Mental Health

Why embracing the Nordic concept of ‘friluftsliv’ could be the secret to better mental health during lockdown

Are you looking for a way to reconnect with nature during lockdown 2.0? Here’s how the Nordic concept of ‘friluftsliv’ could help you to do just that. 

As countries across the world head into a second lockdown, there’s been one topic laying particularly heavy on people’s minds: mental health.

Whether you’ve dealt with mental health problems before or have never struggled, lockdown has the potential to take its toll on all of us. From the isolation of staying at home to the fear and anxiety caused by the pandemic, there’s plenty of reasons why our mental health might be at risk – and with the second lockdown taking place during the autumn months, the shorter days and grey, miserable weather have the potential to make things more difficult.

However, that doesn’t have to be the case. Because although we can’t control some of the negative parts of the lockdown – especially when it comes to the source of our fear and anxiety – what we can do is make the most of getting outside. And that’s where the Nordic concept of ‘friluftsliv’ comes in.

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The term, which translates roughly to ‘open-air living,’ is widely popular across the Nordic countries where, despite freezing temperatures and very few hours of sunlight throughout the winter months, getting outside and embracing the outdoors is part of life all year around.

During a second lockdown, when the weather is rubbish and our motivation to get outside is at an all-time low, it seems that embracing the concept of friluftsliv could be the perfect antidote to the challenges of staying home. 

Not only does embracing friluftsliv mean more time spent getting active and therefore staying healthy, but it also means spending more time surrounded by nature – a habit which has been proven to benefit our mental health. 

“We have a saying in Sweden: ‘There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes’,” explains Niels Eék, a Swedish psychologist and co-founder of the personal development and mental wellbeing app, Remente. “Friluftsliv is something that is ingrained into us Swedes from a young age. This is why, even in the depths of winter, groups of friends will often be found meeting outdoors, hiking and picnicking together.”

He continues: “Living a friluftsliv way of life means being outdoors as much as possible which, of course, benefits your physical and mental health. Across Scandinavia, friluftsliv plays an essential part in most people’s lives – this is partly due to the fact that we have a lot of land, small populations and the freedom to roam virtually anywhere, and partly due to the fact that being immersed in nature is shown to boost mental, spiritual and physical wellbeing, so we actively seek it out.”

A woman in a coat and jumper
Friluftsliv: wrapping up warm and going outside no matter what the weather looks like is a key aspect of friluftsliv.

Although traditional friluftsliv is all about being outdoors as often and for as long as possible, sitting outside during your lunch break or making a walk part of your daily routine is a great place to start.

After all, there’s a reason why so many people found spending time in nature so helpful during the first lockdown – not only does it get our bodies moving (something which is crucial when we’re living and working from home), but it also has the potential to help reduce the feelings of fear and anxiety caused by the pandemic.

“It is no secret that being outside is good for us,” Eék explains. “Connecting with nature has been proven to contribute to a reduction in levels of anxiety, stress and depression, and a recent study found that spending at least 120 minutes a week in nature leads to greater wellbeing.”

Although heading out when it’s absolutely tipping with rain may not seem like the best way to cheer yourself up, embracing friluftsliv is all about putting these apprehensions behind you and making the most of the outside world. And when the second lockdown rules allow us to meet with another person from outside our household outdoors, getting outside with a friend or family member could be a great way to counter any feelings of isolation or loneliness, too.

“While it may not seem all that appealing to go outside for any prolonged amount of time when the weather is grey, cold, and wet, we Norwegians have a saying: ‘Ut på tur, aldri sur’, directly translating to ‘Out on hike, never in a bad mood’,” says Karen Dolva, Norwegian co-founder and CEO of No Isolation, a start-up that works to bring people together via technology. 

A girl walking with a yellow raincoat and yellow umbrella
Friluftsliv: going for a walk, whether with a friend or on your own, is a great way to stay connected with the outside world during lockdown.

She continues: “This basically means you never regret going out – for us, being outdoors and together is where some of the happiest memories are made.”

At a time when it’s so easy to shut ourselves away from the world and go into full-on hibernation mode, embracing friluftsliv can help us to stay connected to the outside world.

This might mean a number of different things – as well as meeting up with a friend or heading outside with people from your household, you might also use your time outside to chat on the phone with a family member who lives far away, or even just interact with the people you pass on your way. 

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“When on a hike in the Nordics, it’s commonplace to greet everyone you meet with a warm and welcoming ‘hei’,” Dolva explains. “The reason for this is because we are all taking part in the same activity, enjoying nature together. We are friends, so we should say hello to each other.

She continues: “This social friendliness requires no physical contact but can really make someone’s day. I really would urge others to adopt this behaviour, smiling and saying hello from a safe distance.”

Whether or not you’re a typically ‘outdoorsy’ person, it seems making the outdoors a priority and subscribing to the idea of friluftsliv – even if it’s initially just for the next four weeks – could help us all to make the most of our lives under lockdown. With unlimited exercise allowed and plenty of places to explore, why not invest in a thick winter coat and get exploring? 

How to embrace friluftsliv during lockdown 2.0

Get outside, rain or shine

No matter what the weather, friluftsliv is about getting outside and exploring what the natural world has to offer.

Sure, sitting on a park bench and eating lunch may not be an achievable rainy-day activity, but you can still go for a walk with an umbrella or a raincoat. It’s all about adapting to what the weather gives you.

Make the most of lunch

With the evenings growing darker, making the most of the daytime is essential. Move away from your desk for an hour, head outside and get moving – you won’t regret it.  

A woman looking out to the sea
Friluftsliv: are you ready to embrace open air living during lockdown 2.0?

Engage in outdoor exercise

If you’re dreading the return of home workouts during the second lockdown, exercising outside could be the solution you’re looking for. You could even do it with a friend.

“You are able to meet one person from another household outdoors for exercise, so make that exercise fun!” Eék says. “Plan a long walk and explore a new part of your local area, encourage each other to take up jogging, or practice yoga.

Wrap up warm

Spending time outside won’t be fun if you’re not properly equipped, so use this time to invest in a few key essentials: lots of layers (including thermals, if necessary), some good jumpers and a water-resistant outer layer.

A good hat, pair of gloves and a scarf might also be a good idea if you feel the cold easily or plan on heading out early in the morning when the frost is still on the ground.

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Enjoy some alone time

Just because we’re allowed to socialise outdoors doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy time outside on our own, too.

Whether you go for a solo jog, engage in some mindful hiking or simply sit on a bench and read a book, being outside on your own is a great way to calm the mind. 

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