Let's not sing that song about letting it snow.
December 28, 2012 2:54 PM   Subscribe

How do I learn to live happily in a city where it snows? Also, what are some coping methods that I can use to help get me through these winter months?

I've lived in Canada for my entire life (22 years so far) and I've hated the winter season for as long as I can remember. With each year that passes by, I find myself becoming more and more depressed because of the weather conditions. I'm reaching a point where the winter weather feels unbearable and I question how I'll even make it through the winter. I'm aware that this sounds like an exaggeration, but to me it isn't. I really don't like feeling this way, especially when there are much bigger problems in this world to worry about. But, this is a serious issue to me. I don't know how to shake this strange feeling. It feels like someone is pushing me down and won't let me get up. I always feel this way during the winter season. I think this is because of how confined and trapped I feel when it snows. Sometimes I wish I could just stay cooped up inside my house until it's nice outside again although I really like being outside, running errands, having a life, etc.. and besides, staying cooped up for that long is not practical or healthy.

So, how do I shake this feeling off and learn to live happily in a city where it snows? Also, what are some coping methods that I can use to help get me through the winter months?

I realize that most people will include moving as an option, but I'd like to rule that out before anyone mentions it. I really enjoy living in this part of Canada and don't see myself moving at this point in my life.
posted by livinglearning to Health & Fitness (38 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
See your doctor. You may well have SAD. It's treatable.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:56 PM on December 28, 2012 [4 favorites]

Talk to your doctor about Seasonal Affective Disorder and whether you fit the symptoms.
posted by EvaDestruction at 2:57 PM on December 28, 2012

Consider that in reality you are not actually confined or trapped inside. People in very snowy (or rainy, or .. sunny) climates merely learn how to dress comfortably for the environment so that they are not hiding at home where it is comfortable.

Learn to dress warmly - really warmly - and just go about daily life.
posted by rr at 3:02 PM on December 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

I don't understand the contradiction that you "really enjoy" living in this part of Canada... the part where you endure, what, 7 or 8 months of snow per year? During which you always feel confined, trapped, oppressed and immobilized?

I'm not being sarcastic, I hope you do find the solution you want without moving. However, I literally don't understand the contradiction.
posted by tel3path at 3:03 PM on December 28, 2012 [7 favorites]

Find an activity that you can enjoy in the snow. Learn how to ski, snowboard, snowshoe, curl, whatever. Snow changes the winter landscape in amazing ways. If you only look at snow as something you have to shovel and scrape off your windshield, then, yeah it's going to be a bummer.
posted by trbrts at 3:09 PM on December 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

Snowshoeing or cross-country skiing would seem to be the thing to do.

Although I live in Victoria (where there is no snow, even compared to Vancouver), I do miss it after living in Japan's "snow country" for 10 years. I do not, however, miss traveling around northern BC in the winter for work.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:12 PM on December 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I feel the same way!! I'm going to watch this thread.

Learning to dress in thin layers that actually provide warmth without adding bulk (silk long underwear!) has helped. Learning about proper boots with a removable liner ...

What helps me (I tell myself) is actually slowing down, giving myself time to layer up, shovel the path...

I splurge on rock salt and other meltables and stock up so that I never feel I'm without it. I buy extra mats for just inside the doors and throw them away at the end of the season.

I add a bit of extra tasty fat to my diet -- like bacon! I listen to the soundtrack of The Sound of Music. And make playlists of incredibly cheerful music.

I drink a little bit of that liquor that's flavored with anise. I have people over for stew.

I splurge by turning up the heat when I'm home.

I'm not into outdoor sports -- even though it would probably make me feel better.

I grumble a lot.

That's about all I've got. If I had a decent yard, I'd start planning my spring garden.
posted by vitabellosi at 3:13 PM on December 28, 2012 [4 favorites]

Your depression isn't unusual. I moved to Winnipeg, Canada from Brisbane, Australia as a young teenager. Every winter my mother gets depressed and wants to move back to Australia. Such emotions are even in Shakespeare, where he talks about melancholic Danes. Turns out being in grey, wet darkness for a few months isn't the best for your mental health.

Try to exercise more. In Winnipeg, dodge ball leagues are all the rage.

For all of you not aware, Winnipeg is one of the coldest and windiest cities in Canada. We are also the current murder capital of Canada.
posted by GiveUpNed at 3:19 PM on December 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Seasonal affective disorder. Absolutely look into this. And be kind to yourself. I can love living here but hate the stupid winter.
posted by jeather at 3:24 PM on December 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I realize that most people will include moving as an option, but I'd like to rule that out before anyone mentions it. I really enjoy living in this part of Canada and don't see myself moving at this point in my life.

