It can be challenging to embrace winter; that long valley in our year. I personally have really struggled with winter in the past (and sometimes still do), and absolutely hated it during the dark nights of January. Here are 12 keys to embracing this season that I’ve learned after a quarter century (!!) of winters.
1. Embrace activities you can ONLY enjoy in the wintertime
It can be hard to recognize, but winter does bring with it some joy for most people. And there are certain types of joy that are nearly entirely dependent on the weather in this season. Get back into (or start for the first time) skiing, snowboarding, hockey, ringette, curling, making snow angels, building snowmen, snowshoeing, ice fishing, or outdoor skating! Even being able to snuggle into a cozy blanket and sit by the fire is something only the chill of winter air permits us!
The very reason for winter is that it’s the time when we’re most distant from the sun. Yet sunlight has incredible effects on our physical health and mood. Research suggests that UVB wavelengths hitting your skin and eyes triggers the creation of Vitamin D, which contributes to bone health and improved mood. Research also suggests that when sunlight hits skin in particular, it triggers the generation of seratonin, a chemical related to our levels of contentment. In fact, many medical treatments for anxiety and depression are centred around helping our bodies increase the presence of seratonin in our brains (like Selective Seratonin Reuptake Inhibitors or SSRIs).
Nothing matches the boost we get from real sunlight (just make sure you wear sunscreen, even in winter!), but in especially cold and dark locations, like close to the North Pole where there are days without any sun at all, sunlamps and Vitamin D supplements can be really life changing. They can also supplement your daily exposure to sunlight for all of us in wintertime, because the sun’s strength is weakened by its distance.
3. Protect your health
There’s little that makes winter worse than getting a cold or even worse, the flu. Yet there are so many ways we can proactively (and, if necessary, reactively) take care of our bodies.
- Get your flu shot! It can save you pain, and literally save the lives of the young, the elderly, and the immunocompromised
- Get enough sleep
- Take breaks
- Check your blood work with your doctor, and augment your diet and/or add supplements to ensure you are being nourished.
- And if you do get sick, and it is AT ALL possible, take those sick days! They are your right, they help you recover faster, and they protect others from sharing the same fate.
4. Wear thermals. For real.
As a Canadian, I knew about thermals, of course. But no one my age ever actually wore them. Well, ever since discovering the Fashion Mumblr channel I’ve been convinced that genuinely thin, cute, and good quality thermals really do exist. And they are critical if you want to embrace winter! I have 4 different long-sleeved thermal shirts from Marks & Spencer, and 2 pairs of thermal leggings from Calzedonia which I thoroughly recommend.
5. Get out of the house!
Leave the house! At least a couple times a week.
- Meet friends at their house
- Sit at a café
- Go to an art gallery
- Go for afternoon tea
- Browse the library
- Go to a free talk or event (again, probably at a library)
- Sign up for special edition events, like Puppy Yoga
6. Treat yourself
When the winter cold increases our tension and brings down our mood, let’s balance it out by seeing it as a reminder to treat our senses to:
- A massage
- Cozy smelling candles
- An indoor plant or a bouquet of flowers
7. Heat your bones up regularly
This is the MOST important way I was able to embrace winter last year in Toronto. In my case, I went to hot yoga in the morning which thoroughly heated my body for 90 minutes. I felt so comfortable and relaxed physically because of the heat – I’d say even secondary was the yoga. For the rest of the day, I just felt like the cold couldn’t hold as much of a grip on me. And I felt so much happier after regularly heating my body up! Here are some ideas for how to achieve this true heating of your bones.
- Go to hot yoga
- Go to the sauna at your gym
- Have a hot bath with your snuggly bathrobe and slippers prepared, especially a couple hours before bed so you get the sleep-related benefits
- Get your heart rate up and sweat while doing cardio exercise
- Join a Velodrome
8. Invest in that good quality coat and boots, and WEAR A HAT
“Saving” money by buying a $50 pair of boots every year that let your toes freeze and get waterlogged, then are destroyed by the end of March, is NOT actually a saving. It’s much better to save up money all year and invest in a quality (not necessarily crazy
expensive) pair of boots that will protect you from the elements year after year. Same goes for your coat! There are some very fashion forward options out there for both these days.
And regardless of what the people around you do *ahem, Spaniards,* wear a hat, scarf and gloves! Protect your body heat, protect yourself.
9. Have someone to snuggle with
This can include your dog or gerbil (but be gentle), or your weighted blanket.
10. Develop a new handy hobby with those extra hours inside
Many of us resent winter because it signals the long end of patio season, long outdoor walks, lying on the beach, and other outdoor pleasant, outdoor activities. The problem with being inside many more hours because of how dark or cold or icy it gets, is that we don’t replace those times with other fun activities that CAN be enjoyed inside. Here are just a few ideas to embrace winter indoors – and don’t be afraid to pick a hobby to start from scratch!
- Drawing cartoons
- Writing poetry
- Water colour painting
- Painting along with Bob Ross
- Cooking more elaborate meals (since you won’t overheat by the stove, and have more time inside to prepare)
11. Have something to look forward to
Make sure events are planned throughout the winter season that you can look forward to. That could be a concert, a local food festival, a convention, an exciting book or music release… For some of these items you can even take care of your future winter self by looking them up and booking them during some point in the spring or summer.
12. Ask for help
Sometimes winter can truly be made the hardest time of year because of Seasonal Affective Disorder, and the effect it can have on the management of existing mental health issues and its impact on hormones (remember the Vitamin D and seratonin? Ask for help from a friend, a family member, your work’s Employee Assistance Program, your university’s health department, or a mental health professional. By far, the majority of people want to help, and it is absolutely possible to feel better with the right tools. Embrace winter by embracing support. While it can feel like an isolating time of year, you do not have to experience winter alone.