For fellow Game of Thrones enthusiasts, you are well aware of all that this title implies - preparation, caution, etc. Well, winter is certainly coming. There is no stopping that. What if, instead of dread and anticipation of locking ourselves indoors for three months, we embrace and welcome winter as simply another part of the year? Even greater, what if we befriend winter, and acknowledge the many gifts, opportunities, and invitations associated with it?
With the advancement of modern heating and cooling systems, many folks (if not most) have drifted further and further from adapting to changes in temperature and weather. We long for warm sunny days, and feel sorrow when the cold or rain clouds stick around for more than a day. We have sun lamps, Wi-Fi thermostats, personal heaters and air conditioners, heated and cooled seats, and even temperature controlled clothes. Author and fellwalker, Alfred Wainwright, once wrote, "There is no bad weather, just unsuitable clothing." Many cultures around the globe have proverbs conveying similar sentiments. Each person is allowed their preference of enjoyable weather and suitable clothing, but the fact remains that weather happens without any concern for our preferences. Barring extreme conditions, it does not have to limit our joy of the outdoors. Contrarily, changes in weather open a world of opportunities to experience the outdoors in diverse ways.
By now, you may be aware of the numerous benefits being in nature provides. Scientists are prioritizing research around it, authors, thinkers, and outdoor guides are discussing it, I've written and spoken about the health benefits of nature in various settings. One thing I've noticed across all groups and platforms, is that many people assume these benefits are only available to them 6 to 9 months of the year. The implicit, sometimes explicit, argument is that winter means inside. Don't misunderstand me, there are plenty of folks who continue to embrace winter through sports, etc. I applaud you. Perhaps, many of you even maintain a mindful walking practice in forested areas throughout the winter. I'll see you out there.
The intention of this writing isn't to shame anyone for their preference of temperature, but to invite readers who avoid or dread winter to consider how this relationship was formed. When you were a child, did you stay inside during the cold months, or did you put on more clothes to go out and play? Did something shift for you regarding your interpretation of cold weather? If you're someone who experiences seasonal affective symptoms, has this always been your experience? If not, what shifted?
Michael Easter, author of Comfort Crisis and Scarcity Brain, has interviewed numerous experts, and has written about the growing aversion to and avoidance of discomfort among humans, and the potentially problematic affects these reactions create. The more we stay in 72 degree heated buildings, and create ways to avoid going outside, the less tolerance we have for the cold when we inevitably experience it. Over time, this conditioning shifts our mindset toward cold months - we shouldn't feel cold, and in order to accomplish this goal, we must stay inside where it's consistently 72 degrees.
Perhaps, you notice that saying your "cold" may just mean that you're uncomfortable with the temperature. Of course, you notice a change. We're wired to survive, therefore, our brains are programmed to recognize cold as uncomfortable. However, discomfort is relative. Some are uncomfortable at 30, while others may notice discomfort at 55 or 60. We get uncomfortable with cold, simply to bring our awareness to it. Extreme cold and freezing temperatures can lead to hypothermia, which can kill us. Discomfort gets our attention, so that we take measures to protect ourselves from potential harm. Protection doesn't have to mean avoidance, though it can. Protection can also mean, you notice it's cold, so you check the temperature, consider how long you'll be in that temperature, and dress appropriately. Instead of accepting that you are "cold" means you can't tolerate the condition, you're invited to be more curious; get more information. "Am I really cold, or am I uncomfortable because I'm having an initial reaction to the change in temperature?"
So, maybe you're convinced to at least re-examine your relationship with winter and the cold outdoors. Now, what? There are several ways you can befriend winter, or at least remove it from your adversary list. I'll offer some recommendations, and how to engage in them, below.
Change your narrative
When you anticipate going out into the cold, what is your first thought?
"Ugh, it's cold out there."
"I wish I didn't have to get out in this."
"I'm ready for spring."
If any of the above sound familiar to you, it's no wonder you dread walking through the threshold of your home into the brisk outdoors. Simply changing some of your initial thoughts can help you better tolerate, or even embrace, stepping into the cold. 1) Direct your focus to your intention. What are you doing that requires you to go outside? If you're getting groceries from the car, focus on the groceries and the value they hold for you. If you're taking a walk or exercising, focus your attention on the activity itself. What are you gaining from the walk or exercise? Rather than emphasizing the cold weather as an obstacle, you are simply shifting focus to your intended purpose. Of course, be mindful of the temperature enough to wear appropriate clothing. If it's 40 degrees, you may not override your recognition that it's cold simply by telling yourself you aren't. Put on a coat or jacket, and get to the activity you mean to do.
Remember, clothes are our friend when it comes to weather. Some are more appropriate than others. Dress for the occasion, activity, weather/climate. Standing around in 50 degrees may feel cold, while running a 5 K in 50 degrees can be quire pleasant, especially with the appropriate apparel. Technology of warm clothing has advanced exponentially over the past decade. We no longer have to add 20 pounds of cotton or itchy wool to stay warm. Puffers, gloves, wicking athletic wear, etc. are all designed to be light-weight while regulating your body temperature. They're also much more affordable these days than in years past.
Outside fires are wonderful! Many of us are mesmerized by a crackling fire or running water. There is actually a term for that. Biofilia refers to our innate fascination with nature. Fire is foundational in our existence, whether warmth, cooking, ceremony, or casual enjoyment. Create an enjoyable reason to be outside. Plan a gathering, cook a meal on the grill, or go camping and hiking. Making a fire part of your outdoor experience can not only enhance your comfort, but also your amusement.
A growing trend in modern holistic health and wellness, is the recurring practice of sauna therapy and cold plunges. Maybe you've seen a gym or spa near you begin advertising these offerings. Many medical and scientific studies have shown that subjecting the body to abrupt and extreme changes in temperature (stress), in this purposeful and intentional way, can improve immune function, mood, stress tolerance, and decreases cardiovascular issues, fatigue, and symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Make the outside fun for cold weather. Yard art, seating, placement of heaters, leaving furniture out on the deck or patio, can contribute to creating an inviting ambiance luring you and guests outside.
In summary, remember that winter is no our enemy, it's simply a time of year. Whether symbolism of rest, regeneration, grief, decay and rebirth, etc., or recreation, or exploration, winter has plenty to offer. We just have to be curious enough to take the invitation. If you're someone who has been at odds with winter, start repairing the relationship slowly with small steps. You don't need to plan a weekend camp in 30 degrees right out of the gate. Step outside for a few minutes, walk around your yard or the block, be mindful of your narrative toward winter and cold, and be curious about changes in nature. Perhaps, you notice interesting branch patterns in familiar trees without their leaves. Take note of which animals are outside, and what they're doing. As with any relationship, change and strengthening take time and practice. Your relationship to winter will be no different. If your relationship to winter is just fine, and causes you no grief, consider that it doesn't have to be bad to get better.