Winter weather anxiety is real

 Michigan State University
February 04, 2019
By Michigan State University
The days-long winter wrath of Mother Nature has caused businesses and schools to close for days. But when it's too cold to enjoy the winter wonderland, cabin fever can set in – along with anxiety.

A day off school and/or work isn't great for everyone, especially those who suffer from anxiety, says Jason Moser, associate professor of psychology, who specializes in anxiety.

According to Moser, there are five anxiety-producing effects of winter weather:
  • Driving in bad conditions can increase stress and cause anxiety because accidents are more likely, and driving slowly makes it harder for people to get to where they want to go in a timely fashion.
  • Air travel during extreme weather conditions is always stressful and can exacerbate fears of flying that are quite common. Flight cancellations and delays increase people's stress levels because of missing meetings, appointments or other important events. And depending on the nature of the extreme weather – in this case extreme cold and strong wind – increased turbulence can exacerbate fears in those who already find air travel anxiety provoking.
  • Missing work and/or school can be stressful, especially for people who can't access their work or didn't plan to be home and are stressed about deadlines, making progress on projects, etc. Missing school for kids can be stressful because of the fear of missing out on important social connections or events (although, indeed, social media helps these days). Being at home for long periods of time can also increase irritability, as is all-to-familiar for folks living in smaller spaces with fewer places to find a private place.
  • Cold weather can be extremely stressful for those who don't have adequate or good heating systems, windows or insulation. Likewise, extreme cold poses a stressor for those who rely on public transportation and those who walk or bike to work/school. Such weather poses a real stressor as such cold temperatures and can be dangerous;
  • Cold weather can add to the stress of folks who need child care if their children are home from school and they need to report to work.
"Staying safe, calm and seeking support are all important factors in folks making it through these extreme weather conditions," Moser says. "Finding ways to distract ourselves from the elements with some good old-fashioned board games or by sharing some hot chocolate can help us pass the time, accept and be in the moment and relieve stress."

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