The Winter of Our Discontent?

Canada is a high latititude country. Even those who live in Ontario’s “Southwest” are awfully far north compared to our American friends who live south of the Mason-Dixon line. Being a Nordic country has many charms but it also means that for many weeks of the year on either side of the winter solstice (December 21) it’s cold and dark everywhere in Canada. In the morning, kids go to school and parents go to work in the dark. In the late afternoon or early evening when everyone returns home it’s dark again. During this period, from November until January, the weather outside can be frightful.

Add to this the fact that this three-month period is not necessarily the most relaxing time of the year. There are many extra social engagements, seemingly endless shopping duties, excessive eating and drinking, lots of travelling to see family and friends, special religious celebrations and, for some, year-end responsibilities at the office. Throw in a birth, birthday, anniversary or even a death and it can all be rather overwhelming.

How does one deal with all the busyness that November, December and January can bring? Here’s a prescription: treat this three-month period as your annual Olympics and get in the best physical condition you can by the end of October. In the months leading up to November focus on your diet as well as your strength, endurance and flexibility. This way you’ll be able to approach the most challenging part of the year in top physical condition with loads of energy and health to spare.

What about surviving the darkness and cold? Well, there’s that classic Canadian favorite of migrating south to Florida, Hawaii or some other warm clime. Even a vacation of a week or two helps to break up the long Canadian winter. Others cocoon in their homes pursuing indoor pastimes like TV watching, crafting, baking, reading, building, texting/tweeting or even sleeping more.

The best way to approach the cold and darkness is to embrace it head-on. In the part of the country I live in (Yukon), confronting, accepting and “managing” winter is a matter of physical and psychological survival. Here are a few tips. First, during the working week, “work with” the cold and dark by making sure you get outside every day at lunch-time when the light is best even if it’s only to run an errand. Second, spoil yourself with long underwear, socks, neck gaiter and toque all made of merino wool. This will provide you with a great base layer for almost any outdoor activity including taking the dog out for a walk before work or in the evening. Third, while you are outside walking the dog covered in merino wool from head to toe, make sure you are wearing one of those superlight and incredibly bright LED headlamps. They are widely available and reasonably priced. Fourth, get some traction devices like “Yaktrax” that you can slip over your shoes and boots. This will reduce your risk of falling and make you feel more confident on ice and snow. Lastly, choose an aerobic outdoor activity that you can easily do with a friend, like walking, snowshoeing, cross country skiing or running. Agree to a set time each week and stick to it unless it gets dangerously cold, like into the -30’s or -40’s.

If you follow these tips you’ll be outside in a winter wonderland and probably feeling good about yourself, your family, your work and life.

 By Thomas Ullyett, Chair of the Legal Profession Assistance Conference


  1. Great advice and well put, Tom.