Coping with darkness: tips from eight Aaltonians

Read what Pirjo Hirvonen, Pasi Lehto, Ira Matilainen, Wajeeha Munib, Osei Afram Owusu, Esa Saarinen, Petri Suomala and Nayoung Yoon think of darkness and tiny external or internal sources of light
Pirjo Hirvonen, photo by Anni Hanén.
Photo: Anni Hanén.

‘I enjoy the dark period. For me it means rest, silence, and simplification of things. The same happens in nature’s cycles. For me, it's important to be outdoors, to wonder and admire. The starry sky is one of the most glamorous moments, and the moon is extremely beautiful. I get a lot of energy from these. The dark time also feeds my creativity and imagination. They run wild in silence when I break away from the noise of the world. I also find a childlike joy in the darkness when I go to see the winter circus. In the darkness it’s easier to understand and accept that as a human being I am only this size.’

Pirjo Hirvonen, Professor Emerita, School of Arts, Design and Architecture

Pasi Lehto, photo by ACRE
Photo: ACRE

‘My starting point is that darkness is largely a question of attitude. For me, the solution lies in positivity. For example, exercise and outdoor activities usually help me with everything. In a way, darkness is also a great time. I'm a Christmas person, and I can put up seasonal lights and burn candles in the dark. Other good things about the dark include the starry sky, which is much brighter in the dark. But sometimes I can get tired; I need rest more in the autumn time than in summer. We have four seasons, and I have learned to cope with the change.’

Pasi Lehto, Senior Security Advisor, ACRE

Ira Matilainen, photo by Ira Matilainen
Photo: Ira Matilainen

‘There hasn't been a winter when I've ’overcome the darkness’. It hits pretty hard every year. My only realisation is that seasonality is part of life, and I no longer demand the same from myself in winter as in summer. Lowering expectations isn’t easy, because expectations from elsewhere usually don’t decrease. However, I try to remember that tiredness and melancholy are normal reactions to darkness, and you shouldn't use all of your energy to fight them. It’s a bit weird, but usually accepting this makes you feel better.’

Ira Matilainen, Communications coordinator, School of Electrical Engineering

Wajeeha Munib, photo by Wajeeha Munib
Photo: Wajeeha Munib

‘Around this time of the year most people – including myself – say that they feel tired, unmotivated, and ‘heavy’ – these are the real side-effects of the Finnish ‘kaamos’. It doesn’t look as scary as it sounds as there’s still a small glimpse of light during mid-day, but it is not sunny or bright, just literally a glimpse. It is not an easy time of the year, but there is always a way to deal with this! I feel more productive and motivated when I stay on top of my work. A dedicated study space and a consistent routine help me stay focused. I also survive the darkness by staying connected with friends and loved ones. This helps me combat feelings of loneliness or isolation and avoid seasonal affective disorder and depressive feels. I also use light therapy lamp or take a walk outside during the day to expose myself to natural light. This helps me to improve my mood and energy levels during the dark winter months.’

Wajeeha Munib, Master’s student of Chemistry and Research Assistant, School of Chemical Engineering

Osei Afram Owusu, photo by Osei Afram Owusu
Photo: Osei Afram Owusu

‘In Ghana, where I come from, we get more sunlight, and the darkness in Finland, especially during the winter, was a shock for me initially. It was cold, 8 degrees when I arrived in Finland compared to 24 degrees in Ghana when I left. Now, I am getting used to the weather, and I know it will get even better with time. Initially, it was quite depressing not to see enough sunlight. Despite this, I also enjoyed seeing the beauty of Finland coupled with decorations, especially during this festive season. I get to spend time with my roommate, an international student from Bangladesh, mostly after school hours. We share experiences from our different cultures and countries which is fun. It has been a great learning experience in Finland, and I am enjoying every bit of it.’

Osei Afram Owusu, Master’s student in geoengineering, School of Engineering

Esa Saarinen, kuva: Mikko Raskinen
Photo: Mikko Raskinen

‘The key to overcoming darkness is to find the inner sources of light. Connecting with one’s love of life. A switch may be closer than we are thinking. It can emerge from something simple we do. I can start singing out loud a Beatles song like All My Loving with the lyrics, not just humming, and miracles start to happen. Especially if the Special lady, the Queen, my wife Pipsa is there. The essential thing is to sing with the words. Singing and the lyrics create light in my world and the darkness kind of folds into itself.’

Esa Saarinen, Philosopher and Professor emeritus, School of Science

Petri Suomala, photo by Mikko Raskinen
Photo: Mikko Raskinen

‘Darkness has both a concrete and a metaphorical level. In life, you sometimes have to deal with not only concrete darkness but also mental darkness. I try to look beyond darkness, to see what else is there and what comes after the darkness. I look towards the light. Light is always stronger than darkness. You don't need a lot of light for the worst darkness to go away. That's true on both a metaphorical and concrete level. The way I deal with winter darkness is by enjoying small moments of light or creating them myself. For example, I light a candle or a fire, or I work or share with other people. What I thought was darkness ends up being just a small part of a reality that has lots of bright things.’

Petri Suomala Vice President, Education

Nayoung Yoon, photo by Nayoung Yoon
Photo: Nayoung Yoon

‘Before coming to Finland, I was afraid of ‘coldness’, not ‘darkness’ because it was impossible to imagine this level of darkness in Korea. In reality, the coldness is not to be afraid of, but darkness is ‘the thing’ I needed to cope with. It has made me feel so tired as well as lose time sense. Also, together with being a foreigner who does not go to see family during Christmas holiday, darkness somehow made me feel a bit depressed or lonely. However, I started to see the ‘bright’ side of this dark season. For instance, I became more active in socializing events such as Pikkujoulu and Slush, doing sports as well as enjoying nature. I felt so grateful to the heavy snow although I had to fight against blizzard on my way back home yesterday. So, I’d say that the darkness has challenged me in many ways but at the same time it has made me more humble and mentally solid person. Maybe the darkness could be the source of Sisu spirit in Finland?’

Nayoung Yoon, Doctoral Researcher in Marketing, School of Business

The idea for the story came from Jaakko Korhonen, and it was mainly written by Tiina Aulanko-Jokirinne. Collage is a design by Ira Matilainen.

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