I feel like I’m missing something about winter.

No, seriously: every year, everywhere I look, people seem to be having this magical, storybook winter experience – or writing about it on Facebook, anyway. Log fires. Roasted chestnuts.  Sitting cuddled up under a blanket, sipping hot cocoa, while the snow falls out the window, like a scene from a Christmas card. And meanwhile there I am, huddled up against the radiator (because no log fires over here, unfortunately…), wishing there was a heat setting higher than MAXIMUM, and wondering if the sun will even bother coming up today, or if I’ll have to switch all the lights on at 11am again, because it’s so gloomy outside it feels like I’m living through a permanent night.

Who are these people with the log fires, and the roasting chestnuts, I want to know? And, more to the point, how come they seem to be getting a winter that’s so completely different from mine? Because that’s not “winter” they talk about: that’s ‘It’s a Wonderful Life‘. And I want a wonderful life, too. One where I make snow angels in an oversized scarf (me, not the snow angels. I don’t think angels wear scarves, do they?), before going back to a cosy log cabin to drink mulled wine.

Actually, maybe I’ll just skip the mulled wine, because yuck. Also the snow angels: I’m not lying down in SNOW and you can’t make me. Come to think of it, I’m not sure I even LIKE roasted chestnuts: and a log fire would be a bit of a pain to maintain, surely? Do you still have to send small children down the chimney, I wonder? This is all getting a lot more complicated than I thought it would be…

Anyway, I may not be down with the log fires and all that jazz, but there has to be SOMETHING I can do to make the season more bearable, and this year I’m determined to find it. Because right now it’s technically still autumn, but I’m already starting to feel the effects of the gloomy weather and lack of daylight. This week has been particularly rough: we’ve had seven straight days of torrential rain and gale-force winds now: people often tell they’re “jealous” of that kind of weather, but I get very low when I don’t see daylight for a long time, and light boxes don’t seem to help. Which is why this year I’ll be trying these three techniques to (hopefully) survive the winter…

how to survive winter, even when you really, really hate it

01.  Give the house a bit of TLC

Because I spend most of my time indoors at this time of year, I figure I may as well try to enjoy it, and that begins with sprucing up the house a bit, and making it as comfortable and cosy as possible. We don’t have a huge budget for home improvement right now, which is unfortunate, because this is always exactly the time of year when I suddenly become convinced – CONVINCED – that winter wouldn’t be nearly as bad if I only had a faux fur blanket, say. Or a new dining room table. Or a small extension, to house the hot tub and steam room. Or a monkey. Or… you get what I mean. (Not a roaring log fire, though: I think we’ve established my feelings on that….)

Anyway, I can’t afford the hot tub OR the extension to put it in, and Terry is being a complete bore about the monkey, but there are lots of inexpensive little things you can do to make your home feel a bit more, well, homely, and the winter a bit more bearable. I will find out what these things are, and I will do them. I just hope to God one of them is “buy a monkey”. Or a pot-bellied pig at the very least.

02. Make plans. 

I don’t know about you, but I have a tendency to basically go into hibernation once the clocks go back. If it was up to me, I would literally go into hibernation, but it’s not quite the done thing, apparently, so I just skulk around the house, feeling sorry for myself and complaining that it’s dark outside, and it’s only 3pm. Now, getting out and actually doing something is slightly problematic for me, because I really, really hate the cold, but staying barricaded inside the house for months just makes the winter feel even longer, so this year I’m going to try my best to grit my teeth, wrap up warm, and DO something. Anything, really.

Having something to look forward to is a huge motivation for me: I basically spend the entire year looking forward to my summer holiday, and while winter isn’t going to provide me with anything quite as much fun, I know there ARE plenty of things I could be putting into the calendar to break up the long, dark weeks, and inject a bit of fun into the season. I mean, there HAS to be something, right?

03. Make the most of the daylight when it’s there

One of the things people always suggest when I talk about how affected I am by the winter is that I buy a light box. I do actually have one of these, but to be honest I don’t really notice much of a difference from using it. I do, however, feel better when I get out into the ACTUAL sunlight, and while there may not be a huge amount of it at this time of year, Scottish winters CAN be surprisingly sunny. Cold, obviously, but sunny: we actually tend to see more blue skies in winter than we do in summer (not this week, obviously, but still…), and although the days are very, very short, the sun is bright and beautiful when it’s out, so I just need to try to make sure I’m out too, and making the most of it.

