I’m a Summer being – born in sunny Kuala Lumpur and lived in sunny Brisbane for a couple of years as well. You can imagine my excitement when I came to Oslo for a job interview and it was snowing the moment I stepped out of the hotel. I was one of those strange people who blew air out for fun just to watch it turn into steam.
Winter is beautiful – snow makes the whole city look clean and new. Unfortunately winter, in Oslo especially, can be very cold, dark, and depressing. If you’re not used to the dry weather and cold temperatures your body will object. This year marks my fourth winter in Norway and here are some survival/adapting tips I have compiled over the years. They have worked for me and hopefully they will work for you.
1. Accept that there is nothing you can do to influence the weather
This is really important. The moment you accept that you cannot influence the weather in any way, you will not say things like “I hate the cold” or “This weather sucks”. Accepting that it will be cold and slightly miserable (if you let yourself be) for the next couple of months is the first step to enjoying winter. I notice if I’m grouchy about the weather, I am more likely to slip on ice, than if I’m in a good mood and more accepting with the weather. If you can’t embrace winter, at least try not to hate it. Hating the weather colours your day, making it look worse than it is.
2. Invest in proper winter gear
You need a good jacket (or two) and a good pair of shoes. I recommend Timberland (no, I’m not being paid to endorse them ;)) as they make really good winter coats – the puffer jacket type – and shoes with very good soles that almost never slip on ice. Winter gear is not cheap but if you buy a good jacket and a good pair of shoes, they will last you for years. A good pair of shoes can last for at least two winters. If I find a good jacket/shoes on sale in Autumn or even Spring, I usually buy it. Winter shoes can wear off easily if you walk on a lot of gravel. Jackets can last for more than two winters if you take good care of them. Some other winter gear you will need would be: a good pair of gloves (something water resistant), a scarf (wool or acrylic), and a beanie/hat.
3. Wear appropriate layers
This is a bit similar to point 2. The Norwegians believe that there is no such thing as bad weather – just bad clothes. I used to laugh about this with my fellow expatriate friends (because some of us expatriates enjoy whinging about the weather – it’s like our favourite pastime ;)). But you know what? This is completely true. If you wear your layers: wool socks, wool tights inside your jeans (I remove mine the moment I reach work) and wool singlet/thermal top inside your sweater (I normally don’t wear this. My skin is a bit sensitive to wool sometimes so I wear a cotton singlet with a sweater on top. Always two layers, never just one.) – you will feel much warmer. Being cold is tough, but the worse part I feel is when you go indoors, you feel your body start to thaw, and then you get itchy. Certain parts of your skin get so dry that it will start to itch. This itchiness is very uncomfortable, especially if you’re at work or at a cafe, etc. If you start scratching it just gets worse. The solution is to dress appropriately to avoid the itchiness in the first place.
4. Moisturize after showering and before going to bed
I usually shower in the mornings so I always moisturize immediately after my shower. I also moisturize before going to bed – especially my hands and feet. My hands really suffer in winter, they get very dry, requiring a lot of moisturizing and extra care. Another part that needs extra care, for me at least, are my lips. They are much better this winter than they used to be. Moisturizing correctly also helps prevent and soothe itchiness. Cold weather causes dry skin which can itch. Don’t forget to moisturize your face properly or your skin will peel from the cold and the wind. I have this issue normally in the beginning of winter, but after a few days and intense moisturizing, it gets better.
5. Drink plenty of water
Winter is very dry: both outdoors and indoors. Outdoors because of the temperature and lack of humidity; indoors because of central heating. Central heating does help laundry dry much quicker, but it can strip quite a bit of moisture from your body. So drink plenty of water.
6. Eat properly
To survive the cold weather, you need to eat properly. Winter is not the time to go on a no carb diet. A good warm meal after a hard day’s work puts that fire in your belly (I hear whiskey does the same too – but I wouldn’t know ;)). If you don’t eat properly in winter, you will crave sugar. I can literally see a mug of hot cocoa in front of my eyes when I’m starving, on my way home from work. To prevent this, I try to eat a small tub of yoghurt or something an hour before I leave work. Otherwise I will cave and eat too much sugary food. I try to switch to more tea than coffee in winter because caffeine dehydrates you and although tea does have caffeine, I’d like to believe it has less caffeine than coffee. I drink heaps of green/white/black tea in Autumn/Winter.
7. Go outdoors
It’s very easy to stay indoors and just lounge around in your pyjamas all day in winter. Try to avoid doing this too often though because as comfortable as it is indoors, going outdoors helps the body build resistance to the cold temperatures. If you keep taking walks and going to the gym/supermarket/mall, etc. during winter, you will notice that you can handle the cold better. It is still cold, but your body will be able to sense the temperatures better – there’s a big difference between -6 C and -1 C and when it becomes -1 C after days of -6 C, you’ll kind of enjoy it .. okay maybe not enjoy but at least appreciate it. So, sit in a cafe, meet up with your friends, watch a movie, go window shopping, sign up for salsa lessons, learn a new language – just do something instead of hiding in your apartment. Having something to look forward to always helps.
8. Know that it is not permanent
Seasons change. Winters come and go. To avoid feeling depressed and miserable, keep telling yourself that Spring is not far away and Summer will be here eventually, and so on. It helps with the soul.
P/s – I’m no doctor; this is purely my own observation after surviving four winters in chilly Scandinavia.