Adjusting to Edinburgh’s cold, dark days

It’s no secret that the UK is a rainier and less sunny island than those lush tropical ones down south. But I must confess, 22 year old me really wasn’t prepared for the amount of cold, rain and darkness that shrouded Edinburgh – even during its summers.

Back in early 2008 when I told a few friends in Wales that I was moving to Scotland later that year, the most common response was, “Why?! Are you prepared for the cold?” I assured them that I was – after all I grew up in Ohio’s Snowbelt and was used to the annual dumping of 2-3 feet of snow overnight. Drivers’ training included how to navigate out of a fishtail and most of the time when the snow fell, you tightened that ponytail and drove to your work/class anyway. Us Ohioans/northerners – we got this!

And so my confident, naive self flew to Edinburgh mid-September 2008 in shorts and a tank top (vest) – having left Ohio’s humid 27 degree C/80 degree F weather for gale force winds, horizontal rain and 12 C/53 F. It started off as a novelty as I adjusted to the city and university expectations but the rain and the wind just didn’t stop. My favourite season – fall (autumn for you Brits) – was only a short few weeks long without the dry and warm days. The leaves briefly turned a shade of brown and fell off in a stereotypical “can’t be bothered” British response after which winter came and bitch slapped me.

The days got shorter, the wind blew stronger (Hello 80-90 mph winds that throw you into a bush! True story btw) and the frigid rain was horizontal – flying into your face and numbing you to your soul. Ohio winters had nothing on Scottish winters! By my second winter here, I was convinced I had turned into a white walker. My skin had become whiter, I squinted on a rare sunny day and my energy became really low. It was then I realised that I suffer from a mild dose of seasonal affective disorder – feeling low energy levels, moody and low-level depression, which doesn’t quite mesh with my normal bubbly, optimistic outlook. It’s taken me awhile to figure out what works best for me, but if you’re struggling with SAD perhaps this might help you cope. Of course, you should always speak to your doctor in the first instance.

