Survive - and Enjoy - Canada's Winter!

(reprinted from December 2011)

Here you are.

It’s dark outside when you wake up in the morning. It’s dark when you’re going home at night. In between times, it’s grey – sometimes dark grey, when snowstorm clouds are gathering to blot out the world with snow. It’s blindingly windy and bone-shatteringly cold; and when it’s not quite so cold, sleet is slashing your face with icy fingers, or freezing rain is turning your world into a slippery, dangerous horror. Turn around and the snow is back, sifting down on you like cold, wet, heavy dandruff. Dandruff, all over everything.

And… here you are.

It’s right about now that you’re probably asking yourself, “Why? Why, in the name of sanity, did I immigrate here??”

Well, cheer up. For one thing, you’re not alone. As a newcomer, you’re probably not used to these conditions, but most born-Canadians don’t call January and February their Happy Place, either. However, there are some things that newcomers and natives alike can do, in order to make Canada’s most disgusting months not only bearable, but enjoyable. Or at least, they can help you enjoy your life, in spite of the weather.

1. Have a party. The earliest settlers in Canada held parties for every conceivable occasion. Finished building the barn? Have a party! Just removed the husks from an entire crop of corn? Have a party! Relative died? Well, if you’re Irish… have a party! It was their way of coping with hard work, and celebrating life during good times and bad. So, would you like to feel a bit better during the dark, cold, discouraging months of the year? Do what Canadians still do: have a party. Getting together with your friends and family for some good conversation, some good food, and whatever beverages you indulge in will certainly remind you of the warmth in your community, and the warmth of the good weather to come.

2. Listen to music. Not slow, sad, depressing music that makes you want to stay in bed. Listen to happy music, lively music, that takes your mood away from the grey landscape outside and makes you feel energized and good about yourself. Well, unless slow, sad, depressing music makes you feel happy. If it does, listen to that.

3. Do something that’s just for fun. Sure, you have to work. And you may be in the middle of your settlement process, which can be a hassle, with lots of difficult, stressful things to learn and do. But you owe yourself some fun, too. Take a few hours or even a day or two, and just do something you like to do. It’s good for your mental health, at any time of year. At this time of year it can save your sanity.

4. Soak up some comedy. Watch some really funny movies and TV shows. Read some books that amuse you. Search the internet for ridiculous YouTube videos – they don’t have to make any sense, they just have to make you laugh. The more you laugh, the better you’ll feel; and that gives you strength. Bonus: share that laughter with new friends, and pretty soon you’ll feel at home in Canada.

5. Go for a walk. No, I’m not kidding. It’s freezing and windy and nasty outside – but if you wear lots of warm clothing, and you have some time to do it, a walk out in the bad weather can give you a feeling of defiance, of not being beaten by your circumstances, that can make you happier and more encouraged. The cold and snow won’t conquer you. You are stronger than this horrible time of year; you are stronger than all of your problems; spring is coming, and so is the rest of your life. Shake your fist at January and February. They’ll soon be gone, but you’ll be fine!

Seasonal Affective Disorder – or SAD – happens to thousands of people each year, when the winter’s lack of sunshine causes them a mild form of clinical depression. If you feel the weather is seriously getting you down to the point where it interferes with your life, you may have SAD. A visit to your doctor will provide you with the necessary resources to get through it, and come out well on the other side. For more information about SAD, see the Canadian Mental Health Association’s webpage on Seasonal Affective Disorder: http://www.cmha.ca/bins/content_page.asp?cid=3-86-93.