A lifetime of winters in Winnipeg leave me no doubts about Manitoba’s climate—it gets cold.
After a few weeks I start to miss the sun’s heat, lounging in the grass, and walking on clear pavement. I know I’m not alone in feeling a mix of dread, frustration, and resignation when the season hits.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. As this 2015 CBC Documentary reminds us, not everyone living in a cold climate is sitting indoors and complaining. And a small study done in a northern community in Norway found an association between lower rates of seasonal depression and viewing winter “as something to be enjoyed, not something to be endured”. For these resilient winter people, it’s a time for skiing and outdoor festivals. The author of the study adds a simple recommendation on how to apply her findings—“It doesn’t have to be this huge complicated thing…you can just consciously try to have a positive wintertime mindset and that might be enough to induce it.”
Other research bears out the power of our thoughts on how we experience winter. A study published in 2008 found that Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, or CBT, was much more effective than light therapy at preventing recurrences of Seasonal Affective Disorder, which is a type of depression that typically happens as days get shorter and colder. What is CBT? Mayo Clinic calls it “a common type of talk therapy…that helps you become aware of inaccurate or negative thinking so you can view challenging situations more clearly and respond to them in a more effective way.” So even if we need a little help to do it, we can literally think our way into feeling better about the season.
It doesn’t serve us to hate the the reality of where we live. Which of the following tips could you use to stay more positive over the winter months?
Fight the Negativity
Get inspiration from other winter-loving peoples, who take pride in their resilience and fortitude. Stay busy and cozy and don’t let others drag you down.
- Redirect conversations about the horrors of winter to the opportunities and benefits of the season. Tackle exaggerations about how cold it get (in our coldest month, January, the average low is -19.6. and the average high -11. -40 is rare).
- Take some time each day to think of the things you like about winter, even if they are basic like “fresh snow is pretty”, “I love my warm gloves” or “it’s good to be pushed out of my comfort zone”.
- Drink hot chocolate, tea, coffee, or mulled wine, depending on the occasion.
- Do fun stuff, like our annual Jack Frost Challenge! Take a New Year’s run in your swimwear at the Polar Bare Run, get out to Festival du Voyageur, or do a quick Google search on Winnipeg Winter Events. You might be surprised at the diversity of things people are getting up to.
- See how we celebrate winter here at Green Action Centre!
Physical activity is a proven mood-booster, and keeps you warmer than sitting still. For even more benefits, do it during daylight hours.
- Play outside with kids. They probably still have a sense of wonder about winter that we can learn from.
- Meet a friend for a brisk walk (pack a thermos), or try winter cycling. It’s often easier to weave activity into our day than to make formal time for “exercise”.
- Get some outside motivation and accountability for the days when you feel lazy: sign up for our Jack Frost Challenge. It’s a great a way to get active with friends while raising money for environmental programs.
Dress (stylishly) for conditions
Many of us grew up playing outside in ski jackets and snow pants, but as adults we neither want to carry around a mountain of gear nor look like a marshmallow. Besides, we can overdo it and get sweaty, so wearing clothes with the maximum insulation isn’t wise in many cases. For most of the conditions we face in the city, it’s possible to stay warm without bulky specialized technical gear.
- Consider all the factors. How cold is it outside? Are you going to be stationary or moving? Where is your destination and will you be able to easily warm up if you get cold? Hands, feet, ears, neck, and face tend to get cold regardless and you should have the option of covering those up as needed. For the core and legs, it’s very individual and you’ll have to experiment. Underlayers like long johns may be useful for some, while others (like me) find them to be a hassle in all but the coldest conditions.
- A wool tuque is great to have, but earmuffs or earbags can work on warmer days and won’t mess up your hair.
- All else equal, gloves aren’t as warm as mitts. Get the best of both worlds by wearing mitts over your more fashionable gloves when needed.
- Materials matter when it comes to layering and staying warm. Merino wool is my favourite for tuques and sweaters and socks as it is thin, warm, moisture-wicking, comfortable, versatile, easy to care for, and relatively affordable. My winter jacket is leather, and stay warmer than I look because of the 2-3 tops I wear underneath.
- My merino wool tubular from MEC is one of my favourite pieces of gear for its warmth and versatility. When combined with a merino wool tuque, my ears, face, and neck are covered in multiple layers of a high-performing insulator.
I think it’s time to put an end to our winter whimpering. Draw on your inner Canadian stereotypes and make the most of it!