How 2 unpronounceable Nordic words transformed my winters and my mental health

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Guest Author: Rachel Broadbent, Mother of three, ICU nurse, lover of the outdoors, good books and conversation.

Invited by: Ann Grandchamp, Mental Health Editor

About five years ago, I was in the thick of the parenting trenches. I had a 6, 4, and 2 year old and was clawing my way out of a dark mental health anxiety tunnel precipitated by a child’s diagnosis of epilepsy. What’s more, I was heading into a New Zealand winter, which occurs from June – August here in the Southern Hemisphere. We are not known for our particularly bitter winters, but they feel dreary, cold and interminably long.  In my view, they start in “grey May” and end in “sick September”, my depressing pet names for these miserable months.

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My Swiss Story: How 2 Nordic words transformed my winters and my mental health


One day a fellow mother introduced me to the Nordic term Hygge (hoo gah). I dived into a research rabbit hole, ever keen to learn new ways to improve, even enjoy, life. It does not have a direct English translation, but our words “cosiness” and “togetherness” come the closest.

I was inspired that despite their famously long and bitter winters, Scandinavians don’t seem to feel sorry for themselves. Instead they have one of the highest happiness ratings in the world. They embrace what winter brings and make the most of it! Candlelight, cosy blankets, warm fires, hot drinks, mulled wine. I clearly had life lessons to learn from them. That first winter we added candles and fairy lights to our dining room, kept the heat pumps pumping and savoured a Midwinter feast with friends. I was surprised by the joy and focus that planning a social event brought into my life.

In the Southern hemisphere, our winters lack the Christmas celebration that falls in the Northern Hemisphere winter, so I had to generate our own festivities. It was the first of what has now become an annual event and has morphed into a Matariki Thanksgiving celebration – stealing from the traditional Maori celebration of the new year and the wonderful American tradition. We hold it around our shortest night and it brings light, sparkle, deliciousness and social connection into the deep dark winter.

The practise of bringing hygge to my winters has spilled over into other parts of the year too. I now relish the changing of each season and intentionally lean into what each new season brings – the new foods and fresh produce, the new activities, and the new celebrations to anticipate.

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My Swiss Story: How 2 Nordic words transformed my winters and my mental health


I wasn’t introduced to this second Nordic term – I was brought up with it. I only discovered its Nordic name years later through social media. Friluftsliv (free loofts liv) is most accurately translated “open air life”. This term encompasses loving nature, loving being IN nature and living a nature-embracing lifestyle. Being in nature has always been important to me, but it became essential to coping in my dark days of near-burnout parenting, fragile mental health and dreary winters days.

I would take every precious opportunity to go for a walk or a run. During that first desperate winter, I always had young children present. I would rug myself and my children up in our warm gears and head to the beach or inlet for a walk in the wide open space. I invested in possum fur mittens, hand knitted beanies, warm down puffer jackets and thick-soled comfortable walking shoes.

The maxim “there is no such thing as bad weather, just wrong clothes” became my inspiration and motivation.

Being near the water always added a special lift to my spirit. Somehow the expanse and all that blueness of sky and sea brought calm and safety to my soul. As I got braver and my baby got older, I would head into the forest alone for a steep climb to a high ridge overlooking my city. The cool leafy air, tall silent trees, and burning lungs and muscles was both soothing and invigorating. I could climb in virtually any weather, protected from the battering winds and driving rain. I would do this climb weekly for many years – lifting many sunken moods, praying through difficult situations and finding creative solutions in the forest.

I always find that being in nature rapidly brings fresh perspective. As a friend put it, “I feel so small . . . in such a good way”.

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My Swiss Story: How 2 Nordic words transformed my winters and my mental health

I am no longer knee deep in nappies, but I am now home-schooling a child. Life is full and still has challenges. I love that I have found much joy in these two practises and with it, optimism for the future. I have rebranded “sick September” to “slow September”. This is no longer the last month of winter for me, but the first month of spring (which is actually is). It is the time to hunt for cherry blossoms and magnolia flowers. It is the time to eat asparagus and anticipate daylight saving. It is the month to say “no” to extra commitments and do slow for a few weeks. And to celebrate that the winter just experienced wasn’t so bad; in fact, it was thoroughly enjoyable.

Take care! Stay safe!

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One thought on “How 2 unpronounceable Nordic words transformed my winters and my mental health

  1. Very inspiring. During this period of the pandemic and winter season, reading your articles lifted me up to think positive and look into life from a different angle. Great words thank you 😘🙏

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