How do I make peace with winter?
May 10, 2014 4:00 PM   Subscribe

I grew up in Wisconsin, and have hated winter for most my life. As a kid it was okay, but since being a teen I was sure that I'd move out to a part of the country that had mild winters. Recent years though, I've come to realize I don't want to move away from friends, and I actually like parts of the city and am starting to see myself growing old here. I just really really hate winter. Can I come to terms with my hate of winter and my new found love of the area?

For me that means half of the year I'm cranky and cold. I dislike winter outdoor activities, and even going out in the cold to get to indoor activities makes me angry. I become a hermit. This past winter has been especially enlightening into the idea that I have a real mental issue with the cold. Part of it is health related, but even when I didn't have health problems, I just disliked most everything that comes with winter. The cold, the driving, snow removal, scraping ice of the car, you name it. All feel like a personal slight. I'm particularly pissy about the inability to do the summer activities I enjoy. I don't completely hate snow related activities for their own sake (say, sledding or skiing), but I hate being cold and no amount of winter clothing seems to help with that. Everything is harder, going about your daily business is a slog.

Even if I don't live here forever (part of me still wants to be closer to the ocean), I at least am going to be here for the next few years. I feel like I have to get past this because losing half a year because of a bad attitude isn't healthy.

I do like a few things about winter. Snow in small doses is okay; I love the first snowfall, and it's fun to snuggle up with a good book when there is a blizzard raging outside. I love buying and wearing winter clothing. I'd probably be fine with winter if it was a month long. Places I've wanted to move to are those that do have winter that consists of a couple dustings of snow. But for me, winter is much better as some place to visit than to live it all the time.

I'm sure part of it is my lifelong bad attitude towards winter, but I'm not sure how to get past that. I think it's become irrational at this point. The specter of winter coming back in as little as 7 months hangs over my head now in early spring.

I'm hoping for suggestions on how to deal with my mindset and maybe change my mind. Suggestions to go out and partake in winter activities probably aren't going to help, I am quite irrational about avoiding cold at this point and I've tried, all I do is find a reason not to go.
posted by [insert clever name here] to Human Relations (23 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
You're gonna wanna kill me for this advice, but I feel the exact same way. I am a huge crab-ass all winter, hate the cold, and I'm from Minnesota, so it's not like I haven't had a chance to get used to it.

This year was a particularly nasty one as I'm sure you know, and what helped me get through it? I started running outdoors in February. It was so ass-fucking-cold out but I was allowed to wear whatever kind of goofy cold-weather running clothes I wanted and got my blood moving and my muscles working. Then for the rest of the day-- it was cold, but not as brain-wreckingly cold as running on a winter morning in a few layers of thermal tights. So it was easier to accept.

So yes, I know, it sounds like the worst advice ever, but that's what worked for me! And I am a baby about the weather. (I'm sure any semi-daily outdoor activity would work if you don't like running/find it dangerous in the snow, such as snowshoeing.) I know you say "trying to enjoy outdoor activities won't help," but it wasn't about enjoying the outdoors so much as getting out there every day to do something I wanted to do (running), which turned off my "am I enjoying this??" sensors, and thus the rest of the day was kind of like no big. It was somewhat psychological I think.
posted by stoneandstar at 4:11 PM on May 10, 2014 [5 favorites]

So, at least some of this is is personal and some if it is out of your control, but...

Whenever there's sunshine, or warmer weather, make it a priority to get out and enjoy it.

Sometimes the weather just doesn't coorperate on this score, though, but at some point, I realized at some point that if it's cold, you can either get hunched up and tense and shivery about it, or you can just take a deep breath, relax, and just experience the cold, and for some reason, it's not as bad. (This assumes that you have bundled up properly and are not going to give yourself frostbite, but you like the winter clothing, so probably you're good, there.)

Driving: I now work close enough to work to walk. It's a lifechanger. I realize, though, that Wisconsin is often not constructed in such a way as to make this possible.

Also, garage. No brushing, no scraping. HEAVEN. My family didn't have a garage growing up, and I just had no idea.

Snow removal: pay somebody to do it. Neighborhood kids, professional service, whatever.
posted by BrashTech at 4:16 PM on May 10, 2014 [7 favorites]

Sorry, but you need to get out of the house. You don't have to do "winter things" though. Hang out in the Tropical Dome, the butterfly exhibit at the museum or the animal houses at the zoo. All are kept very warm. The zoo is actually awesome in the winter because it's not full of screaming children. There are discounts/free days for local residents. I'm not a swimmer, but I'm guessing there are also indoor public pools in the area.

