The magic of the holiday season is behind us, it’s been at or below freezing for weeks, and you haven’t seen the sun outside of your lunch break since October. The middle of winter can be a dark, abysmal pit of grey gloominess. For the 10 million suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), it can really put people in a funk. If you’re sober or in recovery, having SAD or just feeling gloomy for months can be triggering and damaging to your mental health and self-care.
One way to combat the SAD blues is to engage in hygge, which is a Danish lifestyle centered around comfort and coziness. Eager to hear about the benefits of hygge and what a hygge day should look like, I called on licensed social worker and hygge enthusiast, Macauley Cliffe of Chicago. She studied abroad in the Netherlands, where she roomed with a woman from Denmark. Macauley was immersed in the hygge lifestyle during her studies and loved it so much she brought its practices back with her to America.
“It has a lot to do with being warm and kind of creating your own warmth and light, especially during the dark winter months,” says Macauley. “It really gets practiced in Scandinavia because their hours are so much shorter in the winter.”
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Though the term was coined in Denmark, hygge spans most of Scandinavia and some Nordic countries. With some of those countries repeatedly topping lists for happiest in the world, it’s no surprise they’ve figured out a way to make winter more bearable.
In 2016, the hygge lifestyle hit the U.S. when The Little Book of Hygge was published by Meik Wiking. Hygge went on to be the word of the year as Americans dove headfirst into piles of blankets and scented candles. Since then, the lifestyle has been adopted and Americanized with hygge-devotees in the states flocking to stores like T.J. Maxx, the mecca of curating cozy.
“Though the practice in Scandinavia and the U.S. have similar vibes, here (in the U.S.) it is more about what the environment looks like,” explains Macauley. “In Scandinavia, it’s a greater emphasis on the experiential part of being with loved ones and friends.”
So how can hygge help you out of your winter funk and strengthen your recovery during these dark, sunless months? Create a cozy oasis with these tips on setting the mood and creating that warm-on-the-inside feeling.
1. Dim lights and scented candles.
The building blocks of perfect hygge ambiance are lighting and scent. Kick things off by lighting your Bath and Body Works candles, starting a fire, and turning the florescent lights down to a relaxing glow.
“About 90 percent of my clients have increased symptoms in the winter and I think a lot of it is the darkness. So, bring in candlelight, firelight, or dimmer lights. We respond well to dimmer lights because they’re relaxing to our neuro system by mimicking daylight, like dusk,” says Macauley.
The scented candles can also have an impact on your mood. By lighting indulgent smelling tapers, you can create an atmosphere that tingles your sensory neurons.
2. Invite your friends over.
As Macauley mentioned, a huge component of hygge is the connection to others. Not coincidentally, building a support system and fostering connection with others also a huge part of recovery. By surrounding yourself with people you love and embracing time together, it creates those feel-good feelings hygge is all about.
In the winter months, it can be easy to feel cooped up and isolated with nowhere to go. Bring the fun into your realm and invite friends or family over to bake, watch a movie, play games, dance, or just sit and sip a cup of hot chocolate.
Macauley feels human connection is the best antidote to the low sluggish feeling people get in the winter.
“There isn’t an English equivalent to the word, but you’ll know the feeling when you get it. It’s homely and light and only cultivated by being surrounded by people you love.”
3. Nourish your intellect.
Compliment the candlelight with soothing or upbeat music. Spotify is filled with people’s interpretations of hygge music ranging from U.S. playlists to Nordic ones. Getting down to the beat or lost in the instrumentals can make you forget the dreary cold.
While you wait for company to come over, read a book with the comfort of a cup of tea. Books take us places we can’t physically be.
The last thing you can do to nourish your intellect is to wake up with a sense of purpose. Plan out your day, who you’ll invite over, what you’ll do, etc. It can help combat the depressive slump that comes with cold weather.
“If you go into the day ready to practice hygge and plan it out, that can give you a sense of purpose that people often get from outdoor activities,” advises Macauley.
4. Make everything soft.
Woven textiles, flannel, and all things plush will have you melting into comfort. Throw on that oversized fleece sweatshirt, add in those colorful fuzzy socks, and wrap yourself in a down comforter or equally fluffy blanket. The soft textures can mellow the harshness cold carries and bring you into your sense of feeling. d
Another reason to soak in comfort during these cold winter months? Sleeping in is a great hygge practice that also nourishes your recovery. So go ahead and indulge by taking a mid-afternoon nap, covered by your favorite cozy blanket, and drift off into comfort and peace.
5. Feed the soul.
No day of cozy is complete without something to eat! Porridge and pastries are the most hygge-friendly foods that the Danes make. Other comforting concoctions include muffins, cookies, breads, hot cocoa, and cider. Remember when we said you should invite your loved ones over for a day of baking? Here’s a good place to start. Not only will you be forming those all-important connections that are part of hygge and recovery, but you’ll also have some sweet treats to last you for the rest of the week — reminding you both that you are not alone and that you are loved.
Food has a way of bringing us together and filling us up where we feel happy and satisfied. Whether you turn on the oven or plug in the crockpot, be sure to share what you make!
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When it feels like it’s the twentieth month of winter, find relief in the practice of hygge. The lifestyle of cozy can withstand the treachery of a winter funk. Create the ultimate hygge day by setting the mood, eating yummy treats, and being with loved ones. Hygge for your recovery may become as fundamental as your sun lamp to combating seasonal affective disorder.