Surviving Winter: The Kit

Season affective disorder (also known by its pathetic acronym “S.A.D.”) use to be something I didn’t believe in. I was sure that, like TSS, asteroids, and ghosts, S.A.D. was one of those things where the amount of time spent worrying about it is inversely proportional to the likelihood of actually encountering said predicament. What’s to hate about winter? Winter is a time for sledding, hot cocoa, and snow days. Is it even possible to experience depression while ice skating? I was sure S.A.D. was a sham.

That all changed three years ago when I moved to a city. I became a believer in December of 2008, specifically the week when, still getting over my breakup with my first girlfriend, I spent my last dollar on waffles in an attempt to ingest happiness. This was the same week that I was diagnosed with vertigo and got in a verbal altercation with the TSA after they attempted to confiscate my space heater (my last bastion of hope) due to its bomb-like qualities. In my delirious, overly-dramatic, and freezing state I finally admitted it to myself: Seasonal Affective Disorder is real.

Winter is one of those things that can really start to suck once you’re an adult. Suddenly you have responsibilities which include but are not limited to buying groceries in subzero temperatures (again), shoveling your stoop at 3 a.m. so that your neighbor who leaves for work at 5 doesn’t call your landlord and threaten to kick you out (again), taking your roommate’s dog for a walk so that he doesn’t pee inside (again), and finding your way to jury duty when public transportation’s been shut down (again). And did I mention work? Every school in the city might be closed but that doesn’t mean your office is!

This year I’ve decided to take steps to make sure winter isn’t horrible. I’ve rounded up some of my best survival tips so that we can all make it to April healthy and mostly sane.

+Month-long Subway Pass:

While I’ll admit that the idea of paying $80/month for the pleasure of waiting in sleet for consistently-late buses to show up made me want to punch SEPTA in the face, it’s really one of the only reason I survived last winter. Instead of hibernating alone in my apartment because I didn’t want to spend money on subway tokens, I had to use my pass as many times in a month as I possibly could to make the investment worthwhile. I ended up going over to friends houses a lot and going to the good far-away grocery store more than once a month. Since eating well and keeping loneliness at bay are two of the hardest things about winter, I like consider myself a champion.

+Neti Pot:

In my capacity as resident person-willing-to-try-potentially-gross-but-potentially-awesome-things, I went to CVS and got myself a neti pot. Let me tell you friends, my life has changed forever. Yeah, it’s kind of disgusting, but it’s also super effective. Unlike douching with lysol, rinsing your nasal cavity with saline is non-toxic, fun, and won’t make men want to sleep with you.


Never estimate the power of endorphins. Or how good it feels to be a regular somewhere, even if that somewhere is only a gym. With exercise, I take the same approach as I do with public transit and buy in every month so that I’m forced to go as many times as possible. I know it costs a lot of money, but having paid for both, I can tell you that $40/month for a gym membership is a lot cheaper than a therapist. If traditional gyms aren’t your thing, I think rock climbing is pretty fun too.

+Vitamin D Pills:

Apparently the culprit behind S.A.D. is vitamin D deficiency. We absorb vitamin D from the sun’s rays which is why in the winter, all bundled up in coats and scarves, we don’t get as much as we need. I’m a big fan of sunbathing on the floor of my room, but on days when I have to be up before the sun, I take a tablet.

+Coconut Oil:

I’ve got an analogy for this one:

coconut oil : me : : windex : the dad from My Big Fat Greek Wedding

This stuff is amazing. My skin typically considers winter a nice time to stage a mutiny against the rest of my body and attempts to escape one patch at a time. Coconut oil is my secret weapon against such lovely skin conditions as eczema, psoriasis, dandruff, as well as normal old dry skin. It also smells nice, is good for cooking, stops bug bits from itching, hydrates your hair, and according to Betty Dodson can be used as lube.


