Anastasia Christidou is a certified counsellor and psychotherapist working with expatriates in Rotte...
SAD: How to survive Dutch weather25 October 2013, by Anastasia Christidou
If you are feeling less than joyful and find yourself struggling with Dutch weather, don’t feel bad about it. You have lots of company...
Even the most positive and upbeat people are susceptible to the Dutch weather, sometimes called the autumn blues, winter blues, spring blues... you name it!
As the hours of daylight fade, sunlight becomes a luxury and our daily reality consists of grey skies and rain, it’s not unusual to feel moody, tired and low on energy.
The constant rain, greyness, cold, the insane wind and the relative absence of sun and light, also known as Dutch weather, is one of the issues expats find the hardest to adjust to in the Netherlands, especially those coming from relatively warm countries.
Autumn brings low spirits especially as the days get shorter, colder and darker. Our mood and behaviour changes, we feel more exhausted and lose our interest in being active.
Many people experience autumn melancholy and winter blues, with some people experiencing more intense symptoms than others.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
If the autumn and winter months seriously impact your quality of life, you may suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as SAD (kind of ironic), a mild form of depression affecting over 12 million people across Northern Europe.
People in northern climates are more likely than others to experience SAD symptoms, which may include loss of energy, sleeping too much, social withdrawal, difficulty concentrating, appetite changes, cravings for carbohydrates (bread, pasta, sugar...), weight gain, anxiety, hopelessness and loss of interest in and motivation for activities they once enjoyed.
Symptoms are usually temporary, lasting only a few months, and with the return of sunlight in the spring people usually bounce back.
Causes of SAD
While the exact causes of SAD have not yet not been determined, studies indicate a strong link between SAD and the absence of light.
When rays from the sun hit the back of the eye (the retina), messages are passed to the hypothalamus part of the brain that governs sleep, appetite, mood, sex drive and activity. If there is not enough light, these functions tend to slow down.
Some people do need more light for their body to function properly. According to the Mayo Clinic, sunlight also stimulates the production of the neurotransmitter serotonin that supports nerve cell functioning, including mood.
A lack of sunshine results in lower serotonin levels, while darkness increases the production of melatonin which promotes sleep (thus we feel more tired and sluggish).
How to fight SAD
If your symptoms begin to affect your ability to perform at work or cause damage to your relationships, you should seek professional help.
Psychotherapy can be extremely useful in supporting people to cope with SAD symptoms and it can also expand your awareness by recognising the other factors that may be contributing to your symptoms.
For mild symptoms the tips given below will usually be enough to help and offer relief. For more severe symptoms consult your physician and a mental health professional.
Tips to survive Dutch weather
Here are some tips to stay upbeat during the autumn and winter months in the Netherlands:
› Get your vitamins
Avoiding sugar and comfort foods, eating healthily, sleeping well and also taking vitamin supplements will all boost your mood.
Keep your brain chemistry and neurotransmitter action at optimal levels with these chase-away-the-blues vitamins:
- Vitamin D
Vitamin D is essential for coping with autumn and winter blues. Sunlight is the body’s main source of vitamin D and studies have shown a strong link between vitamin D deficiency and SAD.
- Fish oils & Omega-3
Fish oils and Omega-3 are thought to elevate your mood and have positive effects on your emotional health, as leading physicians from Harvard Medical School have confirmed.
- B-complex vitamins
B-complex vitamins, among other things, enhance nervous system function and improve mood and emotional well-being.
› Exercise & Stay active!
Find a type of exercise that you enjoy and that is possible to do regardless of the weather and stick to it two to three times a week. Joining a gym, going running, doing yoga, Pilates, dance, martial arts, home workout YouTube videos and DVDs are just a few options.
You might find yourself thinking "I’m so tired" or "I don’t have enough energy to exercise." Think again! Regular exercise will elevate your energy levels by stimulating your heart and oxygenating your blood. Exercise is also beneficial for your overall physical and emotional health, as it also releases mood-enhancing endorphins.
› Spend time with your friends!
Staying home and having some alone time can have nourishing and rejuvenating effects on your well-being. Just make sure to find a good balance between staying alone and being with others, because it’s easy to become isolated during the autumn and winter months.
Remember, you are not a bear! Every now and then, fight the urge to hibernate and keep yourself engaged with your friends and the world.
When the world seems colder and darker, reaching out to your friends and investing more time and energy to deeply connect with people is essential to supply you with warmth and care.
Go for coffee, lunch, dinner or the movies and spend some quality time talking. If you feel sad and moody, reaching out to others will probably make you feel lighter. So make spending time with friends your priority for the autumn and winter months!
› Let there be light!
There is no substitute for natural light. Light is beauty! Make sure to benefit from the available daylight and spend time outside during the early morning and lunch hours.
Even a few minutes of skin contact with direct sunlight can make a big difference to our mood. If the sun is shining, soak in its heat and cherish that moment of warmth and glow, appreciating its beauty.
› Find what makes you feel centred & happy!
Whatever it is that brings you back to your centre, find it and use it!
It may be looking at a favourite quote or a picture, decorating your house with vibrant colours (yellow and orange are excellent in promoting joy), wearing bright colours (e.g. a red, orange or yellow scarf!), burning candles and essential oils (aromatherapy), watching your favourite TV series, meditating, going on an excursion, booking a trip to the sun...
Do not bury yourself in work just to cope with your melancholia; it will not help you. Actually, working over 11 hours a day will make you more susceptible to depression.
Take care of yourself!
For many of us, the autumn and winter months are difficult. The best thing to do is to take extra care of ourselves physically and emotionally.
In any case, stay active and uplift your spirits because nothing lasts forever; spring and summer will eventually come back!
How do you feel as the days get shorter and colder? How does the Dutch weather impact your every day life?