The first few weeks of March are what I consider the least wonderful time of the year….the crap-crappiest season of all! At least that's how it feels when living in the Atlantic provinces.
You know the saying, March comes in like a lion: a slushy, mucky, icy, muddy, rainy, snowy, windy, calamity of a lion. By mid-month we’re so haggard by its ferocity, it’s no surprise St. Patrick’s Day turns into such a sloppy drunken debacle, everyone wanting to numb themselves from the drudgery of winter’s end. Until, at last March metamorphoses, going out not as the tempestuous lion but a harmless little lamb. Or, so they say…
For now, the crappy weather craps on. This can take a toll on your mood, especially if life’s feeling blah to begin with.
Yet I was surprised to learn, and perhaps you will be too, that there isn’t a ton of research supporting the idea that weather impacts our mood. Of the research I did find the results were somewhat vague and conflicting. However, a recent study out of Stanford looked at Twitter posts (of all things) to examine the relationship between mood and weather.
Among its results, it found that both temperature fluctuations and precipitation had significant negative impacts on mood.
March being riddled with frequent temperature changes and a lion’s share of precipitation, it makes sense I find it a challenging month. This is especially true now that I farm, where not only my morale feels its at the mercy of the elements but my livelihood is too. What’s worse is when crappy things happen and the weather is crappy. It can feel almost impossible to find a way to be happy.
It’s often tempting to want to escape a bad mood by numbing yourself with alcohol, drugs, junk food, retail therapy or some other external means.
This has definitely been my knee-jerk reaction. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy numbing habits following a joy-derived state, like a beer or two after a long, productive day of work. But in the last couple of years I’ve come to learn that numbing the pain of negative emotions generally doesn’t provide relief in the long run. It can be an excellent distraction, but whatever trouble was bothering you usually finds a way back after the numbing effect wears off.
If numbing our pain only postpones and prolongs negative feelings, how can you cope with nasty feelings on nasty days?
Here are four ways I find helpful and effective to get through unfavourable times:
#1 SAY IT OUT LOUD TO YOURSELF
One spring day when I was about 6 or 7, I came home after school and as my mother happily greeted me at the door I responded with my whole body clutched in frustration saying, “I’M HAVING A F*%KY DAY.” I don’t think I knew what I was saying; I was just really frustrated. But since then the term “f*%ky day” has become an inside joke and cathartic expression between me and my mom.
By simply saying it out loud to yourself, you are breaking free of any denial or suppression of negative emotions. Similar to “Hi my name is and I’m alcoholic,” you could say, “Hi my name is and I’M HAVING A F*%KY DAY”. Or, something along those lines…
I find that trying to cheer myself up or dismiss the fact that the day is bad before I’ve processed my negative emotions is often unhelpful because underneath these seemingly positive approaches is a thick layer of judgement for having negative emotions to begin with. Suppressing negative emotions is also an unhealthy practice that has been linked to many chronic diseases. Check out the work of Dr. Gabor Maté for more on that topic.
When crappy things happen and the weather is the pits, feeling negative is an appropriate response. The sooner you acknowledge how you truly feel, the sooner you’ll be genuinely feeling good again and not just pretending to.
#2 SHAKE IT LIKE A POLAROID PICTURE
This state you're in really is just a snapshot of time and it won’t last. Move in some way. If the weather isn’t too horrendous, bundle up and go for a walk. Dance to OutKast’s “Hey Ya!” and Shake, Shake it. Stretch. Shovel snow. Chop wood. Sweep the floor. Throw pillows at the wall. Do some jumping jacks. Work out. Whatever form of movement most appeals to you, do that.
Getting your blood flowing changes your biochemistry which influences your emotions. When we turn to substances to numb ourselves we are also changing our biochemistry, but as soon as those substances leave us we’re often back where we started (or feeling worse). Moving your body is a healthier and more lasting approach. Once you’ve got more positive vibes flowing then you can treat yourself in some way, whether it's a glass of wine or a donut. Chances are you'll enjoy it more in a happier state.
#3 VALIDATE YOURSELF
I have a terrible habit of wanting other people to validate my feelings for me. When I’m having a bad day my first inclination is usually to call someone so I can complain, cry, or shout about how bad it is. To a willing set of ears that is totally fine. It’s a great way to accomplish #1 on this list.
But sometimes you might find that the set of ears isn’t so willing to hear you out. Or, maybe they don’t appear understanding enough of your frustration. Or, maybe they too are feeling dragged down by the weather. Sometimes in wanting someone to validate your frustration you end up getting more angry because they’re JUST NOT GETTING HOW BAD YOUR DAY IS.
If this happens, recognize nobody needs to get it but you. Explain to yourself precisely the reasons you are feeling the way you feel. “I’m having a bad day because my car broke down and money is tight right now. It makes sense that this is bringing me down.” Or, “I’m having a bad day because that person was really rude to me for no good reason and I’m struggling to understand why.”
Whatever the cause, grant yourself permission to feel how you feel. Once you recognize you are completely allowed to feel how you feel, a peace will settle over you and, in time, acceptance of your circumstance will too.
#4 SEARCH FOR ANY SMIDGEN OF GOOD
Are you wearing cozy socks? Do you smell anything good? Can you spy with your little eye something that you like? Is your tea or coffee a nice temperature? Are you chewing a fresh piece of gum?
The strategy here is to tune into your senses so you focus on the present moment rather than wallowing in whatever just ticked you off. I think this one comes most successfully after you’ve tackled the first 3 listed above. Sometimes we’re so debilitated by negative emotion we loose sense of all other senses. But when you’ve spoken your truth aloud, moved your body around and granted yourself permission to feel how you feel, turning your attention to your senses and the present moment won’t be such a feat.
Whatever kind of day your having, good or bad, let it be. Much like the dismal weather of early March, so much of what takes place around us is out of our control. Whether life storms in like a lion or swoons you like a lamb, there's no other choice but to march on.
Got a strategy of your own? I'd love to hear about it in the comments. Maybe you know someone struggling right now who could benefit from reading this. Share if you care to!