  1. Candles and fairy lights: When I come home from work in the winter, I like to light some candles and turn on my origami fairy lights to introduce a bit of warmth into my cold, dark flat. My favourite candles are Anthropologie’s Capri Blue in Volcano (small, medium, large and extra large) and Yankee Candle’s Bermuda Beach and Wild Sea Grass. I have them dotted all around my flat and light them throughout the house to add light and smells of a warm beach day or lush Hawaii holiday. It’s a perfect escape from a long dark day.
  2. Kygo/tropical house music: I am LOVING Kygo’s music and the tropical house music that’s come on the scene right now. There’s nothing better than listening to these Spotify playlists (Tropical Morning, Totally Tropical House, Sunset Vibes and Kygo) to put you in a sunny mood and I even listen to them at the gym. In fact, Kygo used to attend Edinburgh’s Heriot Watt University where after experiencing the city’s unrelenting winters, dreamed of summer and created his music in his student flat. Proof that even happiness comes out of out the darkest of times.
  3. Coconut sea salt hair spray/body butter: I’m in love with the smell of coconut. Probably verging on obsession since I’ve moved to Scotland. I love  Tone It Up’s (#TIUgirl represent!) K&K Sea Salt Texture Spray. It smells amazing plus is vegan and cruelty free. It also helps you get gorgeous beach wave hair even if you only live by a cold beach (*icicle tear*). The K&K spray includes red sea algae extract, coconut water, Marula oil and real sea salt. Happy mind and happy hair. I also love the Body Shop’s coconut scrub and body butter – a bath treat after a cold day.
  4. Bobbi Brown Beach perfume: This perfume just makes me happy and confident plus it’s something I can wear to work, on the beach or at night. It’s a subtle smell of sea salt, sand jasmine and mandarin and makes me think of warm muggy nights by the waves. I don’t see myself using any other perfume for awhile. Bobbi Brown also sells the Beach oil, body scrub and lotion which are also nice treats – depending on your budget.
  5. Cacti/succulents: Succulents can grow quite happily in the shade while cacti don’t require much water and are happy in my south facing windows (this is the best direction for windows to capture the longest amount of daylight in Scotland). They’re perfect for adding a bit of low maintenance, green and vitality to a cosy flat – a nice contrast from Edinburgh’s long grey winters.
  6. Tropical/beach prints: I’m obsessing about anything beach themed. Pineapples, coral and palm trees currently make me happiest. When I was back in the States visiting family earlier this year, I grabbed this really soft and muted gold, white and beige pineapple pillow with a soft white furry throw in preparation for a cozy, happy winter. Pineapples signify hospitality – so not only do they provide a beachy escape in the mind but are welcoming to guests. I’ve also been eyeing this little treats on Etsy for months.
  7. Sunkissed makeup and moisturiser: I always try to go for a beachy, sunkissed look when I can to feel a bit healthier. Bronzer, bronze eyeshadow, pinky golden lipsticks and Laura Mercier’s Illuminating Tinted Moisturiser with SPF 20 are my go to – sunkissed makeup must-haves. Stay tuned for a beachy makeup post later this month.
  8. Fake tan: Prior to moving to Scotland, I used to laugh at the thought of fake tan. Oh how fate loves to make me eat my words! Now a fake tan is an instant mood booster for me. Before I developed an allergic reaction to the active ingredient in self tanners (DHA), I used to love Vita Liberata’s Rapid Self Tanning Tinted Mousse. I’m currently in search of a good non-DHA self tanner so if you have any recommendations – share them in the comment section below!
  9. Sweat it out: Exercise is one of the best mood boosters out there! I mix my workouts up with some HIIT training, weightlifting, the upbeat Keira’s “beautiful torture” Callanetics and heated barre and yoga classes. Tribe Yoga in Edinburgh instantly lifts me out of a bad mood. Not only are the staff and attendees friendly and encouraging, but the humid classes melt my frozen circulation and allow me to pretend that I’m on a warm beach somewhere. Tribe Yoga have a selection of barre, yoga and pilates classes and they’re so good, I almost don’t want to share – almost haha.
  10. SAD light and dawn simulator: Now I haven’t yet gotten one of these but it’s going to be my new fall purchase to beat this coming winter’s blues. A dear friend of mine in Edinburgh also suffers from SAD and swears by the Lumie light. The company has been producing SAD lights since 1991, supply the UK’s National Health Service and have been in loads of scientific tests. I’ll be getting the Arabica SAD light, which if used daily lifts your mood, boosts concentration and restores natural energy. I’ll also be purchasing the body clock, which wakes you up with gradually brightening light. The body clock simulates dawn and when Edinburgh’s morning sun doesn’t come until I’m actually at work in the winter (if it’s not shrouded in grey cloud), it’s a must for me.
  11. Winter sun holiday: January can be the best time to travel with cheap flight deals after the holidays. This year I flew to a Thai beach with friends (including Yankee Doodles blogger Elizaveta) and spent my time enjoying 90 F/30 C weather, fresh foods, snorkeling and more (a Thailand travel post will be coming soon to the blog). I completely forgot it was January and came back with an amazing tan and total beach vibes for a good 3 weeks, which last until mid-February. And by then March was around the corner, which meant it was nearly spring! Yay for positive mind games! So have a look out for Latin America, Caribbean, Aussie, South Asian and Spanish island deals in the dead of winter!
  12. Vitamin D supplements: In the states and most Nordic countries, most of the milk and breakfast cereals are fortified with Vitamin D. This isn’t so in the UK. In a 2016 UK Government report, it was recommended that people living in the UK should take a daily Vitamin D supplement during autumn and winter. Vitamin D is often referred to as the “sunshine vitamin” as you can naturally get your daily dose by spending roughly 15 minutes in the sun in the spring and summer in the UK. It’s important for creating healthy bones, teeth and muscles. I take one tablet of Vitamin D3 in 2200 international units (iu) from October to April and have felt a difference if I stop taking it months on end. It’s always best to speak to your doctor before taking vitamins as they can advise the appropriate level for you and ensure it doesn’t counteract any medication you are currently on.
  13. Eat your greens! Salads, soups and smoothies are three of the quickest ways to fill your body full of nutrients and vitamins, which will be natural mood and immunity boosters. Mix your veg and fruit together for some sweet and savory combinations. Try spinach, strawberries, grilled chicken and pecans with a drizzle of agave syrup for a quick dinner or lunch option or chuck in spinach, blueberries, cacao, protein powder of choice into a blender for a powerful kick start to the morning (preferably 30 min after a morning exercise to boost muscle growth and repair).
  14. Podcasts: Feeding my mind with healthy thoughts during the darkest of days is just as important as feeding my body healthy food. I love to listen to free podcasts (through my phone’s podcast app) on my way to work. My current favourites are: NPR’s TED Radio Hour, Let It Out with Katie Dalebout and the Skinny Confidential’s Him and Her.

Are you affected by SAD? If so, do you have any other ways that you cope? I love finding out more ideas to beat the winter blues so feel free to share in the comments below! For more information on SAD, visit the UK’s Seasonal Affective Disorder Association website.



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