Thinking like a Norwegian may help you cope with a winter lockdown

If you’re fearing another lockdown in the oncoming winter, then you might want to start thinking as Norwegians do in the northern city of Tromsø. Lying two hundred miles north of the Arctic Circle, the city does not see the sun from mid-November to mid-January, which spurred health psychologist Kari Leibowitz to go study the ways that Tromsø citizens cope with the long “polar night.”

In most countries, the short days of winter can cause people’s mood to drop, something that is known as “seasonal affective disorder”. One reason for this is because mood-regulating neurotransmitters such as serotonin are generally lower in the winter.

But in Tromsø, the city’s residents don’t show the same kind of wintertime depression you might expect in a city where the sun never really shines in the winter. In fact, one study by May Trude Johnsen at the University of Tromsø found that the citizens’ wellbeing barely changed across the year–even if their sleep was a bit disturbed without the rising and setting sun. What might explain this?

According to the study from Leibowitz, one vital component may be a particular “mindset” that arms the citizens against the stresses of the long polar night. To test whether a difference in outlook could also explain the resilience of Tromsø’s residents, Leibowitz designed the “wintertime mindset scale”, which asked participants to rate how much they agreed or disagreed with statements such as “There are many things to enjoy about the winter” or “I love the coziness of the winter months.” On the opposite side, there were statements like “Winter is boring” and “There are many things to dislike about winter.”

What she found was that participants’ answers predicted their wellbeing over the coming months; the more they saw the winter as an exciting opportunity to enjoy a glacial climate, the better they fared, with high levels of life satisfaction and overall mental health. What this tells us is that adopting a mindset to frame the future positively can help you cope with potentially stressful times.

As we enter a winter that could be plagued by another lockdown, it seems it could be hugely beneficial to adopt the “Tromsø” going forward. With that said, Leibowitz conducted her initial studies long before the new coronavirus left Wuhan – and she is realistic about the challenges of trying to see the positive in the pandemic.

But she does suspect that adopting the positive wintertime mindset could make a second lockdown a little less daunting for those who worry about their mood during the winter.

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