I felt pretty much exactly how you felt growing up in New England and I did leave but only for a time. I moved to a place that had very little winter, but had some other problems (rain, lack of sunshine, different culture) and when I came back I found, to my surprise, that it wasn't winter that I hated it was most of the things I associated with winter that were actually somewhat malleable. Here are some things.

- being freezing indoors - this is a problem that money can help with but other things can help too. Get smart about insulating yourself [layers, smart fabrics, comfy clothes that you love] and your house [door drafts, outlet drafts, plastic the windows] and your environment [cook a lot, have a mattress pad warmer, get down booties for the house]
- being freezing outdoors - find clothes you like to wear that also work outside. Fun boots, good scarves, a hat that looks awesome on you. Excellent sunglasses.
- slipping - YAKTRAX, shovel/sand/salt walkways, get good tires, move closer to work so you don't have to drive in the winter
- stuck indoors - make todo lists and get some reading/cooking/socializing/art done. Cook a lot. Woodshed what you're going to do when the weather improves. Find activities outdoors that you enjoy: ice sculpture, snowshoeing, sledding with kids, shoveling other people's walks
- SAD - see a doctor, get a lightbox, eat healthily and exercise, have some bright-ass lights in your house, go outside a lot
- dry/static - invest in good moisturizers and balms, a humidifier, some good glop for your hair
- chillblains/chapped whatever - learn how to prevent them before they start
- bathroom is fucking FREEZING - go to the gym and use the facilities there which are guaranteed less freezing

Also consider if you don't want to move (which is fine and i can understand it) taking a specifically timed vacation to someplace sunny-as-hell during February or January when you've probably had it with winter and the days aren't getting longer yet.
posted by jessamyn at 3:29 PM on December 28, 2012 [24 favorites]

I feel you. I'm not allowed to live anywhere it snows because a winter in Oslo and a winter in Denver made me such a big cranky baby.

So, they make lamps that are basically intended for Seasonal Affective Disorder. I never got around to getting diagnosed, but some of that "daylight" every day definitely helped with me being a big cranky baby. Likewise, I got a natural light alarm clock for waking up, because even that fake "sunlight" seemed to help some with the gloom.

Those were the biggest things I did that got me through two winters. But mainly I had to suck it up and admit I can't live anywhere with a real winter. At least not if I wanted to stay married and keep having friends.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 3:34 PM on December 28, 2012

Is it really snow that makes you feel trapped, or winter in general? This will help you find your solutions. Many people here are answering as if it's the cold and dark, rather than the snow. Because I know that at least for me, snow tends to make me giddy and happy, it's just the cold and dark and ice and windy rain that get me down. If it's truly the snow, I agree with those who recommend taking up something like cross country skiing. If it's the rest of winter, you've got great advice above, too.
posted by ldthomps at 3:35 PM on December 28, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for the advice and answers so far!

I just wanted to add that one of the things I really dislike during this time of the year is taking the bus to places like the work, gym, etc.. I take taxis a lot during the winter, but at the same time, I feel like i end up burning a hole in my pocket because taxi rides aren't cheap. So getting around is one of the factors that contributes to me feeling overwhelmed...
posted by livinglearning at 3:38 PM on December 28, 2012

I've got a SAD light for the 1st time this winter. Oh my goodness does it make a difference to how I feel about winter! The whole - "I just don't know how I'm going to face months more of winter..." GONE. I'm a bit sad that I left it until my 42nd winter on Earth to try it. I know it doesn't get rid of the snow, but for me it just changes my whole capacity to deal with the practicalities of winter. I think its worth a try.
posted by cantthinkofagoodname at 4:04 PM on December 28, 2012

People also have suggested that vitamin D supplements can help with SAD.
posted by sciencegeek at 4:08 PM on December 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I take the bus to work, so I know that can be tough this time of year. My suggestions are to get some pairs of high-quality and thin long-winter underwear, make sure you have a good jacket, and wear good winter boots and a hat. You can carry your work shoes and a hair brush in a bag or backpack. I see lots of people at the bus stop in work shoes, with thing wool jackets, and no hat. They look cold and miserable. I'm warmer and happier.
posted by Area Man at 4:18 PM on December 28, 2012

If you can afford it, a one-week vacation somewhere warm and intensely sunny does wonders to break up the dead of winter—as Jessamyn says, late January or February is a good time. Before the vacation, you get to look forward to it, and after the vacation, you get a nice afterglow of sunny memories. And by that point you know it's only a few more weeks until spring.

