By Kaitlynn Buchbaum
My conception of winter is double-sided. While I can’t possibly relate to you how excited I am to wear sweaters again, to leave my bike at home, to drink tea like my life depended on it, there are a lot of things about winter that make it difficult. And with the increasingly shrinking daylight, I wanted to share with you a toolkit for living your best life when the cold of winter blows in.
How bad can it be?
While Berlin winters differ dramatically from the frequent blizzards in upstate New York, (which brag feet-high snow accumulation) the impact remains the same. As the temperature drops, people become less and less willing to venture outdoors. This can be a difficult adjustment, especially if you’re not living with friends, or or your friends live in different neighbourhoods from you. While in summer, the distance is an exhilarating way to get outside, soak up some sunshine and exercise, (if you cycle to your social engagements) this enthusiasm wanes with the icy winters that can take place in Berlin. In addition, Seasonal Affective Disorder is a valid condition connected to the change in body rhythm associated with longer nights and shorter days. Seasonal depression, or a worsening of year-round depression, may make it difficult to engage with others. For this reason, creating opportunities to interact with other human beings is crucial.
Winter weather in Berlin can vary. According to CustomWeather, December and January precipitation totals average about 32.8 and 28.7 cm, respectively. Wind rates are highest in February, with an average of 15 km/h. Combine the wind with the water, and the temperature averages between 3 and 5 Celsius highs and -1 and -2 Celsius lows, and you’ll begin to understand the reason why Berliners develop a bit of a winter cloud over their heads in this bitter weather.
What can be done?
Now that you know what you’re in for, it’ll be easier to form a contingency plan. This is what I recommend:
Something to take care of: Whether this is just a succulent you purchased at a Flohmarkt, or you’re lucky enough to have a pet, I find it helpful to have something that forces me out of bed in the morning. Giving enough love to a fellow living creature and seeing the product of that love (a new leaf, a devoted pup) does wonders for believing in what you can accomplish with just a little care. I personally treat my SCOBY like a pet, and the effect is just as edifying.
Vitamin D: This happy vitamin is primarily internalised through the sun, but the long nights and the cloudy sky may prevent you from getting enough of it. I like to use a sun-light, which was a gift but can also be purchased on Amazon or in some department stores. If I turn it on for just fifteen minutes while I’m getting ready in the morning, I start to feel alive again. Other sources of Vitamin D are cheese, eggs, tuna, salmon, mushrooms, orange juice, and dietary supplements.
Self-care: This is a big one. The practice of self-care is becoming an international topic of conversation, and why shouldn’t it? In the end, your health and well-being is of utmost importance to your ability to function as a human being. However, it is important to note that self-care can’t just be reduced to investing monetarily in your life. Self-care also means taking care of the things that will make your life easier, like paying bills on time and cleaning yourself regularly. If you can’t uplift yourself through tangible acts that remind you, “yes, I can do this!” then who will?
Positive media: Take the opportunity this winter to learn something new through podcasts. My favourite are ArtCurious, Mentally Ch(ill), Lit Up, Lexicon Valley, Better Life Lab, Call Your Girlfriend, and Stuff Mom Never Told You. Like to read? I find St. George’s English Bookshop to be the best English-language bookstore in Berlin. They also give you a discount on your next purchase when you bring books back. If you want to add a social element to your reading, try the many book clubs available in Berlin.
Meditation or yoga: I’m hesitant to bring these up, seeing as they are the go-to suggestion for many self-help strategists, but seeing as I have benefited from them, I wish to develop the breadth of options available to you. Meditation can also be done from bed if you wish, but group meditation is also available, and you could even get a group of friends together, make dinner together, and meditate with YouTube guides. Although the group/coaching factor can be inaccessible for folks of different abilities/income brackets, there are many online guides for these fields that make it easier to do independently. Any way your body can move, it will thank you.
Art: The final of my tips. Art-making has become a widely-accepted approach for enhancing mental health in people of all ages. Do you paint? Draw? Collage? Do you make pottery? Write poetry or journals? Write letters? Cook beautiful meals? Play music? Have you always wanted to try? Winter is a time to get cozy, and therefore can also be a time to get creative. Visit a local embroidery workshop, or join a knitting club through MeetUp, and you may be surprised by what you can do. You may even make a new friend, or strengthen a friendship that already exists.
I hope this guide is helpful to you as you begin to pull out your scarves and woolly sweaters. If there’s nothing else that you take away from this, please do hold onto the fact that you are not alone in this feeling of winter isolation. There are always people you can talk to as the long nights draw in.