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WINTER IN SWEDEN

SNOW

How to beat back the Swedish winter blues

As Swedes struggle through the shortest days of the year, contributor Alec Forss offers up a few tips on how to survive the dark depths of winter in Sweden.

How to beat back the Swedish winter blues
What do you do to cope with this weather? Photo: Moa Karlberg/imagebank.sweden.se

The trees have been stripped bare of their leaves, it's cold, and the clocks have gone back.

And it’s dark. Very dark.

It's at this time of year that some of us begin to wonder, with some justification, why on earth we live in Sweden.

Living in northern latitudes means that, by mid-December, there is approximately two hours' less light in Stockholm compared to, say, London or Brussels.

But if you think the light situation in the capital or the south of Sweden is bad, spare a thought for the very far north of the country where, above the Arctic Circle, residents may not see the sun for two months.

The winter gloom can be hard to deal with – for Swedes and foreigners alike.

But don't despair, there are steps we can take to help us cope with so-called vinterdepression.

1. Take a brisk walk

Coming to work in the morning in the dark and then leaving after sundown is a sure recipe for winter depression. Try to get out for at least forty-five minute walk at midday in order to soak up some sunlight. Popping into a café for a morale-boosting hot chocolate doesn't hurt either.


Take a quick walk as soon as the sun comes out. Photo: Audun Braastad/NTB scanpix/TT

2. Sleep

Many northern residents sleep ten hours a night on average during the winter compared to just five or six hours during the summer. If only total hibernation were an option. Did we mention an increasing number of babies are born during the summer? Perhaps sleep isn't the only way to get through the long Swedish winter nights.


Why don't humans hibernate? Photo: Staffan Löwstedt/SvD/TT

3. Get outdoors

Summer isn't the only time for outdoor pursuits. “There’s a lot of fun activities you can do, like cross-country skiing, ice-fishing, ice-climbing or just a cozy ski-trip in the forest,” says Jokkmokk resident Björn Nordkvist, who also suggests checking out the Northern Lights.


A trip to the forest can lead to the view of beautiful Northern Lights. Photo: Lola Akinmade Åkerström/imagebank.sweden.se

4. Light and other therapies

While the Northern Lights might not alleviate SAD, installing light therapy boxes that replicate natural light may help. For romantics, meanwhile, candles can also help to beat back the blues. If you are really suffering medications such as melatonin and other antidepressants is available via prescription – though the jury is still out on just how effective they are.


Install as many lights as possible. Photo: Hasse Holmberg/TT

5. Diet

A healthy diet is beneficial in keeping mentally fit during the long winter months. A daily dose of cod liver oil – rich in vitamin D – is a staple of mine when in northern climes. So buy from the supermarket or get your ice-fishing gear out and stock up on those fatty acids. Increasing your fruit intake can also boost your immunity to the murkiness.


All I want for Christmas is fish. Photo: Karl Melander/imagebank.sweden.se

6. Events

Winter is not a time to bunker yourself in your apartment. Try and attend as many events or exhibitions as possible. One option is Gothenburg’s new three-kilometre-long “Lane of Light” – an outdoor light display. Or perhaps a show at one of Stockholm’s exciting concert venues.


Stockholm offers a lot of versatile concerts. Photo: Jessica Gow/TT

7. Escape

Don’t forget you’re only a flight away from escaping the gloom. In fact, many Swedes escape to warmer climes such as Thailand and the Mediterranean for a couple of weeks in order to soak up the sun. However, the strategy may be considered cheating by inveterate northerners – which leads to one final piece of advice.


If everything else is dark, just escape to a sunnier place. Photo: Malin Hoelstad/SvD/TT

8. Attitude

Learn to like winter! Attitude is important and a healthy measure of stoicism can see us through the winter months. Isn’t it true, also, that we enjoy the coming of spring that much more after the deprivations of winter? Luckily, we've only got a few months to go!


A positive attitude can change everything. Photo: Tomas Oneborg/SvD/TT

WEATHER

VIDEO: Meet the rooftop snow clearers keeping Stockholm safe

Stockholm's snow-topped buildings may look charming, but heavy snowfall can be dangerous. An army of 'sweepers' take to the city's rooftops to clear them of snow in a carefully managed operation.

VIDEO: Meet the rooftop snow clearers keeping Stockholm safe
Rooftop snow cleaner Andrei Pilan clears buildings in Stockholm's picturesque old town. Photo: Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP

Teetering on the edge of a black tin roof ten metres (33 feet) above ground, Andrei Plian and Alex Lupu clear a thick white blanket of snow off a building in Stockholm's historic Gamla Stan (Old Town), while their colleague on the street below keeps watch to warn pedestrians passing by.

While to many the job would be vertigo-inducing, for Plian and Lupu – two roofers by trade – it gives them a chance to admire the view.

“Being here on the roof and looking up at the sky, you feel that freedom,” Plian tells AFP, seemingly ignoring the biting subzero chill.

Secured with ropes, carabiners and a safety harness, he climbs the few remaining steps on a ladder attached to the roof and breaks the serene quiet of the sunny February morning with a clank as his shovel hits the tin roof.

Click on video below to watch:


The constant clearing of snow from the city's roofs is first and foremost done for “the safety of the people”, but also to maintain the buildings, many of which are hundreds of years old.

“If there is too much snow on the roof it is too heavy for it so you have to take it off,” the 36-year-old says

A ten-year roofing veteran, he moves around fluidly and with confidence. Getting the job done quickly is key as more roofs are waiting, but safety remains a top priority.

“Every time you have to think about safety, it's the number one rule. You don't have room for a mistake here. If you make one mistake it could be your last,” Plian says.

In early February, another snow clearer was seriously injured while clearing a roof in the northern Swedish town of Umeå, with initial findings showing he wasn't wearing his safety harness.

Under Swedish law, property owners are responsible for clearing snow and ice off their buildings if it threatens to fall and injure someone, but accidents are rare.

“As far as I can remember there has only been two deaths in the last 20-30 years or so,” Staffan Moberg, spokesman for the insurer industry group Svensk Försäkring, told AFP.

In one case in 2002, a 14-year-old died after being struck by a large block of ice that broke off a building on Stockholm's main shopping street Drottninggatan.

Moberg added that they don't keep statistics on incidents since they are rarely requested, and while accidents do happen on occasion, “the consequences are mostly not lethal and very seldom even severe”.

But after every fresh snowfall, signs immediately sprout up on sidewalks and facades warning passers-by of the risk of falling snow and ice, awaiting the arrival of the “snowploughs” in the sky.

While Plian and Lupu are busy at work on the roof above, Fredrik Ericsson is tasked with ensuring the safety of pedestrians down below.

Using a high-pitched whistle, he signals their comings and goings: when he blows his whistle once the shovelling stops to let people pass, and two whistles signals the all-clear to resume work.

Ericsson concedes that it can be a tricky task as people are often oblivious, sometimes wilfully, to the work going on.

“They don't show that much respect, they just walk past, so I have to stop and yell at them,” he explains. “They don't see the danger.”

By AFP's Helene Dauschy

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