LINDSTROM, Minn. (WCCO) — Minnesotans have long had a love/hate relationship with winter. But with COVID-19 this year, it may be a little tougher to love the season.

Mental health experts warn winter dread could have a “double whammy” effect, because not only will it be colder and darker, but many are isolated because of the virus.

That’s where the international experts come into play. WCCO did some exploring and found some Scandinavian secrets to embracing winter.

And our search started in Lindstrom.

Lindstrom is nestled in the lakes of eastern Minnesota. If you didn’t know any better, you’d think you were somewhere else. There are Swedish restaurants, a bakery, museums, sculptures, and Swedish translations on buildings.

The mayor, Kevin Stenson explained: “There were Swedish settlers who settled this area. Daniel Lindstrom for who the community is named. It was all his land. So the Swedish roots run deep in this community.”

So it seemed like the logical place to go digging for some Scandinavian secrets to embracing winter.

“Some people don’t appreciate the cold, but the hardy Scandinavians, they appreciate the cold,” Stenson said.

About a dozen residents showed up to tell us how they embrace the season. The residents showed up outside the Lindstrom Town Hall to offer advice. Airld Hagberg is a volunteer with the Historical Society.

“You gotta live through it, you might as well enjoy it, too,” Hagberg said.

Katie Malchow is the executive director of the Lindstrom Chamber of Commerce. “I would say you should find something that makes you want to go outside whether it’s snowshoeing or cross-country skiing or snowmobile,” she said.

Carla Norelius also volunteers with the Lindstrom Historical Society. “Just get out and embrace it,” she said. “I walk 365 days a year In Lindstrom and you just get out and think, Oh it’s not so bad out here.”

Gary Noren’s Swedish ancestors helped settle the town. “I turned 70 a couple years ago, and I was out everyday lake ice skating…celebrating 70 years on this planet,” he said.

And celebrating is another way this town pushes through.

Carline Bengtsson is helping organize the next COVID-friendly Fire and Ice Festival. “We have skating in the backyard, we have a fire, we build an ice bar and everybody just has a great time, so we are looking forward to doing it again this year,” she said.

The mayor says winter is the perfect season to do things together while staying safe. “Get outside and do something, stay safe, wear your mask, social distance but definitely get out and do things with other people,” Stenson said.

It’s advice that falls right in line with what a native Swede has to say.

Sven Sjostedt tells WCCO why he is so comfortable with winter. “Yes, because you can dress for the cold,” he said. “If it’s cold you can put on another layer. Its hot, you can take off so much.”

When Sven and his bride moved to Tulsa in the 1980s, he then made the uncommon request to his wife to move north because of the winter. “I told her if we are staying in America, we have to go where a Swede can live – so Minnesota.”

And here he is, soaking it in. “You know, white snow, everything is clean, garbage is covered with white snow. So it is as I see it – a very positive season,” he said.

And that’s how many Scandinavians see it too – as their winters are even longer and even darker.

They’ve mastered the winter embrace with some time-tested traditions like creating “hygee” in the home. It’s a Danish term for creating a cozy environment indoors, which can be done with textured blankets, candles and lots of light.

“If you go over there you will see in the town almost everyone in their windows has a star lit up with a lamp inside or a candle frame sitting with candles,” Sjostedt said. “So every winter, houses have light in them. So even though the season is dark, it’s a light, positive season.”

It’s a season Scandinavians say should be spent outside, whether skiing, fishing, or just breathing in some fresh air. “You can do so much in winter that you can’t do in summer,” Sjostedt said.

And that is the ultimate way to conquer the dark days of winter – by finding the bright side. “There’s nothing to complain about, you just have to accept it and do the best of it,” Sjostedt said. “And as I said, you can just dress for it.”

We also got some tips from a mental health expert, Dr. Albott with M Health Fairview, who also encourages outdoor activities and says to use a light box for 30 minutes a day in the morning. She also says to keep a regular schedule with exercise and sleep, and seek counseling if you are feeling blue.

Susan-Elizabeth Littlefield