The Scandinavian secrets to keeping positive in a covid-19 winter

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Lockdown restrictions in winter might seem something to dread, but we can combat this by embracing the mindset of people used to long, dark winters, says health psychologist Kari Leibowitz



Health



2 December 2020

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WHEN health psychologist Kari Leibowitz moved from the US to the Norwegian town of Tromsø, more than 300 kilometres north of the Arctic circle, her research became personal. Inspired by recent findings on the ways in which people’s attitudes influence their mental and physical health, she wondered whether this might be the secret to coping with the long, dark Nordic winter. Her research revealed that many Norwegians have a winter mindset that allows them to thrive in conditions she was dreading. Now back in the US at Stanford University, Leibowitz believes her findings hold lessons for us all, especially for people living in the northern hemisphere who, as the nights draw in, face the dual challenges of winter and a stressful pandemic.

David Robson: What are “mindsets” and why are they so important?

Kari Leibowitz: I think of mindsets as a framework that helps us simplify information and make sense of the world. And we’re really just at the beginning of unpacking the ways that they can shape our health and well-being.

A lot of my research now is looking at how we can use mindsets in clinical practice. In one of the last studies that I did, we tested the effects of changing people’s mindsets – even without treatment. We brought our participants to the lab and we pricked them with histamine, triggering a minor allergic reaction that looks a bit like a mosquito bite. For some people, a doctor just examined their arm; for the others, the doctor examined their arm and said: “OK, from now on, the itch and irritation will feel better and your …

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