During the summer, Terry and I will often arrange our schedules around the patches of sunshine that are forecast, so we can try our best to enjoy it: we don’t tend to do the same in the winter, though, and I think that needs to change. Lately I’ve been making the effort to run outdoors whenever I can, rather than hitting the treadmill: it’s not feasible every day, obviously (See: I hate the cold), but it does get me out of the house AND doing exercise, so that can’t be bad, can it?

   

Aaaand now it’s over to you guys: because, as you can see, I only managed to come up with three things to try, so it looks like I’m going to need some help with this one. There has to be SOMEONE else out there who shares my hatred of winter, and who’s managed to come up with some way to make it more bearable – if that person is you, I’d love to hear from you!

29 Comments
  1. I’ve got nothing either.
    All I know is that most light boxes on the market are just brighter-than-usual lights, not proper imitation sunlight. And you’re only supposed to use them for 15min in the morning, not having them on all day. The one I got was working, but it was really expensive so I just kept for a month and then returned it to Amazon. It was also waaay too big for my room.

    I do have a faux sheepskin… thing from IKEA that I put over my desk chair. It’s super cozy and I love sitting there with coffee/tea. And it was only 10€ 🙂

  2. While I don’t hate winter I have arthritis which makes the very cold and damp weather we get here quite painful and tends to limit some activities for me so I feel your pain on teh whole not loving winter thing.

    I think the whole making plans to at least get out in when it is daylight out makes a big difference, I find even going for a walk around the block on my lunch break can help.

    Other than that all I got is food – I tend to eat my way through winter and make all of my favourite comfort foods and just enjoy what I am eating. Essentially I stock pile calories for hibernation but without the actual hibernating……………………….. We also try to save up any box sets of shows and books to enjoy when the evenings and weather get too bad for going out so at least we still have things to look forward to at home.

  3. What a lovely post…You really have a strong sense of humour…I couldn’t stop laughing while reading you…Sorry, I don’t have any tips…I tend to read more and bake more “Sundays” cakes in winter. ;-((

  4. My husband despises winter so I know what you are talking about. There is a park not too far from us that has a huge greenhouse. Sometimes in the winter we just go wander around in there. It is warm, there is greenery all around you, and you can pretend it is summer. A little denial of reality helps every time.

  5. I’ve got to admit, I am one of those people who feels “invigorated” by cold and gets super excited about Christmas. On the other hand, the lack of daylight gets to me. I find my brain shuts off at sunset, which isn’t super helpful when sunset happens not long enough after lunch and before I’m home.
    Some things that I find help:
    – candlelight. I think it’s maybe because I don’t tend to use candles at other times of year, but for me turning off the main lights and doing everything by candlelight makes the darkness feel cozy and special, rather than gloomy.
    – getting up earlier. I know. I am not really a natural at it. But if I can get up and do all my work in the early part of the day when I have more energy, then its OK if that energy is zapped by 3.
    – museums and so forth. It’s a good time of year to take advantage of all those indoor exhibits you don’t get to in summer because its too nice to be cooped up indoors. Plus I find art galleries kind of meditative, which helps to put me in the mindset of “this darkness is so pretty” rather than “why is it so dark I can’t even remember what sunlight looks like help!!!!”
    – slightly more indulgent food than usual. Like hot chocolate rather than water/juice/pop (and more often than not, boozy hot chocolate, if I’m honest). Obviously not one to get carried away with, but there are all kinds of reasons that so many human cultures have big feasts throughout the colder months!

  6. I am firmly in your ‘winter sucks’ camp. Also, I tried a roasted chestnut at a winter fair once and it was honestly the most revolting thing I’ve ever attempted to eat. I say attempted to eat, as it was so vile I couldn’t swallow it. Not since I was a toddler has a food provoked such a strong spit-it-out-immediately reaction. Don’t do it. I can basically cope up until Christmas is over and then I spend about three months claiming I’m going to quit my job so that I don’t have to go outside in the cold and dark anymore. I haven’t found a cure for it, but buying nice things for the house did help a tiny, weeny bit last year. But gosh why does happiness always come with a price?!

  7. I don’t think I’ve even seen roasted chestnuts in real life. I’ll bet they are like fruitcake: gross but everyone knows what it is and pretends to like it. I do like winter though, more or less. If it lasted less than 5 months here, I think we could even be friends. Give me a couple of good snows, an opportunity to miss work a few days, then warm back up please.