The weather is brutal by itself, but cabin fever is even worse.
posted by desjardins at 4:18 PM on May 10, 2014 [5 favorites]

- First of all, get some daylight lamps, in case there is a SADS component exacerbating the feeling. I don't have SADS and even so it's nice to treat yourself to the feel of being in summer.

- This might not be financially viable, but occasionally I've been able to take a trip to the southern hemisphere (ie hot summer) in the middle of winter.
The effect it has on winter mentality is fantastic. By the time I head home I'm welcoming some chilly wind and rain for the contrast, and more importantly, having winter broken up into two tiny-winters with a mini-summer in-between just rips apart the feeling of winter being a thing. Instead, it becomes an occasional aberration, a novelty much more easily able to be enjoyed.
posted by anonymisc at 4:22 PM on May 10, 2014 [5 favorites]

This, like many things, seems like a problem you can buy your way out of to a certain extent. Maybe look at your budget and see if you can carve out some cash for "winter luxuries."

~Can you find an indoor pool and start taking up swimming as exercise? There's nothing that reminds me more of summer than the smell of chlorine.

~You also need a sun lamp. When I was really, really depressed one winter, I also went tanning. It's not a good habit to get into but doing it once or twice isn't going to kill you.

~Set up a corner of your living room and model it after a ski lodge. Do you have a fireplace? Fill it. Get yourself a really cozy armchair. A nice afghan. Some luxury hot chocolate & booze to go with it.

~Make your bed amazing. Get flannel sheets and level up on your comforter. Get a heating pad and a cozy electric blanket (this was a life-changer for me). Some cozy booties. Basically, make your home a haven from all that shitty weather outside. There were some days coming home in this terrible weather when I was actually GLAD it was wintry mixing at me, because I knew I had an amazing excuse to curl up into my little cave.

~Take a vacation someplace warm.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 4:24 PM on May 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

Oh, also: really, really nice and effective winter boots.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 4:30 PM on May 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

I got through this winter by consciously talking myself out of crabby thoughts. Every time I was waiting for a bus with the wind ripping my face off I had to consciously remind myself that this is what life on Earth is like, and I generally enjoy life on Earth so this is something I have to be okay with.
posted by bleep at 4:36 PM on May 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

I dread winter. I have the SAD and I don't enjoy outdoor stuff in the winter. I, too, have lived in this climate my entire life.

So, for me, it's been about looking to find all the "winter only" things that I enjoy - and then REALLY embracing them. You know how some people put Christmas lights up and like them? I love the living heck out of them. I get GIDDY at the idea of putting them up. In the summer, it's too warm to use the oven very often - in the winter, I bake like I'm personally responsible for feeding the entire block. I love peppermint (the scent and the flavour) and y'know what shows up in the winter time? Peppermint things! I hoard them. My pool is closed, but my hot tub is bubbling. Flannel sheets suck in the heat but feel SO GOOD in the winter. Etc.

A lot of it is white-knuckling for the first month or two. After that, I remind myself that I can only get peppermint white hot chocolate for a limited time. And that the peppermint hand soap won't be available in April.
posted by VioletU at 4:36 PM on May 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm with stoneandstar, more or less (the "less" being that running per se wouldn't be my thing). If you spend months of your year hiding from something, you're just going to hate it more. There's a lot of good evidence, for example, that the prevalence of air conditioning makes people more distressed by hot weather than they were prior to air conditioning's introduction. You need to find something you enjoy doing out in the snow and do it regularly. Maybe a nice walk somewhere? Maybe some cross country skiing or snow-shoeing or something? Anything that gets you out of the frame of mind of winter being entirely your antagonist--because in the end you're always going to be on the losing end of that struggle.

And as for dressing warm: there are clothes these days that will keep people comfortable in Antarctica. Go to REI or wherever and just buy whatever's needful to keep you warm in whatever activity you choose to do.
posted by yoink at 4:44 PM on May 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

I don't like it yet, but one of the things I've learned about ice/snow removal is that you have to be proactive about it. I used to wonder as a kid why our retired neighbor lady went out with a broom three or four times a day and swept her paved driveway--but now I do. Several times a day with an MP3 player on, and it's a very small amount of relative effort and I can go back inside and be warm and comfortable. Trying to accomplish it at the crack of dawn before leaving and it is the most miserable thing in the world. Ideally, that means a home with both a paved driveway and decent sidewalks, which you can also salt, and a garage for the car, to cut back on scraping. There are times the process breaks down, like when you get a foot of snow going overnight, but most of the winter it goes pretty well.