Plus: definitely look into SAD treatments.

Re: the bus, I'm not clear—do you take the bus happily during the warmer months, but avoid it in the winter? If so, what about winter bus-riding makes it different and loathsome? Or do you walk/bike during the warmer months, and feel forced onto the bus during the winter?
posted by Orinda at 4:20 PM on December 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

I don't understand the contradiction that you "really enjoy" living in this part of Canada... the part where you endure, what, 7 or 8 months of snow per year?

Sorry, as a Canadian this made me LOL. Nowhere in Canada gets 7 or 8 months of solid snow; plus it normally scales up and then winds down with nice weather between flurries in the early and later months. The GTA has about a third of Canada's population and we only really have to watch out for January and Febuary - even Iqualit gets nice weather (albeit a bit cooler than most southerners are used to) most of the year.

livinglearning, winter can be a great season if you have the resources to throw at it. (actually, that applies to pretty much all types of weather). Since this is important to you it makes sense to prioritise it in terms of money, energy and time.

I am kinda like you, I love being snugly at home with hot chocolate and melted brie looking out at big flakes drifting down onto a pristine white landscape; having a roaring fire reflect on the window is heaven. Standing at a bus stop in a too-small fall coat I can't afford to replace while alternating which bare hand holds the bags of groceries and the other in the pocket while the winter wind drives ice flakes into my face and the slush seeps into my shoes ... Not so much (especially since most proper bus shelters have been removed).

As much as possible arrange your life so you have the fun/nice parts of winter and minimise the worst. If your city has an underground or connected part of downtown that would alleviate you from going outside then try to arrange your employment, housing and shopping within that grid so you only go outside when YOU want. Stock up on groceries so you never have to go out during a blizzard. Buy good quality outerwear and duplicates of mittens, hats and scarves. Arrange flexible time with your employer so you don't have to go to work on really bad days, book your vacation during Jan/Feb so you both get away at the worst and have something to look forward to (and go somewhere warm and sunny). Absolutely take taxis; cut back in areas that just aren't as important to you. And I echo what other people say about SAD.
posted by saucysault at 4:25 PM on December 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Yeah, I take the bus happily for the most part during the warmer months and avoid it in the winter. I think it's because I dislike seeing all of the snow on the ground, knowing that it's cold outside (although I dress warmly), sometimes being stuck walking home in the dark, and everything just feels so much more further away during the winter compared to bussing it during the other seasons.
posted by livinglearning at 4:26 PM on December 28, 2012

"Sorry, as a Canadian this made me LOL. Nowhere in Canada gets 7 or 8 months of solid snow"

For the record, I hail from Manitoba. I remember consistently thaws in late April and early May, and the first snows by October, granted I am a child of the 70s (I do remember in 1979 it hadn't snowed by Halloween, which was unheard of, so maybe the warming began then). Virtually everything we did virtually every day, most of the year, involved snow. Snow down the gloves, snow underfoot, having to claw my feet inside my boots sometimes to walk over the ice, it's so tedious I can't even be bothered to enumerate it. I liked the snow just fine, but not for eight months.

I get the idea of loving Winnipeg, I find it hard to comprehend loving Winnipeg except for the snow. Say because of climate change you now only have six months of snow per year, or even four if it's really balmy. It's still far too much for you and it's still one of the defining characteristics of Winnipeg as a city.

Since we know what you don't like about your home town, there must be some powerful forces of likingness keeping you there. Maybe focusing on your likes will get you through. So, what specifically do you really, really like about where you live?
posted by tel3path at 4:41 PM on December 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Also, if you don't run a car, taxis are actually a perfectly reasonable expense. You will get people who rib you for being extravagant; these people have cars, and these people don't have the same preferences you have. They probably spend all their money on TimBits or something, without being called anything at all.
posted by tel3path at 4:44 PM on December 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

Agreeing that winter taxis are not extravagant for the car-free. You might also see if Winnipeg has a car share, like this awesome one in Colorado. It is great for weekend errands and other things made even more miserable by cold and snow.

Inside, I cope with winter by going full-on comfort, winter wonderland-style. Twinkling fairly lights. Real piñon incense. (Non-working) fireplace piled high with candles. Cashmere throws, red wine, loungey jazz, great books, everything that spells "warm" to me. Your spelling may be different but in essence you are looking for seasonal pleasures.

