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The winter blues, also known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), is a very common medical condition that is easily self-diagnosed. In fact, millions may be affected and not know that their negative feelings can be diagnosed. The winter blues may present as feelings of hopelessness, depression, and fatigue, causing one to withdraw from social activities or family contact.

‘Hygge’ may be part of the answer to combating SAD. You may have been hearing more and more about it, but you may not quite understand what it is yet. ‘Hygge’ is actually a Danish lifestyle concept that encourages adopting habits that foster a sense of well-being, with an emphasis on coziness and comfort – which is what we need during the cold days of winter. There is also an emphasis on familiarity: in the hygge sense, this means valuing and taking pleasure in experiences that may be considered to be ‘ordinary’.

Understanding the Winter Blues

The winter blues affect millions of people in the U.S. every year, and is generally attributed to the lack of sunlight during darker and colder winter months. The shift in seasons is known to affect the body’s internal clock and cause a drop in certain brain chemicals. One may be affected physically and emotionally due to the following:

  • Lower melatonin levels. Melatonin is a hormone that helps regulate sleep and mood.
  • Decreased serotonin levels. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that regulates mood.
  • Disruption in the circadian rhythm controlling sleep and wake cycles.

Traditionally, the medical community has responded with different types of treatments, including light therapy, psych drugs or sleep medications, cognitive behavior therapy, along with regular exercise and outdoor activity. Yet, many people still dread the coming winter months and find it extremely difficult to ‘carry on’ as usual after the summer and fall seasons pass.

What is Hygge?

Hygge has been practiced in Danish culture since the 1800s. The word is derived from the Norwegian word that means well-being. The idea behind hygge is the promotion of a lifestyle that is “cozy and comfortable”. For many Danes, hygge is a way of life – one that embraces cozy comfort in clothing, foods furnishing, and in your daily activities.

Bringing Hygge Into Your Life

There are many simple ways to bring Hygge into your life. Here are a few to consider:

  • Drinking warm beverages and eating hot foods. This includes teas, warm milk, and comfort food like casseroles and soups.
  • Creating a cozy, comfortable, and familiar environment by adding pillows and throws to a room, wearing knitted sweaters, and sitting by a fireplace.
  • Curling up with a good book or relaxing to soft music.
  • Bonding and snuggling with family.
  • Venturing outdoors to enjoy green spaces and nature when possible.  

What Hygge is Not

When you consider what hygge is not, picture the average employee who puts in long hours on the job, with little time left for family, friends, and his or herself. The few hours spent at home are consumed by scratching the next item off the “to-do list” or by shuffling between electronic devices. What a person living a non-hygge lifestyle considers relaxation or recreation is really just another list of activities to fill empty hours – and without the benefit of close personal interactions. Here are other ways you may not be living a the ‘hygge’ lifestyle:

  • Only consuming cold foods and beverages.
  • Staying isolated or avoiding family and friends.
  • Allowing your body or environment to become physically cold.
  • Spending an excessive amount of time on cell phones, tablets or other electronics.
  • Making constant purchases just to stay on top of trends in fashion and technology.
  • Setting too many strict rules for yourself and not living in the moment.

If you want to practice hygge, then live ‘a simple life’: this means enjoying the things you already have with the people who are closest to you. Taking pleasure in the little things in life can not only increase your happiness, it can also put off the winter blues.

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