Weather Report: Freezing With A Chance Of Irritability And Winter Blues

Weather Report: Freezing With A Chance Of Irritability And Winter Blues

By Caroline Schumsky, LCSW, MS

What was that? Oh, the mercury just dropped again. Brrrr. Today’s forecast: “I can’t feel my face today” degrees. Oh, great. I can hardly wait for less energy, weight gain, and those lovely mood swings. What’s up with the wave of severe, shivery, and snappy cold that has spread out all over us?

Are you all bundled under those down blankets, avoiding that icebox out there? Did you hunker down and hibernate at home with hot chocolate and marshmallows, hoping to ride it out? My goodness, do you just peer out the window at that poor delivery guy, shivering up and down the block, while you nurse that steaming, hot coffee? Or did you wake up for work while it’s still dark outside, hearing your body shouting, “Hey, you! Go back to sleep!”

There’s a reason it’s called a “sunny disposition” when folks are cheerful. The sun makes us happy – simple as that. And the serotonin boost doesn’t hurt either. Then again, we tend to spend more money when it’s sunny. Is that a downside? Naw. You know the feeling: You bought it for $19.99 because $20 is just such an outrageous price. Me, too.

But rest assured, sweet friends: You are not the only one endlessly craving comfort food, calorie-rich-the-creamier-the-better sweets, and all things warm and cozy. You know, you sort the food into those you can put cheese on, and those you can put chocolate on. And remember this warning: Chocolate makes your clothes shrink. Want to know how to avoid eating too much chocolate? Melt it and drink it. Heh. Granted, you do burn more calories in the cold, but you will crave more food, so, ummm…not such a bonus after all. And you’re one of those who don’t want to look back and think: “I could have eaten that.” I get it.

Make no mistake. We are human barometers and get affected by atmospheric conditions, whether we know it or not. Not to mention, have you ever tried to tie your shoelaces with those benumbed fingers? When we feel freezing, our muscles just do not want to move.

Believe it or not, sunlight, temperature, and even wind can affect your mood big time. Imagine a piercing-cold, rainy or dreary day. How does that image make you feel? Sad, isolated? Research shows that women even change the color of the clothes they wear on wintry days to lift their spirits. Those chilly temps may have a greater effect on your psyche than you realize. One study showed that people judging criminals who were in a cold room tend to see criminals as cold-blooded offenders whose crimes were premeditated.

And yes, there are scientific reasons for this. Sunlight triggers chemical reactions in our brains that make us feel more alert, energetic, and even happier. During the winter, our bodies have to work overtime just to keep us warm. Cold temps reduce muscle strength and blood flow. If you have some kind of a boo-boo, it will tend to hurt more in cold weather. Sorry.

And for mercy sake, why are we craving fettuccine Alfredo and cupcakes every night? There’s that little inner elf whispering: “Don’t be upsetti; eat some spaghetti.” Simple: As serotonin levels in our bodies decrease, carb cravings increase. Simple math, eh? Not to mention that our deepest craving as humans is actually not for hot, cheesy lasagna, but for appreciation. So start with being sweet on yourself, please.

When we are physically chilled, we tend to look for psychological warmth. But before you succumb to living like a hermit, and mac ’n’ cheese in front of the TV, try this, sweet friends: Curl up with a novel or movie. Sit in front of a fireplace to boost your mood. Socialize. Staying in more and socializing less may be warmer, but it’s not particularly helpful. Why? Because socializing with friends is a natural anti-depressant.

Go outdoors a bit even if it’s dark or gloomy. It will speed up that sluggish metabolism and give you a much-needed energizing mood boost. Too cold for ya? Learn to dress like an onion, my friends. Layers, layers, layers. Better yet, if it’s feasible: Go on a vacation to a warm, sunny place. Ahhhhhh, sweet escape. Start some new traditions with friends of family, like board-game night.

Then again, not everyone welcomes spring with open arms. Believe it or not, some people now feel a pressure to be happy, which ironically makes them more unhappy. Go figure. Well, who’s ready to say goodbye to frigid frozen Friday and shivering Saturday? In the meantime, try to look at winter as something to enjoy, not endure. Admit it: There is nothing cozier than wearing that new sweater, lighting some candles, and bundling up under your fuzzy new blanket with that hot toddy. C’mon, there’s no need to ring the blues or join the Grumbling-and-Grousing Olympics till spring arrives. It isn’t exactly a Snowpocalyse or Stormageddon now, is it?

Okay, I know: Your favorite part of winter is when it’s over. And I bet your favorite limerick is: “Noses are red, Fingers are blue. I’m tired of winter. How about you?” But in the meantime: Please think warm, happy thoughts, my friends. Or surround yourself with people who love winter – like me, or your kids, for that matter. See how they light up when the snow starts falling? Good moods are infections. Now, put on those fingerless gloves and go catch one.

Caroline is a licensed psychotherapist, crisis counselor, and writer with an office in Queens.  She works with individuals, couples, and families.  Appointments are available throughout the week and weekends.  She can be reached at 917-717-1775 or at or at