Good luck!
posted by cyndigo at 5:48 PM on December 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

seconding a week in a temperate climate - we were in Rome for Christmas and I already feel much better.
Also, I try to walk rather than take the bus as much as possible, even if it means getting up earlier in the morning and getting home later at night.
Good winter-wear is worth the price. I bought an amazing set of snow-wear in Greenland ten years ago, and it's still both warm and cool. My daughter's Canada Goose coat looks like new and is almost too warm for her, and it's five years old. I really didn't have the money back then, but in retrospect, it was worth it.
Spending time with friends is important, friendship warms, specially combined with good food.
posted by mumimor at 5:53 PM on December 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Amazing waterproof and warm boots make all the difference in slushy New York...
posted by valeries at 5:59 PM on December 28, 2012

The only way to master winter without feeling claustrophobic is to master the outdoors, dress warmly, and compensate by doing warm things afterward. Does your gym have a sauna or hot tub? If so, use the hell out of them. Hot baths/showers after going outside help too. You can also build in warm rewards for braving the cold - for example, only get a Second Cup coffee on your way to work if you successfully skipped the cab and took the bus.

Exercise is important. The suggestion to walk to work is good, especially if you start after sunrise - outside exercise in daylight elevates mood, even if it is cloudy (high winds and freezing rain though, I understand if you give those a pass).

If you are not taking a Vitamin D supplement, you should. The SAD lights help too, especially if you work in a windowless office.
posted by crazycanuck at 6:03 PM on December 28, 2012

Hello, Montreal resident here. I have fucking hated Montreal winters for 20 years. And then I finally got some sturdy honest-to-goodness winter boots that will last longer than a season or two.

They look terrific, feel awesome, and generally make winter walking kind of radical. As in, Fuck You, Winter, I See Your Fucking Celsius and Raise You Some Bad Ass.

I actually don't want winter to end now.
posted by thisclickableme at 6:04 PM on December 28, 2012 [10 favorites]

Vitamin D is really helpful. Also, try a light box?

And, of course, try to get outside some time when the sun is up.

(And a week in Hawaii over solstice doesn't hurt either!)
posted by leahwrenn at 6:38 PM on December 28, 2012

When I first moved to the upper Midwest, I had a theme song that I'd queue up on my iPod to psych myself up for walking through the snow to the bus stop.

I still live there, and now I also have: a sunrise alarm clock, a lot of knee socks, wool tights, several pairs of legwarmers, awesome snow boots, many wristwarmers, a Parka of Last Resort, an appreciation for hot toddy, some favorite seasonal beers that I can only get when it's winter, vitamin D supplements, a great love for the day after a snowstorm when the sun comes back out super bright, and last but not least a good antidepressant. I was diagnosed with SAD at one point, but I knew that I was also just plain depressed. I decided to go ahead with meds and talk therapy instead of trying light therapy right away. (My insurance paid for meds and therapy, and wouldn't have paid for a light box, though some providers do.) I'm doing well and plan to taper off my antidepressant soon, even though it'll still be the dead of winter where I am.

For me, I think having my overall mental health in good shape gives me the energy to deploy all those coping methods when the weather gets cold and dark. You might find the same thing to be true for you. The hopeless unbearable feeling you describe, though, reminds me of how an ex of mine described her SAD symptoms, which were much worse than mine ever have been. What worked for her was light therapy every day from about October through March. I think it's totally worth asking your doctor for suggestions about how to proceed.
posted by clavicle at 6:51 PM on December 28, 2012

Getting and using a lightbox and taking vitamin D every morning changed my life in this respect. Good luck!
posted by 168 at 7:26 PM on December 28, 2012

Take a vacation to a warm place. I lived in Beijing for ages, and as a relatively delicate person winters there were hell. What made it tolerable, however, was having a vacation to look forward to. I would always plan a small trip to a during the worst part of the winter (for me it was January) as a sort of get-away. It broke up the seemingly endless (I mean endless; winter lasted forever) misery of the season and cheered me up a lot. Got a lot of good memories and helped me enjoy the rest of the year even more.

The vacations don't have to be extravagant - you can pop down into a small (and warmer) town down south of wherever you are, or just do something that's actually fun in the cold, like skiing (this is seriously what made me love snow; skiing is magical and wonderful).

