I frequently work with internationals who have arrived in Denmark from sunny countries like India, the UAE, and the Philippines, and they all share one common challenge – finding light in the Danish winter darkness.
Actually, Danish people struggle with it as well. The darkness that starts to fall in the early afternoon means that 5pm looks just like 8pm, which looks just like midnight, which looks just like 5am, which looks very similar to 8am. Dense, inky black sky.
During the daytime there’s a dim grey light, sometimes accompanied by a soupy fog of tiny raindrops. It’s tough to handle.
Many people living through this time in Denmark describe feeling low-energy – sløj is the very descriptive Danish term. It translates directly to “sluggish”. Others feel deeply depressed. Some eat too much, or drink too much. Some sleep all the time.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Here are my tips for handling these dark months, which generally stretch from November until the end of February.
Golden rays direct to your brain
First, the purely physical aspect. Take vitamin D supplements and consider a blue spectrum therapy light – I have the cheapest one, it costs about 400 kroner. Turn it on and it feels like an instant slice of happiness. It’s like inhaling sunshine.
It’s also important to get outside during the brief period of light every day. Even if it’s just for 15 minutes on your lunch hour, it really helps. On days when a little weak sun peeks through the clouds, I literally stare at the sun. I’m sure an eye doctor would tell me not to do that, but the sun is so weak this time of year I don’t feel it’s a big danger. It feels like golden rays going direct to your brain.
Walking in nature, or visit the polar bears
Secondly, exercise. Walking in nature is wonderful this time of year if you have right clothing, in particular the right footwear. A good pair of solid boots and you can even go out when it’s icy. Don’t neglect second-hand stores in Denmark. You can usually find a lot of good winter clothes there for not very much money.
Parks, botanical gardens, forests – they all have a certain charm this time of year. A brown, winter charm, but a charm all the same. Go see how the winter animals are doing. Deer parks are good, see what the deer are up to. And most Danish zoos are open year-round. Go see how happy the polar bears are when the weather is freezing!
Find a winter project
If you can’t go out, exercise at home. YouTube has workout videos with every possible type of host at every level – if you want to work out with a man, they can do that for you. Want to work out with a woman, an old woman, a young woman, a middle-aged woman, they can do that for you. Discount stores like Flying Tiger will sell you weights or elastic band or exercise balls if you need them for not very much money. But really, you can work out to YouTube for free, if you don’t mind a few advertisements for totally random things breaking up your flow.
But my top tip for making it through the winter is a specific project, like learning how to knit, or learning how to make something out of wood, or even better, a list. If you have a list, you can check things off as you go along, and you get a feeling of progress as the dark months drag on.
I am doing a list this winter. I’m doing every single class available at my gym chain, Pure Gym. Zumba dance, Latin Dance, Step Standard, Boxing, BodyPump. This requires a good deal of humility. Being the new kid every week in class requires a high tolerance for looking foolish. I’m always at the back, always at least 1 or two steps behind everyone else.
Danish culture film festival
Cooking lists are another good approach. Make every soup in a cookbook of soups, for example. It feels good to cross them off a list.
If you’re getting to know Denmark, you can do a Danish culture film festival. Watch the comedy classics, like the Olsen Gang comedy movies, the Olsen Banden. This is suitable for children – the Olsen Gang are a group of clever but nonviolent criminals that do things like stealing a golden statue. Kids might also enjoy the Father of Four comedy series – Far til Fire – about a motherless Danish family with four kids. They’ve been making episodes with new sets of kids for more than 50 years.
More sophisticated viewers will like Matador, the classic TV series about a World War II era Danish village and how the social classes interact in it. It’s a great winter option, particularly if you like long, intricate family dramas. You can see it for free with English subtitles on DR.dk.
The secret is the list
If your tastes are more contemporary, there’s always the famous political series Borgen, or the Castle, about a female prime minister, three seasons, or Broen, The Bridge, a Danish-Swedish co-production about crime on both sides of the Øresund Bridge. Maybe your tastes are darker – then you can go for films about the Danish gangs and the Danish underworld, like the Pusher series, parts 1, 2, and 3.
But the secret is the list. You gotta have a list and check things off. It gives you a sense of forward movement at a time when things seem ceaselessly dark.
Snow helps. If you get some bright white snow on the ground, it reflects the light and lightens the mood.
Otherwise, the only real cure for Danish winter is spring, just a few months away.