A combination of COVID-19, the flu, cold weather, shorter days, and spending time indoors already has some Americans dreading the winter season. Health experts have also expressed concern over peoples' mental well-being, as opportunities to engage socially continue to be limited. In August, a Centers for Disease Control survey revealed that 41 percent of respondents were dealing with mental health issues due to the pandemic.
But the prospect of a long and isolating winter isn’t without precedent. In Tromsø, Norway, residents are virtually without sun from mid-November through mid-January. And they might hold the key to coping with the season.
Writing for The Guardian, David Robson recently profiled Kari Leibowitz, a psychologist who visited Tromsø to better understand why its citizens are, broadly speaking, pretty happy people despite the harsh weather and lack of sunlight. What Leibowitz discovered was that the people of Tromsø don’t dread the polar night—they look forward to it.
Leibowitz found that their appraisal of a “lockdown” wasn’t at all downcast. Instead of applying negative thoughts to it, they considered all the things that would bring them comfort. Using a “mindset scale,” respondents who stated they enjoyed certain aspects of winter, cozy time spent indoors, and seasonal changes were comfortable. Those who considered winter boring or limiting were more likely to be unhappy.
Anecdotally, Leibowitz also found that residents of Tromsø were genuinely excited about the opportunities the season brings, from skiing to resting under a blanket. Rather than feel restricted, they opted to appreciate what was possible.
"Most people don’t realize that their beliefs about winter are subjective,” Leibowitz said. “They feel like they’re just someone who hates the winter and there’s nothing they can do about it ... But once you put it in people’s heads that mindsets exist, and that you have control over your mindset ... I think that that’s tremendously powerful."
For some people, like those with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a change in attitude isn't so easy. But for others, shifting their thinking away from a cold and dark season to one full of potential might be one way to find the warmth in winter.
[h/t The Guardian]