The Weather Outside Is Frightful...Suck It Up!

It's now nearing -20 degrees Celsius in my part of the world. That's just below 0 degrees Fahrenheit for my U.S. readers. Given this precipitous drop in temperature, I thought I'd focus this post on North America's dependence on climate control.

Let's face it. We're downright wusses when it comes to being "cold" in the winter and "hot" in the summer. What would be perfectly acceptable in other parts of the world turns us into a whiny bunch of babies.

Image from the 2013 Polar Bear Dare, a Manitoba-based fundraiser. Click this image to view their Facebook page.

Image from the 2013 Polar Bear Dare, a Manitoba-based fundraiser. Click this image to view their Facebook page.

Norms are funny things. They vary wildly from community to community because they're heavily influenced by culture, habit and general expectations of what's acceptable. Unfortunately, a lot of North American norms are askew, misguided because we've stopped thinking about what we really need and just tend to gorge on everything across the board, including heating and cooling.

We're taught that any level of discomfort is to be avoided at all costs and it's a shame because our hedonic adaptation toward requiring a "perfectly comfortable climate at all times" means we're less able to tolerate the uncomfortable, well, comfortably. This affects our ability to enjoy travel, the outdoors and even everyday activities.

If you've come to realize that you're only comfortable in a narrow band of temperatures, there's hope. You can reeducate your body to be comfortable with a wider range of environments. And, an added benefit to being comfortable in a wider range of temperatures is that your energy costs are likely to go down--nice! You'll notice that you can turn the thermostat lower and lower (unless you're having company over, which is the only time ours gets turned back up ;) ).

So how can you train yourself to get comfortable in cooler temperatures? It's easy. Turn the thermostat down by a degree or two and let time do its work. The lower your tolerance for temperature variations, the smaller the thermostat change will have to be to make the environment "less comfortable". To help you deal with the change, here are a few hacks you can use to help resist turning the heat back up:

  • Wear indoor shoes/slippers. Cold feet seem to be the body part that we're most wussy about, so keep them cozy.
  • Wear layers and take them off/put them on as needed. You can become more aware of your tolerance based on what you need to wear to stay comfy.
  • Keep a throw blanket handy. Anyone can get cold if they sit for long periods of time, so throw blankets are great. 
  • Move. Your body gets warmer when you "do stuff". Staying active is a great way to help your body adjust to cooler temperatures.*
  • At night, wear PJs and use a hot-water bottle under the sheets to keep your feet warm**.
  • Cuddle with loved ones or pets when watching TV or reading.
  • Enjoy hot beverages and hot food as a bit of a treat throughout the day.
  • Eat well. Eating a well-balanced diet is less likely to result in swings in your body's ability to regulate body temperature (homeostasis).
  • Make sure you get enough sleep. Lack of sleep makes us less tolerant of small discomforts and inconveniences.
  • Get outside. By spending time in the snow and cold air more often, your now-cooler home environment will feel downright cozy.

Once you're gotten used to the new temperature, repeat the process again. And again.

This doesn't only work in the winter either. In the summer, resist the urge to crank up the A/C. Keep the thermostat a degree or two higher than you would like it to be and go from there. By next winter, your thermal comfort zone might even get larger than you'd ever dreamed of.

I hope you enjoy this experiment. Improving my tolerance has certainly paid dividends over the last number of years. I hope you get as much out of it as I have so far.

What do you think about the cushy climate-controlled North American lifestyle? Are we getting too spoiled when it comes to what we consider "acceptable" or "desirable" temperatures? I'd love to hear what you think.

*If you don't believe me, try bundling up and going outside for nothing more than a walk. Let's see how long it takes you to start to unzip your jacket, take off your mitts and/or your hat. When I bike in the winter, I wear a jacket that has multiple vents I can open up and by the time I get to my destination, I'm usually boiling hot.

**My friend and I got this royal treatment when we were on safari in Zimbabwe - there's no heat when you're in a canvas-walled cabin in the wilds of Africa but it's hard to care when you're cozied up with a hot-water bottle and a thick duvet to keep your body heat in.

Disclaimer: Please use common sense when contemplating this type of change. If you have a medical condition or other consideration that may prevent you from making this type of change safely, such as having a newborn in the home or being elderly, you may wish to abstain or seek advice from a qualified professional.