Surviving the Dark Season

Surviving the Dark Season

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@Katherina Riesner
Photo: Jens Hunt.

This past November proved to be one of the darkest ones in recorded history in Sweden. Lundagård talked to counsellor Ǻsa Probert and psychologist Ulrika Linse Strömland from Studenthälsan about the effects this can have on students’ health.

Many international students experience the full onset of their cultural shock after having lived in their new country for a few months. Unfortunately, this is right around the time when Sweden shows its darkest and most disheartening sight.

Ulrika Linse Strömland asserts that “the culture shock reactions might get worse when you add darkness” to it. In general, students contact Studenthälsan (Student Health Centre), with diverse symptoms, which can – to a certain extent – be related to sunlight withdrawal.

Ulrika Linse Strömland and Åsa Probert are both working at Studenthälsan. Photo: Jens Hunt.
Ulrika Linse Strömland and Åsa Probert are both working at Studenthälsan.
Photo: Jens Hunt.

Students are “tired, stressed, sad, and worried”, says Ǻsa Probert. They are also anxious, lonely and feel lost within the new culture because they are still looking for “a sense of belonging”, adds Ulrika Linse Strömland.

Culture shock
Often these symptoms affect students’ academic performances, which is one of the problem areas Studenthälsan focuses on. Students come to the center, reporting on “difficulties concentrating, learning in general, and memory”. These symptoms can be a combination of culture shock and general psychological issues, e.g. stress, depression or anxiety or can be connected to what is known as ‘seasonal depression’ (SAD, Seasonal Affective Disorder).

It is, however, impossible to determine whether depression-like symptoms are linked to the weather or a general, clinical depression. This is why there are no numbers available on how many cases of SAD Studenthälsan deals with every year. Nevertheless, it is clear that there are more students seeking help in the winter months than during summer.

“A biological reaction”
Furthermore, Swedes are far from being immune to weather influences; in fact, doctors have estimated that 20 percent of the population in Sweden, approximately 2 million people, are affected.
“This is a biological reaction”, explains Ǻsa Probert, “when the amount of daylight changes too fast, our bodies have difficulty adjusting, which often results in lack of energy and tiredness.”

Until the days get longer after December, 21st – the awaited turning point of winter – there are very simple, practical ways of dealing with the darkness: Try to get as much daylight as possible, even on cloudy days. Using bright lamps in your rooms and actually turning them on, is the most basic advice the two experts give to students. Candlelight, without having an attested biological effect, can simply make you feel better too. Regular exercise, in- and outdoors, more sleep, less alcohol and established social routines that get you out of the house all help in keeping you active and positive.

Ulrika Linse Strömland remarks that academically trained people frequently look “for more advanced advice. But there is no such thing.” In essence, Swedes and internationals alike should “try to try to find a balance between living an active life and getting the extra sleep they need,” notes Ǻsa Probert.

Small steps
At this point students can also remind themselves that Christmas, accompanied by many lights, is fast approaching and that the gray days of November are finally past. Mentally dividing the long winter in small steps of four weeks is similarly helpful because it decreases the feeling of infinite darkness that a lot of people have. Additionally, it is worthwhile remembering that if November wasn’t so bad, we couldn’t experience the wonderfully light Swedish nights in summer.

Fact: Student Health Centre

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