While Danish “hygge” is all about getting cozy inside with candles and blankets, the Swiss prefer to go outside in the elements when it comes to beating seasonal winter depression.
Short days, little sunlight and freezing temperatures – the Swiss winter is no joke. Once the temperature in Switzerland drops, so does the mood of its countrymen. Even in the beautiful alpine scenery, people are not spared from the winter blues.
Seasonal depression can get to anyone
It’s estimated that about 5% of the Swiss population suffers from seasonal depression also known as SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). SAD generally starts with a change in seasons and returns every year around the same time, usually from October to April. It’s more common in women and young adults. It is also more common among those who were raised in a sunnier climate and then move to a colder, darker climate. The cause is the reduced level of sunlight exposure, which can lead to a vitamin D deficiency and a melatonin imbalance. When these levels are off, it can cause poor sleep, low energy and depression.
But lying on your couch won’t help you with symptoms of SAD. General practitioners recommend you go outdoors and absorb as much sunlight as possible to help correct the vitamin D and melatonin imbalances. And psychiatrists say the biggest game changer happens when you intentionally change your perspective about the season, entirely – you focus on all the things you can do instead of the ones that you cannot do, according to many studies. And that’s exactly how the Swiss handle the winter blues.
Winter sports are the ultimate mood booster
While the Danish’s hygge talks about getting cozy inside with blankets and candles, the Swiss culture takes the opposite approach. Having outdoor sports and other activities to look forward to, seems to be the key to Swiss people’s cheerfulness during winter. Apart from the sunshine one absorbs on the sunny ski slopes, there are other benefits: Exercising is proven to help with depression, since the body releases “feel good” endorphins when it’s moving. Plus, doing sports will take your mind out of a negative thought-cycle.
Half of the Swiss population considers themselves as athletic and most prefer to enjoy their sports in nature, according to studies. This doesn’t change in the winter months. In fact, the most popular sports among the Swiss are winter sports: skiing, snowboarding, sledding and snowshoeing. At the top of the list is hiking, which is done all year round – even in the snow.
It’s this deeply rooted love for winter sports that makes Swiss people look forward to winter instead of dreading the season. After the first fall of snow, there’s hardly a weekend where the ski slopes aren’t packed with locals. Especially because it’s so easy to reach them. Thanks to the small size of the country, it will rarely take you more than two hours to get to a ski resort by train, gondola or car.
The Swiss have even implemented a one- to three-weeks long ski break into their public school system, called ‘Sportsferien’, which translates to ‘sports holidays’. These breaks are built into calendars to allow families to be in the mountains and take advantage of the winter season.
Hot foods and drinks that warm you from the inside out
The Swiss love their hot drinks and foods. They consider more famous dishes, such as fondue and raclette, seasonal items that are not allowed to be eaten in warmer months. It’s an unwritten law among Swiss people to only eat these melted cheese dishes in winter, therefore, they look forward to the winter months when they can indulge in their favorites.
When you are sipping a glühwein (mulled wine) surrounded by a snowy landscape, it’s difficult to feel down. Other hot drinks the Swiss love include schümlipflümli (coffee laced with clear plum brandy and topped with whipped cream) and kafi lutz (hot water, sugar, a teaspoon of instant coffee powder and a shot of cherry kirsch). And the kinder (children) are not left out either. There is hot apple cider, hot chocolate and punsch (a fruit syrup mixed in hot water).
You can only find these drinks during the winter months and the best place to purchase them is at one of Switzerland’s 130 annual Christmas markets. You’ll find a market in almost every village, which again, encourages the Swiss to go outside, socialize and enjoy the cold.
Sometimes you need an extra boost
Yes, the Swiss have created many ways to celebrate winter, but even they sometimes need an extra boost. Swiss doctors often prescribe vitamin D supplements in the winter to provide people with the energy they need. (The federal office of public health even recommends giving babies vitamin D supplements until at least their third birthday.) The reason? The lack of sunlight during a Swiss winter makes it impossible to absorb the needed amount of vitamin D from the sun – at least without getting a bad sunburn.