How I Deal with “Zimniaya Handra” in Russia

How I Deal with “Zimniaya Handra” in Russia

When international students come to Russia, they have to go through several difficulties, including adapting to the climate, surroundings, and living conditions. By sharing below with the desire to help you overcome the so-called "Зимняя хандра" (“Zimniaya Handra”) which means the winter blues to fully enjoy life in Russia.

What is “Хандра”?

The word "Хандра" I learned from my Russian teacher whose name is Vera Fesenko in my preparatory year. It refers to boredom, and low mood usually when it is the end of autumn and winter is coming. Surely those who have been or are living in Russia can feel its "symptoms". Especially for a foreign student from a tropical country where the sun shines almost all year round, dealing with "Зимняя хандра" in Russia is quite difficult.

Why should we consider the winter melancholy in Russia as a mental health issue that we need to pay more attention to?

Just the day before, the surrounding trees were still covered with a beautiful yellow color, and the next morning they were bare of leaves. Looking at the cloudy sky, gradually cold and sometimes with sporadic raindrops, I found no motivation to go out, even the mood became stagnant. However, the difficulty here is studying at HSE with lots of assignments and deadlines that make me unable to allow myself to stagnate for so long.

According to psychologists, seasonal blues should be distinguished from depressive pathology. However, if this phenomenon persists for more than 1 month with insomnia, lack of sleep, and appetite, you should see a psychologist. I have a few friends who are all studying at HSE and suffering from the above problems, and some even had a gap year to stabilize their psychology because depression in the autumn-winter season gets worse. Yes, dealing with emotional turmoil at the same time with a lot of work in class is a challenge that not everyone can easily overcome.


Here is some advice based on my own experience after nearly 4 years of living and studying in Russia.

Always keep yourself "busy"

Find yourself a favorite passion, outside of studying, such as drawing, playing the guitar, or practicing yoga. When we focus on it, we won't notice how dull the surroundings are. It really helps me, I found myself a part-time translation job and it makes my day go by very quickly without wasting time thinking about miscellaneous things.

Take care of our physical health

A few sweets always help our mood better, so bring a chocolate bar or some sweets :). Spending at least 15 minutes a day moving, walking, and doing light exercise can help us feel more refreshed. I've always focused on keeping my body warm rather than dressing up nicely. The parts that must be kept warm are the neck, temples, and feet. Be prepared for the cold to be healthy to discover the beauty of Russian winter.

Make more friends

It may not sound very relevant, but believe me, when we have more friends, both Russian friends, and international friends, we will see not only one but many people also face this situation. And if you can, help each other get through it. Do not be swayed by any stereotypes about Russian friends being not open. Try to talk to them first, you will see a friendly side of them :) Native friends know many interesting places and experiences that you cannot find anywhere on the internet.

Always remember what our "duty" is

Can't and must not let mixed emotions bring us down. I went to Russia to study on a scholarship from the Vietnamese government, so completing my studies well is my "mission". No matter how bad I may feel today, I still have to go to school, I still have to sit at my desk at home. The HSE bachelor's degree is my "mission" as well as my main goal. Always remember that to become stronger

And finally, seek help from people around you if you feel really bad

HSE has a 24-hour hotline of the Center for Psychological Counseling to support undergraduate and graduate students with psychological problems. Don't underestimate outside help!

A friend asked me why I chose Russia the first year I set foot in Russia, where the winter is very harsh and long (up to 5 months, from November to March) while in other European countries the weather is much more pleasant for a foreigner like me. I told him I was bound to find that dreary winter's beauty and delight. And I did, I've fully enjoyed 3 winters in Russia and this year is my last year studying here. If someone asks me if I intend to stay in Russia again, the answer is “It could be”! "Хандра" is no longer a fear for me, but I have other plans for my future, so the answer is possible, but not certain.

Text by

Ngoc Tran