n.d.). Retrieved November 17, 2020, from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/seasonal-affective-disorder/index.shtml
World Happiness Report 2020. (2020, March 20). Retrieved November 17, 2020, from https://worldhappiness.report/ed/2020/