Combat winter blues with friluftsliv, the Nordic tradition of being outside

Former KIRO Newsradio features reporter

You may be familiar with hygge, the Danish and Norwegian art of being cozy. Consciously combating the winter blues with crackling fires, having friends over for tea and cake, and snuggling up in cozy clothes. But there’s a Nordic tradition that’s often practiced before hygge called friluftsliv.

“The Swedish government defines it as ‘spending time outside for personal wellness and to experience nature without pressure or to achieve or compete,'” said Linda Akeson McGurk, author of the new book, “The Open Air Life: Discover the Nordic Art of Friluftsliv and Embrace Nature Every Day.”

Seattle sperm bank in desperate need of Black donors

Friluftsliv is part of the culture in Sweden, Norway, Finland, Iceland, and Denmark. Places that are darker and colder than Seattle in winter, but where people don’t experience seasonal depression like we do.

“The essence of friluftsliv is that it’s important to be outside in every season, and to find something to love in every season, because the benefits of being outside don’t end just because it’s dark and cold outside,” said McGurk. “You need it more than ever.”

You simply adjust, dressing warmly and waterproofing for the weather, bringing a flashlight when it’s dark.

“I always come back inside more alert, more focused, and just feeling that my spirits have been lifted,” said McGurk. “Sometimes, when the weather is rough, you come back inside and it actually helps foster gratitude. I think because you appreciate the warmth and comfort of home a lot more when you’ve been out there. So I think a lot of times the beauty is in that contrast.”

She says the best time to get outside is before 10 a.m. The sunlight in the morning is good for your circadian rhythm and actually helps you sleep at night. And at work, where many of us sit for much of the day, she recommends breaking up the day with walking meetings.

“Especially for creative sessions, like brainstorming sessions, being outside can really help spark people’s creativity,” McGurk said. “A lot of people feel like you’re on a more level playing field, regardless of your title or role in the company. It’s just easier to talk when you’re walking side by side rather than facing each other over a big conference table.”

More from Rachel Belle: Most Americans hate small talk, but Seattleites continue talking about weather

And if you want to take friluftsliv to the next level, remove any barriers between yourself and nature.

“I do try to do barefoot walking as often as I can,” McGurk said. “It’s just a great way to stimulate nerve endings in your feet and it’s relaxing. Feet are not made for being squished into shoes.”

Listen to Rachel Belle’s James Beard Award nominated podcast, “Your Last Meal.” Follow @yourlastmealpodcast on Instagram!