It's common to have a strong reaction when you wake up and it's snowing. On the one hand, you might excitedly rush to the window knowing full well work is cancelled, and that you'll get to spend the day cozying up inside or crunching through snowdrifts. Or, you might take one look at the flakes tumbling down and shake an angry fist at the sky. But whatever the case may be, there's no denying snow can bring on a psychological response.
"Change in weather of any sort represents novelty and it is the novelty that our brains are responding to," Joshua Klapow, PhD, a clinical psychologist and host of “The Kurre and Klapow Show," tells Bustle. "We are hardwired to notice things that are different [...] If we live in an area of the country that rarely receives snow, the novelty factor is greater. If we live in an area that receives snow frequently but it is the first snow, then the novelty factor goes up. If it wasn’t snowing when we went to bed but it is snowing when we wake up, again it’s different, it’s novel, and our brains are designed to register the event."
If you're used to snow, you might shrug it off and go on with your day. But for everyone else snow is tough to ignore, and can trigger a slue of emotions. "From this point it’s our interpretation of what the snow symbolizes or means for us," Klapow says. "For adults it may mean no work, or a change in our schedule. It could also mean a difficult commute. How positively or negatively we interpret the event has everything to do with what we associate it with."
If you aren't going to be negatively impacted or inconvenienced by the snow, the chances you'll view it as enchanting, beautiful, cozy, and so on go way up. You're more likely to enjoy the change and what it has to offer, like a day off or a fun trip outside. If you have to drive through it, though, or if it's ruining plans, don't be surprised if you feel angry, anxious, or frustrated.
Believe it or not, the change in weather can also drudge up the past. "Waking up and seeing snow may signal for many of us winter, holidays, nostalgia, and memories," Klapow says. "These can be positive but we need to be careful as the interpretation again is relative to our experience." If you lost a loved one, went through a breakup, or experienced another type of traumatic event during the snowiest time of year, Klapow says, tough emotions can come to the surface, at which point you'll want to practice some self-care or reach out for support.
For others, waking up to snow can elicit a calming response, especially when coupled with positive memories. "A gentle snow has a quiet and calm tone to it," Klapow says. "There is no sound, it falls slowly, and much like a fire we are drawn to the hypnotic nature of it. Moreover with snow, if it accumulates we can literally watch our landscape change color in front of our eyes, which also is engaging and draws us in."
Everyone responds to weather differently, whether we're talking about a single snow day, or colder days in general. "Weather changes impact us psychologically in many different ways, including levels of sunlight and vitamin D exposure," Jaclyn Lopez Witmer, a licensed clinical psychologist at Therapy Group of NYC, tells Bustle. During the winter, you might find yourself staying inside or sleeping more often, she says, and a snow day can be a welcome excuse to go back to bed.
As you get further into the season, and the snowy days start piling up, it can even result in seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, which can cause mood changes during the winter months as well as depressive symptoms, Witmer says, such as lack of interest in usually pleasurable activities, lowered motivation, and feeling down and sad more often.
"For some people snow may be a distraction from typical winter blues and can be a fun way to enjoy the cold weather," she says. "For others, snow may be another reminder of the harsh, long winter, and cause sadness and depressive feelings and even anxiety." If the latter is true, don't hesitate to reach out to a therapist for advice.
Joshua Klapow, PhD, clinical psychologist and host of “The Kurre and Klapow Show"