  8. Another thing that may help is to take a vitamin D supplement. Since you’re not getting the sunshine, and wear sunscreen, the chances to absorb enough are slim. I am a complete wimp about the cold. My last move, practically across the US, was largely inspired by it being far too cold where I was living. It also got me closer to family but the cold temps was a huge factor. I’m originally from FL and think anything under 60f calls for full winter gear. I just manage to survive in South Carolina now. Like I said, a wimp. 🙂

  9. We’ve had a week of grey skies, but this week a little bit of sun has come through, picking me up again. I too want to hibernate, and in fact it is what I do. I love hot roasted chestnuts, from street vendors. One thing which might help is mulled wine, which we always have at Christmas. One thing you might like is the Botanical Gardens in Edinburgh, with its massive palm house. I don’t know if there is a butterfly house anywhere near you, but there is nothing quite like their fragile beauty to lift the spirits. We take the dog along the river, and we are on a beautiful stretch of the Thames and that lifts our spirits.

    I have just got a daylight lamp, and had to testify that I had SAD before they would send it. I haven’t tried it yet, but my GP seemed quite impressed that I had one. I need to get up at 7am (according to my questionnaire results) and have it on for thirty minutes each day. I will start tomorrow and will need to set my alarm, as my usual sleep pattern is wee small hours until about 9 ish.

  10. Obviously this isn’t a financial option for everyone, but I always plan our annual vacation during winter. I live in Michigan (in the northern U.S. if anyone isn’t familiar) and it is terrible. Gales, constantly grey because of the lake effect, snow, sleet, ice, negative temperatures…basically the most miserable thing ever. I planned a 10 day trip to Puerto Rico at the end of February beginning of March so we could escape. We went at the beginning of February last year and it just served to worsen my husband’s depression because we came back and still had two months of hell-weather. I’m hoping that this year it will be better as we’ll only have about a month left of hell when we return. It makes the period between New Years and the trip more bearable since we’re planning things to do the whole time.

    I’m not sure how expensive it is, but if I lived in Europe I would probably try and do a weekend (or even two if possible) to southern Italy or Spain during the winter months. I have heard that prices to travel within Europe are fairly reasonable, but I don’t know how true that is.

    1. It can be cheap(ish) if you’re near London and its airports, but it’s much more expensive from Scotland, and places like Spain and Italy just aren’t warm enough at this time of year for me : it’s warmer than here, but not enough to justify the cost! We’ve gone to the Canary Islands (which is much further south) a few times in December, which has really helped (although even there, the weather isn’t guaranteed), but leaving the country just isn’t an option this year unfortunately. It’s definitely the best option if you can afford it, though!

  11. I am with you on the home improvements and plans. This week i hung up new curtains, painted a wardrobe and finished knitting a throw blanket. Cozy textures are key and warm, indirect light helps a lot.

    Unlike you I would LOVE a log fire. I spend Christmas in a house with a fireplace last year, and got a bit giddy/pyromanic about it! And I agreee with other commentors on the food: nothing takes the edge of gloomy weather like the smell of vanilla and cinnamon. And when the cold gets too much, a trip to the sauna or thermal bath is my last resort.

    P.S.: I have been lurking here since 2008 and still get excited every time I see a new post. It is so lovely and interesting seeing this blog, your writing style and you evolve over the years. Really looking forward to reading your book!

    1. OK, so it totally just made my day to read this! Thank you SO much for commenting, and for sticking with it for such a long time: that really means a lot to me to know 💓

  12. I live in Northern Canada so our winters are very very dark ( 5 hours of daylight) and very very cold (-35 ish) I find it helpful that I have dogs who need exercise and that get me out of the house. I also finally invested in some really good cold weather clothes so if I am outside I’m not cranky because my feet are freezing.

    I also save up projects for the winter like knitting, DIY, or even a research project so I have something engaging to focus on.

  13. I find that if I put a lot of little lights around a room it feels sunnier to me. This could be a string of white lights under the cupboard or tucked around things on a shelf, or a small lamp in a dark corner. The more a room is lit up, the less gloomy it seems. Candles would do it too, but I have been known to almost start a fire so I avoid that.

    I also tend to bake things in the winter that take a long time at a low temperature, like roasts or granola. Then I hang out in my warm kitchen. With the little after-Christmas sale lights fastened to the underside of the cabinets and a few lamps on the counters it is cozy.

    1. I forgot another tip — layers. Wear leggings or tights under pants and an undershirt. Silk longjohns are loved by many who live in cold areas. Good wool cardigans & socks are worth the investment. It really makes a difference. In the winter, shearling slippers or boots are warm, too. I know it isn’t fashion, but it makes a big difference.

  14. I’m firmly in the “I love winter” camp. But it’s because it means I have the best excuse for not doing things. “Want me to babysit? Oh sorry you know what a terrible driver I am and the roads could be icy.”

