How to survive (and enjoy) the winter

by Jobbatical October 04, 2016

So you don’t live somewhere tropical where everything is coconuts and poolside cocktails? You don’t have to feel like you’re missing out.

Maybe you’ve recently moved to a colder climate and are anxious about what’s next. Perhaps you’re a seasoned Northerner in denial about summer ending (“But it never even started!” you might shout to the heavens, shaking your fist at a falling leaf). Whatever your exact circumstances, you will likely have noticed: winter is coming to the Northern Hemisphere.

I live in a country that has four very distinct seasons. Most of them are not particularly warm seasons, and the country collectively starts pining for the tropics the moment temperatures drop below 20°C. That’s quite enough of this weather discrimination! Not only is winter survivable—it can be enjoyable.

Winter will keep you guessing. Fluffy meringue or sunset by the Baltic Sea? Either way, sign me up! Photo by Ingrid Maasik via Shutterstock

First, a disclaimer. Winter is definitely not all fun and games. Seasonal affective disorder, lack of sunlight, vitamin D deficiency, and slipping on ice and embarrassing yourself are all very real problems. Please note that if your SAD is seriously affecting your quality of life, you should consult a professional.

If, however, you’re just generally a little bummed out (scientific term) about winter, here are some tips and tricks from a certified (not at all certified in any way) winter scientist.

I love winter and I don’t care who knows. Photo by everst via Shutterstock

Bundle up!

Every now and again in the temperate zone, a quick trip to the supermarket down the street can make you feel like a polar explorer. On those days, I turn to the king of all weather-related clichés:

“There is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.”

When in doubt, cover everything. Pictured: me, heading out to walk the dog. In -25°C (-13℉). Photo credit: my mom

If you have the right gear, any kind of weather instantly becomes a different kind of good weather. Proper gloves, hats, scarves, and a warm jacket make it a whole lot easier to make the most of this time of year. Seriously consider investing in a quality pair of boots. At the risk of veering into advice-from-grandma territory, warm and dry feet are approximately 80% of an enjoyable winter day.

Once you’re all warm and toasty under layers of fluff, you’ll realize the world is still out there, as exciting as ever, and yours to explore.

Keep your body happy!

Overeating is the easiest thing to do in winter. When the world outside is frozen and uninviting, it’s tempting to sink into the depths of your couch with a plateful of something greasy. You reach for that last spring roll that you don’t even want, because it’s there, and it’s cold, so what else are you gonna do?

Eat well, that’s what! The food you eat can influence your mental health, for better or for worse, so stay on top of your nutrition game. Cooking your own meals is a tried and tested way of doing this. Plus, it saves money and keeps you off the couch.

To further banish that gloom, it’s essential that you stay active. Go skiing. Ice skating. Snowboarding. Sledding! If you’re bundled up properly, as described above, there’s no limit to what you can do.

Some people choose to do this. Each to their own, I suppose. Photo by Levranii via Shutterstock

If none of these wintry sports appeal to you, go for a walk or a run, or join a gym. Take a spa day. Do a little dance. Your body and brain will both thank you. If staying active doesn’t come naturally to you, find a winter buddy—a friend or coworker with whom to engage in acts of mutual motivation. Someone who will call you out (and drag you out) when you’ve been binge watching Stranger Things all weekend.

Having said that, don’t forget to leave some time for absolutely vital indoor activities such as sipping mulled wine or hot chocolate (by a log fire, if at all possible) and hiding under piles of blankets with a cup of tea and a good book. And maybe binge watching Stranger Things a little bit, if you haven’t yet. It’s all about finding that balance.

Look up!

The winter sky can be quite captivating. If there’s even the tiniest romantic bone in your body, you’ll love the crisp starry nights and the gently falling snow. Get out of the city to escape the light pollution and do some stargazing. Depending on your resources and how far up north you are, consider a trip to see the northern lights. They’re worth it.

Northern lights are a real thing that is real. I dare you to see them and not become a fundamentally better person. Photo by Jamen Percy via Shutterstock

Granted, sometimes looking up is not an option—more often than not, it’s because of the sleet* splashing into your eyes. On those occasions, think of “looking up” as a metaphor for appreciating the majesty of nature in general. Take a trip to the seaside or the woods. Find the nearest park, if nothing else is within easy reach. Surrounding yourself with nature is a huge mood booster, and spending time outdoors on a sunny day will do wonders for your vitamin D levels.

Feed your brain!

What if the weather really isn’t cooperating at all, and the swirly magical prettiness you were promised fails to materialize? Do not despair. If you really, really don’t feel like facing the outdoors, now is your chance to catch up on your reading or pursue any hobbies you neglected over the summer because you were too busy pursuing a tan instead. Remember that one thing you always say you’re going do to as soon as you have the time? Yeah. Do that thing. If you’re anything like me, this is when you attempt a desperate sprint to complete your Goodreads reading challenge.

Being on the internet while books exist somewhere near you is, unfortunately, not the best way to do this. I’ve tried. Photo by AlexMaster via Shutterstock

Let go of that FoMO!

It’s only natural that at some point during the winter you’ll probably find yourself grumpily scrolling through your friends’ Instagram posts from tropical countries A-Z. He’s got a tan. She’s sipping on a piña colada. They met these adorable monkeys. And they’re all having the time of their lives. But it’s OK, because so are you—at least you could be, if you let yourself.

“When you’re so tuned in to the ‘other,’ or the ‘better’ (in your mind), you lose your authentic sense of self. This constant fear of missing out means you are not participating as a real person in your own world.” — ScienceDaily

FoMO — the fear of missing out — can be emotionally draining. But it doesn’t have to be. There are plenty of things to do to alleviate the symptoms: Limit the time you spend on social media. Do some soul searching and discover that the happiness was within you all along. Don’t hold yourself back from living the best version your life just because it’s a bit nippy outside. And maybe Instagram an artistic shot of your hot chocolate, if you think that’ll make you feel better.

Hot chocolate trumps poolside cocktails? Discuss. Photo by mama_mia via Shutterstock

*I’m using the term sleet to refer to the soft mixture of snow and rain that goes splat. If you’re from the States, you might define sleet as ice pellets that go more like plink. Either way, you probably don’t want a lot of it in your eye.

Are you a winter person? What’s the best thing about not living in the tropics? Leave a response! If you’re looking for new challenges somewhere with four seasons, check out these European jobbaticals.

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