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How to learn to love the cold, according to Canadians and Scandinavians

People who live in the coldest, darkest countries know how to embrace the winter. Here’s what they can teach us.
"The days are short, with long, lingering twilight. Inside the house we have lots of candles,” Eliza Reid told TODAY.
"The days are short, with long, lingering twilight. Inside the house we have lots of candles,” Eliza Reid told TODAY. TODAY Illustration / Getty Images / Shutterstock

In my mind, I’m someone who makes the most of winter. But let’s be honest. I haven’t skied in years. I haven’t been ice skating since my kids were little. I thought about buying snowshoes not that long ago, but I walked away without them. I do get outside most mornings, but that’s only because my dog needs to walk. Otherwise, I might not make it past my mailbox until March.

But surely there must be better ways to embrace the cold, dark months. Those of us who've been spending even more time hunkered down than usual because of the pandemic could really benefit from some fresh ideas. To find out how to survive winter this year, I connected with experts — people who live in Sweden, Iceland and Canada. Here’s what they had to say.

Some fresh air and sunshine or firelight can boost your mood

Let’s get the obvious ideas out of the way. Of course, you can ski and snowshoe outdoors all winter, at least when there’s snow. You can go ice skating at a rink, and sometimes outdoors. You can go sledding or tubing, or try tobogganing or ice fishing. You can play in the snow. But you already knew that. If you love those winter activities, great. But you don’t have to be that ambitious to enjoy winter. Just getting outside can make a difference.

Eliza Reid, the Canadian-born First Lady of Iceland, told TODAY, “My husband says if you don’t go outside enough, you’ll get moldy. I love that expression.” A short walk outdoors, ideally in daylight hours, can do wonders for your mood and attitude.

Try setting a simple, achievable goal like a winter walk. “Your goal could be to go for a walk one day a week, even if it’s minus 10 outside,” Khush Amaria, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and senior clinical director at MindBeacon, a digital therapy company in Toronto, told TODAY.

Hanna Hedenius of Stockholm and her family are big fans of active winter activities. But they also like to go into the forest and barbecue. “We’ll bring a lot of wood, start a big fire and cook hot dogs or burgers. If it’s pitch dark we bring headlamps,” she told TODAY. “There’s something about the fire that connects deep inside you. You feel the human inside you.”

Just because it’s cold outside doesn’t mean you have to be cold

When you’re spending time outdoors in the winter you want to cover your entire body and stay warm, dry and safe. “Make sure you’re not cold, so there’s no time where you’re doing something and you want to go inside,” Hedenius said.

  • Dress in layers. Make sure one is a waterproof, reflective outer layer. Reid recommends wearing wool for socks and inner layers. Hedenius says you want at least three layers, and she prefers more.
  • Keep your head, hands and feet warm. When it’s really cold, cover your face. Hedenius is bullish on hats and recommends buying a nice one that you like to wear. You might find mittens better than gloves for keeping your hands warm. Consider buying boots with removable liners.
  • Stay visible. Wear clothing with reflective strips and carry a flashlight or wear a headlamp if you need to see where you’re going.
  • Stay safe on slippery surfaces. Hedenius and her family splurged on running shoes with spikes so they can run outdoors even when it’s icy.

Plan ahead, and make a pact to follow through

It’s all good to say you’re going to spend more time outdoors in the winter. But when Friday night rolls around and you finish work, do you feel like bundling up to take a wintry walk under the stars? Or does getting a pizza delivered and watching a movie sound more like your speed?

The secret to getting outside is to decide to do it ahead of time, and agree that you’re not going to back out. “You have to say, ‘This is what we’re doing,’” Hedenius said. “It doesn’t matter how tired you are, you’ll feel good once you do it. You just need to go.”

Get your cozy going indoors

While getting fresh air and some natural light is important, you’re probably not going to be outside all day. People in northern climates create a hygge feeling with warm and welcoming environments in their homes so they’re content indoors:

  • Light some candles. “In Iceland winter goes hand in hand with dealing with darkness. The days are short, with long, lingering twilight. Inside the house we have lots of candles,” Reid said. “We have breakfast by candlelight when the children are getting ready for school.”
  • Curl up with a book. “One thing we do is read a lot,” said Reid, who is the co-founder of the Iceland Writers Retreat. “In the holiday season, books are one of the most popular Christmas presents.” She said that in October a catalog comes to the doorstop listing all the books coming out. “It’s as popular as the Ikea catalog,” she said. Writing and journaling are also good winter activities.
  • Decorate with holiday lights. In Iceland, a lot of people leave their lights up through January. “It’s a boost to see the lights,” Reid said.
  • Spend time in the kitchen. Hedenius and her family are more ambitious cooks in the winter. “We put more effort into planning what we eat,” she said. They bake, make their own pasta and prepare warm batches of chili and stew. Amaria supports that idea. “Pick a new recipe that’s a little outside your comfort zone,” she said. “You’ll feel good if it’s successful.”

To embrace winter, you may need to adjust your mindset. “It’s not a worse time, it’s a different time,” Reid said. Amaria agreed. “Your beliefs are not always facts. They are viewpoints,” she said. You can try to prove to yourself that your beliefs about winter are wrong.

And if you’re still not loving winter? “Know that spring is coming,” Hedenius said. “By the 20th of December the dark hours have peaked. From that point the light is slowly coming back, even if you can’t really tell. Mentally knowing that really helps you.”