How the Dutch stay clear-headed

Kathryn Wheeler
By Kathryn Wheeler,
updated on Feb 10, 2024

How the Dutch stay clear-headed

Discover the Dutch concept that could be key to blowing away brain fog

The wind is whistling past your ears, your cheeks are pinched, your body is braced against the next gust, and your full focus is on placing one foot in front of the other. You return home and the blood is rushing to your cheeks. Settled down with a hot drink to warm your chilly fingers, you notice that you feel different. Your mind is clear, you feel energised, you feel good.

It’s an experience that many of us can attest to, to the point that the Dutch have a word for this: uitwaaien. Translating to ‘out blowing’, uitwaaien is the tradition of getting out in windy weather, with the goal of refreshing and rejuvenating ourselves.

“We are probably all familiar with wanting to get outside to ‘blow away the cobwebs’, and the Dutch concept of uitwaaien shares a similar idea: that of being refreshed and invigorated by a walk in a stiff breeze,” explains Jennifer Deacon, a counsellor with a special interest in the environment. “It doesn’t have to be some romantic idea of howling into the wind on a cliff top, just getting outside for a stroll on a breezy day can have so many benefits for us. Our lifestyles are generally quite removed from nature and, by embracing the wind and immersing ourselves in it, it can be vitalising and restorative. Often, we shy away from leaving the house if the weather isn’t great (however much we know it will do us good) and reframing it as uitwaaien can be an encouragement to go embrace the breeze!”


So, what’s the science behind all this? Well, for one thing, a study published in Frontiers in Psychology found that even just 10 minutes outdoors was shown to improve our mood and physiological markers like blood pressure and heart rate. Additionally, another study published in the Journal of Health Economics found that cold temperatures reduce negative mental health outcomes, while hot temperatures increase them – meaning that getting out in blustery weather could be having an effect in and of itself. Plus, walking in windy weather can be healthier for us physically. Cast your mind back to 2020 – do you remember the advice to go for walks on windy days, when the elements made you less likely to catch contagious strains of Covid? The same is also true for other germs, pollution, and dirt – the air on windy days tends to be cleaner.

But, despite all the evidence about how connecting with nature can improve our health, Jennifer notes that taking care of ourselves when the weather is worse can be harder. Our energy levels may be lower if we experience seasonal affective disorder, or the short, dark days can be off-putting. That said, where you can, an activity like uitwaaien is worth pursuing.

“Walking in windy weather can be stimulating and refreshing, providing us with an opportunity for what’s known as ‘soft fascination’ – the wind and nature gently holding our attention which is believed to be healing for our brain. Windy walks can help stimulate our senses: the noise of the wind in the trees, watching the leaves swirl, and even our sense of the wind on our skin and in our hair. These moments of sensory stimulation are so important and can give rise to moments of awe, again, another psychological concept which is hugely beneficial.”


And the key thing to remember is that you don’t have to go off on huge adventures to enjoy uitwaaien, you can start on your doorstep.

“Research indicates the most important factors in improving our wellbeing are about deliberately engaging with nature around you, rather than the time spent,” Jennifer explains. “It doesn’t even have to be walking, some time sat outside can be a great opportunity to connect with nature. It’s about noticing the natural world – perhaps that might be the way that the raindrops sit on the leaves, or the colours of the sky. Try to use all your senses, from listening to the birdsong to smelling the flowers. Avoid distractions (such as Googling what particular plants are), instead sit with some curiosity and wonder as to what you are noticing.”

So, this year, make an effort to view the windy, ‘bad’ weather not as a reason to stay put inside, but as an invitation to take some time to immerse yourself in the elements – to clear your head, and to set yourself up for a rejuvenated state of mind.

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