A while ago I saw a post on the expats facebook group about dealing with Estonian winter. The advice ranged from popping vitamin pills, doing Vodka shots to unsurprisingly 'lots and lots of crying'
One of the most consistent advice however was to have a good social circle. This got me thinking: What happens if you are an expat and an introvert and you don't have a regular social circle of friends or family?
Here is an essential list for introverts who want to survive (and thrive) the winter months.
1. Get Vitamin D
This means take a healthy dose of necessary multivitamins, specially Vitamin D. Despite being called a Vitamin, Scientists say that it behaves more like a hormone than a vitamin, contributing much less in our metabolism as thought previously but effecting many other systems ranging from our weight to how our organs function.
While this is not 100% scientifically proven, Researchers also believe that Vitamin D has a direct effect on Seasonal Affective Disorder ( a fancy way of saying winter blues) by affecting our Serotonin levels which regulate our mood. If you are feeling down than usual then a very good first step would be to make sure your Vitamin levels are in check. Our diet has a lot more effect on our mental well being than we believe it to be. Helpful advise would be to get them checked from a doctor and then take supplements for deficiencies.
And lastly, the placebo effect is real, this means that if you take a pill every day thinking it will help with your mood and your general well being then it will do that. This has been scientifically proven in cases where the patients were given placebo medicine and despite knowing that it was a sugar pill it still helped them.
So pop a pill, it will help.
2. Get Moving
Winter months, particularly in Estonia have hardly any sunlight. The lack of sunlight tells the primitive part of our brains that its time to rest and sleep, as a result our brain starts producing a hormone called Melatonin. Melatonin is how our bodies regulate the sleep-wake cycle. As soon as its dark our bodies start producing this hormone thinking its time to sleep. (even though its noon) .This Melatonin is why so often we feel lazy during the dark wintery months. To counteract that laziness it is essential to exercise. Its no surprise that the gyms are packed during the winter months.
One thing you can do if you struggle with regular exercising is to cut down on your objectives till you are able to do it regularly. If you don't have a regular exercising habit then it will probably take you less than 3 days before you give up because it is too hard. Break it down, till your objective doesn't seem scary. Suppose you want to go to gym but you don't feel like it? Is there anything you can do? Can you take a walk outside for 10 mins? If that seems scary then can you do it for 5 mins? If it looks cold and dreary then maybe you can just put on your shoes and do some jumping jacks inside your apartment. After that reward yourself, by going to sauna or having a coffee. The key here is to start a lasting habit and then build on top of that. Start small andthen steadily improve.
A good way is also to go to group training classes in the gyms. The combined classes promote healthy competition and they take the weight off your shoulders on how or what program you should be following.
3. Embrace the cold
In the norther parts of India, In the remote Himalayan mountains, the Tibetan Buddhist monks often have a contest. They go to the freezing mountain tops and sit down to meditate in their robes. The monks are then draped in wet sheets. For a normal person, this shock could result in death, but soon the sheets start to steam and in less than an hour they are dry. They do it for hours and the monk that dries the most sheets is the winner. The monks raise their body temperature by using a special breathing technique called to g Tum-mo , sometimes up-to a startling 10 C in their fingers and toes.
In Buddhist terms, the cold just like any other feeling is a sensation, we attribute the meaning of cold to it by our thinking mind. Part of our fearful response to cold is just anticipating the fear in our minds before we are even subjected to it. I have never been an avid meditator but even I remember sweating after just a few months of mindfulness meditation. If we train our minds then our bodies are far more tough and resilient then we know.
In practical terms, to embrace the cold you have to slowly start to expose yourself to it. Cold showers are a great start in the morning. You can start with a warm shower and then end it with a few seconds of cold water. Just like lifting weights, start slowly and then build it up from there. Soon you will start to see that cold is not to be feared but respected and that our bodies are far more resilient and stronger than we give them credit for. After the fear is lifted you will start to enjoy the cold a lot more.
There is something to be said about the importance of the local culture of a place. A culture is a distillation of all the behaviors that helped the population thrive in the existing climate and geography. That's where sauna comes in. It is an essential part of the Estonian culture for good reason. Scientists have found that regularly going to the sauna drastically reduces your chances for a Cardiovascular diseases. It generates endorphins, the hormones that give us the feeling of euphoria called the 'runners high'. The high temperature in sauna dilates our bloodvessels, improving the blood flow, which helps in recovery after an intense workout.
Perhaps one of the most underrated benefits of the sauna is the solitude it brings. We are surrounded 24/7 by either our devices at work on in our personal lives. Sauna provides a space to get free from them and focus inwards on our bodies. Relaxing the tensions from the preceding day. It is a great medium to meditate and practice mindfulness without any distractions.
5. Get cuffed
I had a longstanding suspicion that couples tend to form during the onset of the winter months. After a little bit of research I found it out to be absolutely true. In fact there is even a special term for it called the 'cuffing season'.
The Urban dictionary defines the cuffing season as During the Fall and Winter months people who would normally rather be single or promiscuous find themselves along with the rest of the world desiring to be "Cuffed" or tied down by a serious relationship
There could be a number of different reasons why we seek a partner so badly during the onset of winter months: Firstly the shorter days mean there is less time for socializing and meeting other people, so people tend to form couples to have a guaranteed person beside them. Another could be that the lack of sunlight reduces the amount of serotonin being produced. As said above, serorotonin is the happy hormone which makes you feel good, this lack of serotonin makes you want to partner up with someone to deal with the winter blues.
So if you fancy someone? Maybe its the best time to ask them out, since biology is on our side. Needless to say one shouldn't go into a relationship for the sole reason of not being lonely (Get a dog instead). Even though we all tend to do that, it results in a codependent relationship eventually culminating in a emotional train-wreck. Make sure you like someone for who they are, and they also like you for who you are. Because there is also an 'uncuffing season' that comes with the onset of spring. And you don't want to be sad and mopey when everything around you is blooming.
So be honest and be mindful. It is far better to be alone and happy and than be committed and miserable.
Happy Winter !