    But also because I knit, and I like to read while wraped up in a giant blanket next to a window watching the snow fall. And I love the fall/winter holidays. I don’t decorate for Christmas until a couple weeks after Halloween because my husband won’t let me. But as soon as the Christmas decorations come down I decorate for Valentines day. Which in my opinion has the best color scheme. (And is why I decorate for it.)

    As for things to do, are there any light festivals? Or do you have a zoo that does special winter discounts? Our local zoo does and it’s fun to go see the animals out in the winter. Especially the polar bears. It the new baby animals that have never seen snow before.

  15. I feel like im not allowed to complain about winter since i live in California… but its been cold (for me: 40 degrees f in the morning!), I really dont know how you do it! My tortoise has his various sun and heat lamps, and i and the kitties huddle on the couch with blankets 😉

  16. I live in NZ so even our worst winters don’t get snow, but I still hate it! Spring is slowly trying to make an appearance here at the moment, but it has plunged down to nearly zero at night again, and I wish it was over already! I am a complete wimp about cold. I love me a good conservatory in winter, a sunny corner by a window works, and I curl up there and read a book. No cold winds, I basically don’t set foot outside in winter. And I agree with earlier commenters about smells – a good fragranced candle can lift your mood dramatically. Love your blog BTW, yours is one of the only ones I keep coming back regularly to read!

  17. Coming into summer down here in Australia, but already missing winter! I don’t feel guilty about reading, curled up under a blanket and generally with our bull terrier on top of me. Best Beloved built me a window seat-bed as I’ve got ME/CFS and spend an inordinate amount of time resting and it’s the best spot ever. Candles and salt lamps have a lovely glow and don’t leave ash everywhere (even a slow combustion stove will do that). Fleece lined leggings, boots and enormous jumpers…. so much easier than trying to look decent when it’s a hellish 40°C outside and even bare skin feels like I’ve got too much on…

    Definitely D3 supplement, preferably liquid, as it’s more easily absorbed. I don’t notice a difference mood-wise, but do know it’s necessary.

    List of favourite winter foods – the soups and casseroles and pies that it’s too hot to make and enjoy in summer. I haven’t had roasted chestnuts in ages (no wood stove anymore) but fresh and hot, they’re lovely! Slightly sweet and be careful not to scorch your tongue. And projects – puzzles, embroidery, sewing -whatever makes you happy.

    And always have a vase of fresh greenery, for some reason I find that makes a big difference.

  18. Living in Dundee, I really identify with your hatred of winter! I find February the most difficult month to get through so for the first time ever I’ve planned a winter sunshine holiday instead of the usual trip in August. I also try to make the most of sunny winter days by heading up to Glenshee to do some skiing or snowboarding – I find that I cope a lot better when there’s snow about (it seems to brighten the place up – a good alternative to a light box!) I also find it helpful to have a project to focus on during the winter months – between Jan – Mar 2014 I wrote a novel and the time passed really quickly! I came across your blog a couple of weeks ago and I’m enjoying it enormously so keep up the great work no matter how miserable it gets out there! Stay cosy 🙂

  19. I’m so with you – I freaking hate winter! It genuinely affects my mental wellbeing. The only upside is I feel less guilty when I have a slob day and don’t feel like getting dressed. I tend to turn my attentions to food since I’m in the house more, I spend a lot of weekends experimenting, cooking new things, baking – all good as I love my food, it’s very comforting, but the motivation to get off my ass and go for a run complete goes out of the window too, so I do tend to pile on a bit of flab which isn’t ideal! Though, an extra layer of fat does keep you warmer, sooo……!

  20. I COMPLETELY relate to everything you’ve said here. I have SAD and winter gets to me big time. Like you, my preference is to go into full hibernation mode, but I do agree there’s a benefit to getting out of the house and out of doors on occasion to keep things from getting too dull and depressing. I’ve been saying yes to more social invitations lately, even though I sometimes have to force myself to keep them once it gets dark. We’ve been going on Sunday long walks to soak up the minimal sun and I like to get out for short 10 minute walks during the workday to keep my outlook more positive. I also like to try to schedule a trip or two in, even short ones, to have something to look forward to. A beach is ideal, but isn’t always feasible. This year we’re going to rent a cabin with family to try to find that “cozy winter” thing everyone raves about.

  21. I only ever seem to use candles at this time of year, so I tend to splurge on some nice Yankee Candles (especially the festive themed ones) to cheer me up and use them to pretend the dark days are cosy instead of miserable!

  22. Vitamin D. You need to make sure you’re taking enough. My doc has me taking 2000 IU/day in winter, 1000 IU/day in summer. Get blood work after 3 months to make sure your levels are where they need to be. Made a big difference in mood and tolerating 5 months of mostly gray skies.

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