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Opinion

Sporadic winter weather affects emotions

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February 19, 2009

Here we go again. At some point in February we seem unable to resist feeling the weather has taken control of our mood. We are euphoric on a sunny and warm day and irritable on a cold and gray day. There are days in February and March when we see the world as full of possibilities and days when we see the world as full of false promises and dead ends.

You get the point, and chances are, if you are reading this, it is one of those false promise and dead end days for you.  Fortunately, there is a lot to learn about ourselves, and our mental health, from this topsy-turvy time of year. 

The first lesson is expectation management. Expectation management is actually taking the time to be realistic about how long it will take to be able to rely on the weather not to kick us around anymore. Most of us have some awareness that we can become more open to the consistency of warmer days somewhere around April 10. This is when the weather gets its act together and treats us to the song of easy living that lasts until October 20 or so.

Until that point, however, we have no business expecting anything less than a roller coaster of weather and moods. 

Expectation management is an effective tool in helping us to understand just what is reasonable to expect from family get-togethers, political promises and Adam Sandler movies. The lesson is that the best predictor of the future is the past. 

The second lesson of this time of year is learning not to fight your moods. We can learn to accept them and roll with them. Learning to be comfortable with our moods first requires that we respect them. A bad mood is not necessarily a bad thing. It is inevitable and is very much part of the human experience. A bad mood can indeed be a painful thing but we don’t have to suffer from it.

Suffering comes from thinking that we shouldn’t be in a bad mood. So accept the bad mood first and then we can go about the business of treating ourselves a little better for the day. We can do this when we lower our expectations for productivity and become ok with taking a long bath, watching our favorite comfort movie (for me that would be Star Wars) or calling Grandma (or anybody who has loved you well in your lifetime). In addition, because you are smart about moods, you go through the day understanding that your moods won’t last forever and that they, like the weather, will soon change. 

The third lesson from this time of year is to understand how cruel inconsistency can be in any of its forms, including in weather. Emotional abuse occurs when we are inconsistent in accepting and/or rejecting the people in our life. If we are one-day kind and one-day cruel to those we care about, we are creating emotional helplessness in those who would care for us, especially if that person is dependent on us to get one or more of their needs met.

We may have had a parent who treated us this way. Ask yourself if you are still working to win the praise and affection of one of your parents. Inconsistent weather, like inconsistent caring from a parent, friend or significant other, can make us feel helpless and hopeless.

Pay attention to how you treat the people in your life. Also, pay attention to how you treat yourself. If you are the victim of a relationship that consistently leaves you feeling helpless and hopeless you owe it to yourself to get out. If the weather in this state was a real person I would definitely leave her, but the only place that is consistently OK for weather is Hawaii and then you get into issues around emotional isolation, and that is another article altogether.

Mark Huttemier is a student mental health counselor at UW-River Falls.