It’s my third full winter living in the Netherlands and this year feels different. There is less dread. More understanding of what’s to come. Less longing for that Southern Hemisphere sunshine and more appreciation for the good things these darker months can bring. I also feel like I’ve learned a thing or two, which I wanted to pass on to anyone who is new to these Northern Hemisphere seasons.
Summer here is blissful and unmatched. Spring is filled with hope. Autumn is elegant and languorous, but winter? She’s a tough old thing. So here are some little tips I’ve learnt that can hopefully help you from a lifestyle point of view, so you can get through the rest of this season with a skip in your step.
1. Light it upWhenever I’d see wintery scenes of the Northern Hemisphere lit up by a million tiny lights, I’d think “How quaint!” But now I know that although this atmospheric aspect is important, it’s also about practicality: the days are so dark that you need this extra lighting to navigate your way.
My advice is to hang fairy lights on every little thing. Hang them in the living room, hang them in your bedroom, hang them at your window so a stranger looking upwards can have it light something inside them too. As you probably know, the Dutch are big on cosy lighting in general, so turn off those fluorescent overhead lights and get some lamps for each corner. Plus, load up on scented candles. The general rule is: the cosier, the better.
2. Take your supplementsI’m not a doctor, and it’s important to note that you should always see yours if you have health concerns. But I do know that taking additional Vitamin D is important at this time of year. A friend’s doctor advised them to take Vitamin D every month with an “R” in it, which is a handy way of remembering it: DecembeR, JanuaRy, FebRuaRy, MaRch (I think you get it!).
I’ve found that a good probiotic works too, but we’re all different. It’s worth figuring out what your body needs and being proactive about supplementing during these chillier months, when there seem to be more germs around.
3. Get sweatyI exercise in the winter primarily to manage my mood, because if I don’t, there are consequences. Beyond simply getting that heart rate up, it’s important to break a sweat, which is harder when it’s five degrees celsius outside. It’s for this reason that I’m a fan of hot yoga, working out at the gym or at home, spin classes and treadmill runs. And my new favourite Dutch pastime: the sauna. Something wonderful happens when you sweat and all I know is that it feels extra good in the winter.
4. Find the right clothingIf you didn’t come from a country with a similarly cold climate, your wardrobe is probably woefully underprepared. My first winter here was miserable because I somehow thought that my South African coats, boots and gloves would suffice, but the short answer was: they did not.
Get yourself a proper thick coat and invest in waterproof boots and super warm socks. You don’t have to buy everything new – there are loads of apps where you can pick up great quality, second-hand clothing at good prices. My other clothing tip is to wear multiple layers, like vests, under your turtlenecks, or tights under your jeans and tuck them all into each other so no cold air gets in. You will resist that winter air with all your might and you will win.
5. Get outsideI know it’s rainy, windy or even just plain freezing, but do it anyway. Meet a friend for a walk in the forest because the sky may clear up and you might spot a patch of blue. Wrap up the family and walk around the market and eat poffertjes while you listen to draaiorgels (automatic organs) and the air smells like chestnuts. Go for a run when it clears. Swim in the freezing sea, even, like I did for de nieuwjaarsduik (The New Year’s Dive) and then go home and get cosy again – feeling more buoyant about life in general.
6. Embrace new traditionsDid I ever think I’d willingly plunge myself into five-degree water on New Year’s Day with 10.000 other strangers? No, but it’s embracing new activities like these that can completely transform your experience of living in a new country. So, eat the fresh oliebollen when you first see the trucks appearing in November. Write poems for friends at Sinterklaas. Get yourself some ice skates when the lake freezes over (let the experts go first though!). The sooner you start to enjoy what’s right around you, instead of dwelling on what you may be missing out on in your home country, the happier you’ll become in your adopted home.
7. Manage your social media and news consumptionWhile social media is a great way to keep in touch with loved ones around the world, we all know that it can have a negative effect on us too. You may be sitting in your cold apartment staring out into the darkness and you suddenly see on Instagram that your friends are all together on the beach having a picnic – and that’s obviously going to affect your mood. As is overdosing on the terrible events unfolding in the world right now.
So do what you need to do. Limit your daily use to specific times using Downtime and App Limits on your phone. Call your loved ones and connect that way. Watch something amusing or read something uplifting. Take care of yourself first, so that you can then take care of others.
Be kind to yourselfRemember that moving to a new country is hard enough, so show yourself some kindness in these leaner, wintery times. Add joy where you can and be proactive about safeguarding your mental and physical health. After a while, you’ll find what works for you and you’ll start to appreciate this new season of your life much more – it just takes a bit of time.