Also, this past winter was when I really stepped up my cardio, and I didn't even do it outside, but the cold air after leaving the gym was a revelation. Like, a couple times I drove the first few blocks back with my windows open because it felt so good.
posted by Sequence at 4:46 PM on May 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Try some CBT techniques to change your thoughts. Your thoughts create your emotions, and you can train yourself to think differently. Get one of the workbooks and give it a try.
posted by SyraCarol at 6:56 PM on May 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

I realise that this is maybe not the kind of answer you're looking for, but have you talked to a doctor about this? The bit about never being warm really stood out to me--I know several people who've had thyroid issues (ranging from almost no thyroid function to low end of normal) and the one thing that they all had in common was that as soon as the temperature was under about 70, none of them could get warm.

As a bonus, a low-functioning thyroid can also contribute to depression, which definitely wouldn't help your winter blues. Maybe you've already looked into this and come back clear, but if you haven't, it's probably something to check into, just in case.
posted by MeghanC at 7:12 PM on May 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

Everyone else has given great advice above. I know how you feel, I've just left a place near the 60th parallel that offered 8 brutal months of winter that weren't at all balanced by the 2 weeks of spring, 2.5 months of summer, and one month of fall. I could have moved anywhere but I chose to move to Calgary-- which is only a minor improvement, weather-wise.


Mostly because I have snow dogs, a Husky and a Husky/Malamute. And they LOVE winter. So even when it snows in May (as it has, and will), I get to feel as though at least someone in my little family is just absolutely elated by it. Having dogs that love snow makes winter easier (though it does make moving somewhere warmer harder).
posted by mireille at 7:23 PM on May 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Things that helped me get through the worst winter in 100 years here in Indiana, and I moved here from sunny Australia.

Daylight bulbs everywhere, every light fitting in the house had nice daylight bulbs in, none of this soft blow yellowy bulbs. Lights were on all the time.

Keep up your vitamin D levels.

Have the right clothes. Get proper winter clothes not fashionable clothes, not pretty clothes but good snow boots, a warm coat, a tonne of gloves and hats and scarves and thermals and long socks and wear them. Dressing properly inside makes it feel less like winter and makes going out into the cold so much less of a strain.

Getting out and doing things in bright well lit spaces with other people and laughing. For me it was weekly D&D games with a fun group, for you it might be going to the pub for a few beers, whatever works.

In all honesty I am wondering why, if you hate it so much you don't move somewhere warmer. I know moving can be a pain and scary, but it's probably the best way not to be miserable 6 months of the year.
posted by wwax at 10:08 PM on May 10, 2014

Getting a place that doesn't require a long commute can mitigate some of your winter dread. Definitely consider saving up for a place with an attached garage in your future as someone suggested upthread. This is something we didn't have in our former home but have now. It is life changing vis a vis winter. Glide in, unload the groceries in the warm garage, and laugh at the weather.

As people who once did our own snow shoveling, we also appreciate our condo association's snow shoveling commandos who show up during storms. This has also taken some of the misery out of winter so that we can enjoy winter sports that don't include shoveling.
posted by Elsie at 4:49 AM on May 11, 2014

I figure this is worth a shot since you didn't specify what kind of clothes you're trying --after about a dozen Chicago winters where I was getting by with wool coats, I finally bought a down coat. It completely changed my perception of winter. I can go out for a long walk in January and not even feel a chill. I've been standing next to friends who are shivering, and I'm genuinely surprised by it because I don't even feel the cold. And it doesn't require a lot of layering underneath it; I can throw it on over just a long sleeve t-shirt or sweater, so it takes a lot of the tedium out of getting dressed for winter.

My coat is from lands end, it's knee length and almost attractive, so vanity doesn't get in the way of wearing it. If you still feel cold in a serious down coat, good snow boots, and good gloves and a hat, it may really be a problem for your doctor.
posted by payoto at 5:02 AM on May 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

You have to get warm some/most of the time. I moved someplace where I could have a wood stove, so I can keep the living room pretty warm. I grumble about bringing in wood, but it's manageable. Get a good electric blanket so you can preheat the bed (flannel sheets, down comforter). A hot water bottle will warm your feet. You can find metal canteens at thrift shops; they make a nice foot warmer. I have friends who keep an electric blanket on the couch. I keep the heat pretty low, but as long as I can be warm by the stove, and have a cozy bed, it's fine. Lots of hot tea, soup and stew. There have been lots of questions about staying warm, and lots of good ideas.

