The weather was never a subject of concern.
Until late 2018 when I moved from the tropics, where you can trust the sun to shine brightly every day, to Amsterdam where sunlight is best described as erratic.
If you are from the tropics and are facing your first winter, this post is for you.
Why is the winter tougher for us?
Finland on a -10C day
It's all about the sun.
Most people tend to avoid the sun in the Philippines. It's understandable because it's scorching hot. Yes, too much time under the sun is harmful but if you slather on sunblock, you can still soak up all of the sun's goodness without damaging your skin (too much).
I enjoy being under the sun probably way too much so as expected, the effects of lack of sun exposure were amplified. I first thought that my lack of energy was the consequence of moving to a strange, new continent, but further research showed me that I just probably need the sun (or at least serotonin and vitamin D).
Sunlight triggers the release of serotonin, a mood stabilizing hormone. Symptoms of serotonin deficiency include low energy, poor appetite, and a depressed mood. There is a reason why SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) affects almost a third of the adult population in countries experiencing winter.
Even while wearing sunblock, the sun's UV rays can still penetrate through to your skin and you'll still get a good dose of vitamin D. Lack of vitamin D can result to low immunity causing you to get sick more often than usual and again, feeling depressed.
How to survive the winter
I'm halfway through my first winter with single-digit days in the Netherlands and a week in below zero temperature in Finland. Here are some survival tips:
Salmon and cheese are not common in Pinoy dishes but these seem to be a basic staple at least in Amsterdam. I know most people tend to still stick to the dishes they know well but you'll miss out on reaping the benefits from the basic food staples. It turns out that salmon and cheese are good sources of vitamin D. Eat them as it is or pair them with some rye bread.
Tip: Forget about your love of rice for a while and be smart about your food intake. Load up on cheese and salmon. Other sources of vitamin D are mushrooms, oysters, and eggs.
There will be days when you just want to wrap yourself in a warm blanket and be a living burrito. The challenge is to see if you can boost your mood. As it turns out, serotonin can be induced by doing things that you know you love, despite not having the energy for it. This works like Mark Manson's Do Something principle, where you trigger your motivation by acting on something first, just doing the smallest thing that you can.
Beach on a cold, winter day
Of course this only applies when you are absolutely aware that your mood is something you can work on. If you think things are getting out of hand, see a doctor.
Tip: Go for walks, stretch, read, and explore hobbies to keep your serotonin levels in check.
I don't sweat as much as usual in the winter (surprise!) so my brain does not send that thirsty signal as much as it did back in humid Saigon. Also, because it's cold, I am always tempted to consume more alcohol to get that warm, fuzzy feeling. Less water consumption plus an increased alcohol intake lead to dehydration in the winter.
I've walked around in Amsterdam with a dull headache. Only later when I chugged half a liter of water did I figure out that I was dehydrated.
Tip: Always bring a reusable water bottle with you. The best part is tap water is safe to drink in most of Europe. There's no excuse to not drink water in between your endless wine consumption.
Keep your moisturizers and lip balm within reach
Cracked heels, chapped lips, dry skin. Winter is here.
My skin care used to be fairly simple. Sunblock, moisturizer, and my favorite sunflower oil. That was it. I turned into a sweaty, sticky mess on some days but at least my skin wasn't dry.
However, when its colder, I put on insane amount of moisturizer and lip balm. Dry skin is itchy and chapped lips sting. At -15 degrees temp, I put on moisturizer 4-6 times a day even while indoors.
Tip: Bring your favorite brands with you. I found that the formulation of most products are different here than the ones I used back home. Get just enough stock that will last you for a month, while you research and look for new formulas that will work for you.
Dress to stay warm
Bundle up with your overcoat, hat, gloves, and thick scarf.
You can be fine 2 minutes out of the house but extremely cold in the next 10 minutes while waiting for the tram. Layer up and just peel them away if you start sweating. Aside from the temperature, wind and humidity contribute to the actual chill that you feel. Dry, below zero temperatures in Finland are more pleasant than 1-degree, humid days in Amsterdam.
Not the most fashionable, but hey it works!
If you are traveling in the middle of the winter, get your warm clothes in the Philippines. You will have more options once you get here but you would not survive the first few minutes out of the airport.
Tip: For the budget conscious, find fleece and wool jackets in ukay-ukays. If you have less time to rummage, Uniqlo is a good place to shop for merino wool clothing and thermal underwear.
Share your tips on how you are surviving the winter!