Surviving Winter When You Live in a Frozen Tundra Wasteland


A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog post called 5 Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Choose to Label Yourself as Depressed. For the most part, feedback was good, but there were a few snarky emails that snuck through.

The 4th question I ask myself whenever I think depression might be creeping in is, "When was the last time I went out in nature?" Nature has a ton of benefits for mood improvement and stress reduction, which I won't get into here. Some folks had some feelings about this question. I got a few emails along the lines of, "Getting out into nature in February is easy for you to say. You live in Southern California. What about the rest of us trapped inside this awful winter?"

Yes. Yes I do live in Southern California, and I freaking love it. It is true, it is way easier to get outside when it's 70* and sunny vs. 15* and snowy. Feel you, sistah. 

As for the whole "being trapped" part, that is some victim ass nonsense.

I won't let this post turn into a rant about that, but I will say, if you don't like where you live, you can move. You are not a tree. You are not trapped -- except by your own small thinking.

Here's the meat of what I want to say in this post, if you choose to live somewhere where winter can be brutal -- I'm not saying that cold weather isn't brutal -- it is your responsibility to choose to adapt to the environment in which you live. That is literally what being a human is.

So instead of writing a pissy rant about that, I'm going to give you some practical tools to get through winter when cabin fever starts creeping up.

I also feel a need to say that, although I live in Southern California now, I grew up in the snow belt of Lake Erie in Northeastern Ohio. I went to college and lived for years after in Chicago -- while I was there the city saw its worst blizzard ever. I've also lived in Colorado where it will blizzard and be 70* in the same day basically. I've faced some pretty awful winters. I get it.

Here's how to not only survive winter, but to get outside and enjoy it.

1. Adjust Your Expectations

Your body naturally slows down in winter. If you think back to ancient times, our ancestors either moved to warmer climates during cold periods or hunkered down and relied on the fat on their bodies or food that they could store for a few months. We're still running on old hardware, so this natural decline in mood and energy is working to help keep you alive even if it's outdated at this point. Lower energy needs means that you need fewer calories, which is good because back then food was scarce come winter.

All that is to say that, when you naturally slow down, that means your body is doing exactly what it should be doing. Short days and long nights are meant for long stretches of sleep and relaxation. So if you find yourself thinking that you're lazy or whatever, you're probably not. This should be a quiet time of reflection and rest. That's ok.

Head to bed sooner. Make lots of herbal teas. Catch up on TV shows or movies. Cozy up with a book and your favorite blanket.

2. Buy some gear that you're psyched about and want to take outside

Take some time and money to pick out a winter coat, boots, and maybe snow pants that you think are cool as fuck. If you're going to live somewhere where there is a winter, you owe it to yourself to be comfortable when you go outside. Going outside is an intrinsic part of our human makeup, and even going outside in the cold will improve your mood -- so long as you're prepared for the trek

Now, end of March, is a great time to scope out the sales at REI or similar because they're trying to clear out the old winter gear to make room for spring and summer. One of my favorite websites for outdoor gear is Steep and Cheap.  Remember, although there might be some sticker shock upfront, you'll use these items for seasons to come. While you're at it, by some really warm and cozy socks. Warm dry feet make all the difference when it comes to getting outside when it's winter.

Which brings me to....

3. Wear your new gear to go do something active

"There's no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing." - Alfred Wainwright

Winter gets a lot of bad press for there being "nothing to do." False. Get your new gear and plan an adventure. Plan a day trip to go snowshoeing (you can often rent snowshoes from REI), go sledding, cross country skiing, skiing, ice fishing. Or, keep your adventures close to home, build a snow fort, play capture the flag in to the snow, snowball fight, build a snowman,  learn how to read animal prints in the snow. If there's no snow but it's cold, go for a walk in the woods - the woods in winter are a magical place - ice skating is another option.

Your body will thank you for going outside and for being active.

4. Buy a Blue Light and Use it Upon Waking

You can find a bunch of these on Amazon, but this is the one that I have and use when the sun doesn't come out. It's a few years old, so likely there are newer ones with more bells and whistles. Here's what it does, you just put this blue light in front of your face for about 20-30 minutes when you wake up in the morning. This mimics the light from the sun (without any damaging wavelengths) and triggers your body's circadian rhythms to get moving. This will make you feel more energized in the morning when you want the energy, and once the sun goes down you'll be ready for bed.

I would often keep this light in the bathroom and turn it on while I was getting dressed for work in the mornings. These days, I keep it by my computer.

5. Hit Up a Dry Sauna (Infrared if you can)

Much like cold exposure, heat exposure has so, so many health benefits. You can learn all about it by clicking this link. Health benefits aside, getting into a super warm sauna in the middle of the winter is a wonderful experience. Take a magazine in with you (books tend to get ruined once you start sweating), and just sit in there as long as you can. Then, hop out, grab some water, and pop back in for another round. After your session you'll feel immediately energized and have a much clearer head.


How do you survive winter? Tell me in the comments.