Because it’s enough of a challenge to keep myself alive and thriving, I don’t have any children or animals yet. I do, however, have some really nice plants. Plants keep your air clean and are a tiny reminder that winter doesn’t last forever. You may not be able to snuggle with your plants, but you can sing to them. Plus I had a crazy psychology teacher once who told us that when plants witness a crime, they can tell investigator who the murderer is.


It doesn’t matter if you’re playing games, building a fort, visiting a coffee shop, or cooking something new; the idea here is to watch as little TV as possible. Television is filmed in obscenely sunny places like Los Angeles and gives you unrealistic expectations about what your life should be like. No one on TV ever looks cold and seeing Stabler and Benson walk around in New York in the middle of winter like it’s no big thing makes me feel like a wimp for refusing to leave my house without two pairs of pants. The thing is I’m not a wimp, I’m a champion (see above) and I don’t need TV sending me negative messages.


Warm feet mean a warm body. Coziness is happiness.

+Spooning Partner:

It doesn’t matter if your spooning partner is your sig oth, your dog, your friend, or your mom. Spooning is an excellent way to save on your electric bill and to remind yourself that you have people in the world who care about you.

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Laura is a tiny girl who wishes she were a superhero. She likes talking to her grandma on the phone and making things with her hands. Strengths include an impressive knowledge of Harry Potter, the ability to apply sociology to everything under the sun, and a knack for haggling for groceries in Spanish. Weaknesses: Chick-fil-a, her triceps, girls in glasses, and the subjunctive mood. Follow the vagabond adventures of Laura and her bike on twitter [@laurrrrita].

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  1. Warm shoes are magic too. Don’t underestimate the grump-inducing qualities of being cold all the time. My mum bought me these wonderful boots last week. They feel like slippers, but they’re sturdy like hiking shoes and stylish like trainers. I swear, my mood has been fantastic ever since. No more cold/wet feet, what a lifesaver.

    Also, a mental note: Tomorrow is already the darkest day of the year. So, after tomorrow the days will get longer and lighter every single day. Despite it being cold and wet, every day will be a little less wintery.

    • winter is coming to my side of the globe so I am just reading this now, and I cannot agree more. I did not understand before but then I got nice boots and my feet were no longer cold and wet and in need of hours by the fire every night, and wow, what a difference it makes. so now besides nice shoes I invest in decent socks as well, cause I learned my feet like to be warm and dry

      • happy impending winter, charlie! i just bought myself some new snow boots as well because they are so cheap in the springtime.

    • Ugh. I need to stop reading these things. First it was that article on the horrible things under fingernails and the resulting vaginal horror, and now this… my hypochondria is officially in full force today.

      But on a side note, it turns out I wasn’t being super OCD by boiling the water I use for my neti pot. Go me.

        • They are sinus irrigators. You can get the same results with a Neil Med (which is what I use and like). Basically you force water up one nostril, it rinses out your sinuses, and comes out the other nostril. Repeat on other side. They are really nice for people with sinus issues–I had a sinus infection from July-November, and using the Neil Med helped me deal until I could sort-of get rid of it.

          I sound like an advertisement, but really it doesn’t matter what you use or what brand it is–mine is the Walgreens’ brand because I’m cheap. They’re just nice to have around for when you’re snotty.

  2. Awesome kit, though. It’s rainy and cold in Ohio; I think I might have to venture out for vitamin D pills and a houseplant today.

  3. this sounds silly / do not want to be an alarmist…but beware of brain-infection-inducing, neti-pot-borne amoebas!( my gf uses her neti pot every single day and yesterday she went to ask her ear nose & throat doctor father if this was illegitimate or not and he was actually in the process of emailing his practice about it. so: not actually a condemnation of neti pots (which are proven excellent) – just used distilled water, at least until this creepy shit blows over

  4. Neti pots look like the friendly plastic version of some sort of torture device. You are very brave to have even attempted to use one!

  5. Great list! Citrus fruit tends to help me perk up some, too. I started making sure I ate them more during winter because they have a decent amount of vitamin D, but now I eat them because they’re slightly addictive in the winter – I swear grapefruits are like giant suns that I eat during the winter.