Make sure you have good winter clothes - wool pants and sweaters, silk long underwear, smartwool socks, and good insulated boots. Maybe down booties in the house. I find I need different fleece items for layering for different degrees of cold. And the down coat is a great idea.

You might not be able to get a garage, but a remote starter isn't crazy expensive, and not having that warm-up time in the car would be awesome, plus softening ice on windows.

Some winters I can't get outside much due to health, and it's way worse. I can't ski anymore, but I get out on snowshoes when I can. Someone plows my driveway, but I shovel the walk, spread sand, etc. On sunny days, as long as it's at least 15F or so, I get outside for some sun. I attend a regular dance class. It makes a huge difference. Even a short walk to admire new-fallen snow makes me feel a lot better.

When I started taking thyroid medication, my ability to tolerate cold improved a great deal.

Get nice lotion and take care of your skin; dry, itchy skin just makes you more miserable.

Take winter seriously. Don't be macho. Yeah, there's that guy who wears shorts in January, but there's plenty of people in lots of layers well into Spring.
posted by theora55 at 8:09 AM on May 11, 2014

Mental preparation is key. Resign yourself: Winter is coming.
posted by horizonseeker at 8:46 AM on May 11, 2014

I'm from the sunshine parts of the country but have been living in the frozen north for a decade for school, and honestly? I'm 100% with you. I feel personally victimized by winter. The best i've been able to manage attitude-wise is just shutting down my awareness of my physical surroundings for eight months out of the year, because that's better than impotent rage.

That said, a sun lamp helped a bit; brighter lights in my new office helped a bit; and keeping the house really warm all winter (75-80 F warm) helped a lot. Give that last one a shot if you can even remotely afford it. I also have bad circulation, and wearing those wristwarmer things for every waking minute helped at least keep my hands warm. The cheap fuzzy socks you can get at Target are surprisingly good at keeping my feet warm but not sweaty.

But on days when I'm out and the wind is whipping ice particles into my face — yeah. Screw this. Going south again ASAP.
posted by you're a kitty! at 9:51 AM on May 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

This winter was a long punch in the face, it almost did me in and I am thinking about relocating to Hawaii; I totally hear you. Good suggestions above but especially nth spending on a warm, light coat (at least 550 fill down, with good wind protection - half of the poly-filled puffers let in the wind, weigh a ton and feel like two by January). The good coats easily run $500-1000, and they're never on sale, but goddamn if they don't cut 15-20% of the misery of just getting around. Also nth exposure to as much real and fake light as you can.

Also the coat must cover thighs - should be to the knees, at least. Those bomber-style ones are pointless.
posted by cotton dress sock at 11:03 AM on May 11, 2014

My winters aren't as cold as yours (I'm in Scotland, so they're not all swimming pools and piña coladas either) but my hatred of them is equal to yours, and I'm heartened by you're a kitty!'s remark about feeling personally victimised by winter, because that's exactly how I feel, and I thought I was being odd.

So I just want to agree with what's been said above, that a down jacket has been my biggest asset. So warm, and so light, and generally very much like being allowed to take your duvet out of doors with you.

It's in a bright colour, which is also cheering. Between it and my chunky zip-up waterproof fur-lined snowboots (which I wear all winter, even if it's not that cold or wet and I'm getting funny looks), being outside in winter is a touch less horrible.

The endless dark, however, I have yet to conquer...
posted by penguin pie at 12:27 PM on May 11, 2014

I'm British so I don't have to deal with long periods of extreme cold, but I visited Iceland a few years back and it seemed (at least to a tourist like me) like part of their culture was about embracing rather than enduring their climate: there is a lot of cuddling up with a hot chocolate in a woolly jumper by the fire, and they somehow make the cold seem strangely convivial and celebratory. I think this is what the Germans call gemutlichkeit. Anyway, have you tried:

1. A hot water bottle - I wouldn't attempt even our winters without one, but you may need several (shoving one up your jumper may not be a bad idea; I find sitting with one between my knees warms me up all over)

2. Really nice, comfy loungewear (the British company Hush makes the loveliest loungewear) - my workplace is hugely overheated, so I actually look forward to getting home and bundling up

3. Long hot baths and lots of them (warm your towel before you get out)

You could also try making it a mission to find the most perfect hat/scarf/gloves you can just before the onset of winter so that maybe a small part of you looks forward to wearing them...?
posted by raspberry-ripple at 12:23 AM on May 12, 2014

I definitely hated winter less when I got over my aversion to high utility bills and kept the heat up at 72 when I'm home and awake, and ALLLLL the lights on. Make home comfy and cozy and bright and that's half the battle.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 9:23 AM on May 12, 2014

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