TL;DR break up the monotony of winter and get away for a bit.
posted by krakus at 9:10 PM on December 28, 2012

I totally get this. I was you as recently as last year or the year before. I hate walking around feeling like Mother Nature is literally trying to kill me for the unforgivable crime of having to wait for my bus so I can show up to work. Is that so wrong, Mother Nature? Really?
This year it doesn't bug me so much. Granted, the last two Chicago winters have been reasonably mild so maybe that's why I'm a little more blase' about it this year, and also I think I just got ran out of energy to be mad at season 3 of 4. BUT I have also taken the time to find some excellent snow boots and an excellent coat and I actually made myself a neck gator to my own special specifications out of a thermal sock and a cheap scarf so I feel comfy all the time. When I'm not worried about hitting my head on the concrete again or walking around with wet feet or pissed off because my chin is cold I find that I'm not really stressing out about anything anymore.

As for the "everything seems 100x more difficult when it's cold and dark out at 4:30? Here's what I would do if I were you (and I mean do all of them):
-Do whatever you can to make yourself comfy gear-wise (as mentioned above)
-Go to the doctor and get your vitamin levels checked. If you're low on Vitamin D it might help your mood to take care of that.
-Get a sunshine lamp for your work desk
-Either find ways to psych yourself up about all the awesome worthwhile stuff you have to do, re-arrange stuff so it's closer, or put everything hold and just snuggle in front of the TV until Mother Nature decides she loves us again.
posted by bleep at 9:45 PM on December 28, 2012

You've gotten a lot of good answers, so I hope it's not out of line to share this...

I lived for many years in a beautiful place where I had great friends, food, culture, tons of career opportunities, etc., but the weather depressed the hell out of me. A few years ago I finally allowed myself to move somewhere with better weather, and my life has been immeasurably better ever since. Yes, I miss my friends, I miss the places we used to go, I miss the (too few) glorious days in August, and I have way fewer good jobs available in my field. But for me personally, it was worth giving all that up to not be depressed 8-9 months out of the year. My mood, largely driven by the weather, is a huge component to my happiness, and nothing I tried before I moved actually worked.

posted by primethyme at 11:11 PM on December 28, 2012

Do you have a smartphone? Are there any transit tracking apps for your city? The ones that show a little map instead of an eta can be nice for when the eta makes no sense. That and knowing exactly how long it takes to walk to my usual bus stops is how i get through winter in Chicago without waiting for the bus much. Oh and a pair of nice gloves that work with my phone, for when my timing is off. You want the ones where the conductive threads or whatever are woven throughout the glove, not the ones with the little finger pads. Mine are quite warm too, which i hadn't expected (they were a gift). Anyways, if it's the bus that's really getting you down, investing in some tech might help.
posted by matildatakesovertheworld at 2:35 AM on December 29, 2012

Also consider if you don't want to move (which is fine and i can understand it) taking a specifically timed vacation to someplace sunny-as-hell during February or January when you've probably had it with winter and the days aren't getting longer yet.

Yes, do something in late January or so. It doesn't even have to be a trip to Hawaii or anything. January and February is a big mass of time with nothing to really break it up. Until recently, I was always on a conference around the end of January, or else went on vacation. The last couple of years I haven't gone anywhere and that period of time seems much more draggy. If you could just take a small getaway and escape from the daily grind, it might help.

And hey, the days are already getting longer now.
posted by BibiRose at 7:57 AM on December 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have a couple of favorite projects that I only bust out during the winter months. Never even touch them during warm weather, they are special and for the cold times.
posted by mcbeth at 1:03 PM on December 29, 2012

Can you book yourself winter treats to look forward to? I'm in Montreal (hello 45cm of snow) and survive through carefully timed splurges. We can't always afford the trips south but we book hotels with swimming pools, spas and/or a water park a couple of times through February (worst month of the year IMHO) and March. Do you have a botanical garden? I visit the greenhouses here on a regular basis.

I've done more downhill skiing since I moved here than I ever did growing up in Vancouver and having a "reason" for the cold and the snow helps a lot, even if I'm kind of a crappy skier.

Finally, this is kind of drastic, have children :) My little ankle biters make me try harder to like the cold and drag me outside on a regular basis. I certainly wouldn't have been out sledding today if it weren't for them, but it was kinda fun.
posted by Cuke at 7:08 PM on December 29, 2012

Response by poster: I just wanted to say thank you to everyone that has replied to my initial question.

I decided to purchase a Phillips goLITE BLU light therapy device.

I just recently graduated and have a part-time job where the hours vary, so at this point a vacation's not really financially feasible.

But, I'm hoping that this light box will help me out tremendously (along with the other suggestions posted here).
posted by livinglearning at 9:28 AM on December 31, 2012

Get yourself some vitamin D, too. Seriously.
posted by leahwrenn at 6:56 PM on December 31, 2012

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