Today we’re taking a break from our couples post to address another important topic impacting mental health across the country: the winter.
If you’re in the Chicagoland area like we are at The Family Institute, or in one of the many other places impacted by this brutal winter weather, you may be wondering if we’ll ever get a break.
Coping with weather — the snow, ice, up-and-down temperatures and overall dreariness — can have an emotional and psychological toll on those experiencing it.
As we face record low temperatures in Chicago, Family Institute staff clinician Hollie Sobel, PhD, provides tips on how you and your family can deal with the winter’s ups and downs.
It’s about control—or a lack of it.
While winter may be some people’s favorite season, for others it is an incredibly frustrating time of year. Regardless of your feelings about winter, the weather can keep us from doing the things we want or need to do, causing a change in routine that we can’t control. While one may think Snow day! Yay!, the disruption can cause stress and frustration, particularly for people who have a hard time coping with change.
The winter impacts people differently based on their ages and life stages.
Adults deal with issues of commuting to work, arranging childcare on snow days, and changes in routine.
Children may not understand why they can’t play outdoors and often complain about boredom. Parents can have a difficult time managing their children’s level of hyperactivity while they are stuck inside. In addition, children may find the end of winter and subsequent temperature fluctuations (sunny at 50 degrees one day, snowstorm the next) confusing, or even bittersweet. Whereas a parent is likely to view the start of the spring thaw as a positive thing, a child sees his/her snowman melting away in the front yard.
For aging populations, the winter can be an isolating time of year. They lose their independence by not being able to walk or drive outside the way they can in warmer months, and tasks like getting to the doctor become much more difficult.
It’s important to note the different needs of the people in your family during this season, particularly in long winters such as this one. What you may need and how you may cope is most likely different than those of your children, your aging parents, or other family members.
Take the opportunity to problem solve and get creative.
It’s not all bad! This trying season provides a lot of opportunities to practice problem solving techniques. Here are just a few ways in which you can get creative and proactive as you deal with what seems to be a never-ending winter:
- Don’t go through it alone: Parents can work with other parents to arrange activities for their kids; aging populations or people who live alone can reach out to family members or neighbors for help or company; individuals and/or families with extra needs can reach out to local agencies for guidance or support. The winter can feel isolating for everyone — reach out to others to cope and ease the stress.
- Find your calm: Winter can cause stress and anxiety — conflicts can arise from being stuck in close quarters, and the loss of control can take its toll. If you can’t make it in to the office, work in your pajamas, or practice mindfulness Anything you can do to accept the situation will work in your favor.
- Make your own consistency: The abrupt weather changes of this time of year can make one’s head spin. If change is particularly hard — whether from the loss of routine that comes with winter storms, or from the back and forth between winter and spring — be sure to structure your days as best you can to keep yourself on track.
- Be creative: Try some fun things to take your mind off the weather’s ups and downs. If it snows again, instead of dwelling on the disbelief that it happened again, do something fun with it. When the snow starts to melt again and your child’s snowman starts to disappear — make a new one out of cotton balls to keep the cheer alive.
Hollie Sobel, PhD, provides individual, family, and group psychotherapy. Hollie Sobel, PhD, has specialization in using researched-based cognitive-behavioral techniques with children and adolescents to improve mood, decrease levels of anxiety, and enhance functioning across home, school and social settings. She includes children/adolescents and parents in the treatment planning process, as family involvement is often important in reaching treatment goals.
To read Hollie Sobel, PhD’s full bio or make an appoint, visit our webpage.
The Family Institute offers a wide variety of affordable counseling care that treats whole individuals and their loved ones throughout the Chicagoland area. Find out more at our website.