    I don’t care how ridiculous that sounds.

    • yes. citrus.
      aromatherapy studies have shown citrus to be mood-booster. which is why i am currently stuffing my face with clementines as i finish my grad school applications.

    • I love to chop up various citrus fruits and eat them while I watch my shows/browse my internets. They are perfect in the winter.

  6. great list!! Being a sun-spoiled Australian I didn’t think SAD was a thing until this year, when I experienced my first (and hopefully last) Scandinavian winter. It’s a thing. It’s so a thing.

    I can’t think of much to add except for mulled wine and making your place cosy with candles and lights and indoor activities. Like if you have friends over for an epic cook up or a dorky board game night and there are lots of fairy lights and mulled wine then the weather doesn’t seem so bad.

    Also coconut oil is win. I find it a bit heavy for day time though so I tend to use rosehip oil in the morning and then coconut oil before I go to sleep. Works ten million times better than all the fancy creams doctors used to tell me to use for my eczema and is much much cheaper.

    • Were you by any chance in Denmark? Mulled wine and being cozy sounds a whole lot like Danish glogg and hyggelig, although I guess there are some similarities with other countries’ traditions. Scandinavian winters ARE rough though. I fell head over heels in love with Denmark, but there was just SO MUCH dark and grey. Making things hygge, drinking mulled wine, and eating the little Christmas cookies called pebbernodder puts up good fight against the evils of S.A.D. though…or even just against regular old sad, no matter the season, because those things make me happy anywhere anytime.

      • YES! I’ve been living in Aarhus, though I’ve lived in Copenhagen too, only in summer. Hyggelig and glogg were exactly what I was thinking about, I just didn’t want to type it, because I thought no one would get what I was talking about. I was also thinking about aebleskiver and pebbernodder was well, I LOVE those things. All the things I was talking about were winter-surviving tips I learned from Danes :)

        I love Denmark too, hard. Copenhagen in summer… too wonderful for words.

        When were you in Denmark? Where were you living?

        • I was just in Denmark for a semester…and, wow, it was two years ago now. Sometimes I miss it like I just left though! So wonderful. I was living on Amager, in Copenhagen, which was most excellent. Only briefly passed through Aarhus, but it seemed nice too! Have you been studying there? It’s sort of silly but I still get all warm and fuzzy inside whenever anyone else mentions something about Denmark, so as soon as I saw “Scandinavia” and “cozy” I had to say something. =P

      • I feel bad because my kitty has murdered her fair share of plants (she leaves their bodies in the middle of the floor as trophies), and I now wonder how horrible their deaths must have been.

  7. Great list! I’m pleased that nothing on it involves time spent outside. One of my best friends is really into winter and just doesn’t get that all I want to do is be inside spooning my cats.

  8. “Coconut oil : me : : windex : the dad from My Big Fat Greek Wedding” this is officially on the list of things that make more sense on Autostraddle than at school.

  9. This is why I need to move back to Canada, or northern Europe. I love winter and the dark and hate the sun. And it’s so cute when my cat cuddles at night under the covers.

  10. And now I’ll be dreaming of histrionic potted plants who whip out soiled handkerchiefs for dramatic effect on the witness stand…

    Fine fodder for distraction through Christmas mass.

  11. Endorphins! I used the same gym theory to survive January/February of ’10. “Shit, I paid 40E… I better take off my slippers and go work out.” Always felt better after.

    This winter I’ve joined a rugby team which is even more effective. It’s more social what with being a team sport and everyone drinking in the clubhouse after practice, and I am so noticeably the weakest/slowest/most confused person on the team I won’t let myself miss a practice.

    Also tackling is better de-stress than the elliptical, I’ve found.

  12. St. Johns Wort – which is totally not as gross as it sounds (its a plant, not a man-growth) is a fucking game changer in the troubled times of no-sunlight and extreme cold.

  13. Wool socks are amazing too,they keep your feet warm and dry. Though they are quite pricey so I only own two pairs.

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