Surviving the Winter of 2014 - With Resilience (Part 1)

Snow feb 2014

If you live in the Northeastern U.S. – or anywhere else where you’ve had it up to here with winter weather – this post is for you. Hopefully, like me, you’re riding out the latest Nor’easter sitting in front of your home computer with your bunny slippers on, getting as much work done as you can before the power goes off like it did in last week’s storm. (This is the view from my home office window as I write.)

During the past couple of weeks, just about every conversation both in and out of work has included some complaint about how recent ice and snow storms have played havoc with people’s lives. This isn’t the first time that we’ve suffered through miserable winter weather – I think February of 2010 was the last memorable snowy season here – but I’ve noticed that this time around, folks are getting particularly cranky. This got me thinking about how extended periods of foul winter weather can rob us of resilience, and what we can do about it.

From massive power outages to office and retail closures to postponed business meetings, most of us have experienced some real adversities lately.

As students of our work know, it's typically not the adversity itself that causes us to react. It's what we tell ourselves about why something's happening, or what's going to happen next, that determines what we feel and do. And often, especially when we're stressing over something like a major snowstorm, we may not be thinking clearly.

The reactions I've seen range from sadness and anxiety on the one hand to frustration and anger on the other. The thinking that leads us to feel down or worried is vastly different from the thinking that causes us to get mad or overwhelmed. Let's talk about sadness and anxiety today. I'll write about the emotions at the other end of the spectrum tomorrow - assuming that we're still snowed in!

If you're finding yourself feeling low, you're probably having some "Always" and "Everything" thoughts about the weather. If you tune into your internal radio station, it might sound something like this: "Spring is never going to come.", or, "We always lose power.", or, "There's no way I can handle another week of cold and snow!". In each of these statements, notice there's a permanence about them ("Always") and that they tend to bleed across all aspects of life ("Everything"). The problem with Always/Everything thinking is that it makes us feel helpless and hopeless which drains our resilience. And the simple truth is that it's just not true!

If you find yourself having Always/Everything thoughts about the seemingly endless winter, just remind yourself that this too shall pass - it's temporary! Sometimes all you need to do is ask yourself, "Really? Spring is NEVER coming??? My power ALWAYS goes out???" By practicing these simple thoughts, you might find your mood lifting at bit. Give it a try!

"I've suffered a great many catastrophes in my life. Most of them never happened."
-Mark Twain

If you're feeling anxious, chances are that your thinking about what's coming down the track to get you. For instance, "What if my power goes out again? What if I can't get my work done? What if the generator doesn't start? What if the pipes freeze?" This kind of "Future Threat" thinking is common, especially when we just don't know what's going to happen - like how bad a snow/ice storm is going to be and how it's going to impact us. And when we don't know, we tend to over-blow the probabilities of bad things happening. Then we burn up resilience resources worrying about stuff that is unlikely to happen. So what to do?

First, calm down. Anxiety clouds our thinking. Do some deep breathing. Visualize someplace or something you love. Meditate. Turn off the TV that's spouting non-stop catastrophic information about weather and traffic.

Next, put your energy into actions that will reduce the chances that the stuff you're worrying about actually happens. For instance, make sure you've got fresh gasoline and oil in your generator. Test it out well before the storm. Make sure all your devices are charged. Pick up some extra batteries. Book a hotel room so you have some place to go if need be - you can always cancel it. 

Chances are, the very accomplishment of these tasks will make you feel better. And then reward yourself with something - a call to a friend; a glass of wine; a nap. 

And remember, no matter what happens, you will survive. You will be fine. And Spring really is right around the corner!


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