Does the thought of a snow storm make you feel stressed? When you hear the news reporter announce that we are expecting four, eight, twelve or more inches of snow, does your mind immediately start thinking of all the things you need to do to prepare or won’t be able to do in the aftermath? Perhaps without you even noticing, your body reacts to those stressful thoughts, as it does with any stressor, by initiating the sympathetic nervous system, the flight or flight response system hard-wired into our bodies. Your adrenal system steps into action and begins to pump cortisol into the bloodstream resulting in physiological responses, which you might notice as increased perspiration, muscle tension, increased heart-rate and blood pressure. This response evolved in humans as a survival mechanism to allow for quick reaction to life-threatening situations, hence the “flight-or-fight” name. While the stress-response make sense in life-threatening situations, it tends to occur regularly (even daily) among most adults in our society in response to non-life-threatening situations such as traffic jams, work-related stress, financial issues or even snow, Continual repeated activation of the stress response over time takes a toll on the physical body. Research shows that this prolonged cycle of stress response contributes to high blood pressure, increases the risk of heart attack, and causes brain changes that could contribute to anxiety, depression, and even addiction. Some research even suggests that chronic stress may also contribute to obesity.
Is snow worth a stress-response and the havoc it produces on the body, not to mention the mind? When you look at snow, do you think, “Ugh, more work,” or “Great, how am I going to get my work done now?” And yet think about your kids or when you were a kid and what your thoughts about snow were then. Maybe you immediately thought, “Snow day!!!” and with those amazing and magical words felt overwhelming joy and excitement? How did your perception of snow shift from then to now? Well, maybe you might say it’s because you “grew up” and have “more responsibility.” The sidewalk isn’t going to shovel itself after all.
Yet even shoveling has a perspective change associated with it as an adult. I remember in middle school and even high school being excited about a snow day, because I got to shovel! I not only shoveled my own driveway and sidewalk, but I’d shovel the neighbors (and get extra cash for it too, of course!). Now it’s just a chore. Or is it?
Everything we do in life tagged with descriptors that we assign, consciously or unconsciously. Perhaps we can’t pinpoint the exact time that the descriptors in our mind tagged to snow or shoveling snow changed from positive and fun to negative and boring, but it happened, and here’s the magic. You can change it back!
Like all things in life, how you look at it is a matter of perception. First begin by taking control of your physiological response to stress by recognizing it and choose to make a conscious shift. If you feel yourself getting stressed over something, take a deep breath, not just any deep breath, but a deep, abdominal, cleansing breath. Breathe deeply into the bottom part of the lungs, feeling the belly expand as you take in the breath. Deep, abdominal breathing has been shown to counteract the stress response and reduce the effects of stress on the body.
Second consider what it is about snow that is making you feel stressed. Is it the extra work of shoveling or having to prepare for a day in the house with the kids? Is it that you won’t be able to get your work done? Whatever it is, isolate the idea and consider it in relation to the priorities of your life. Yes, earning money is important to keep your family afloat, but is missing one day going to make or break your career or lose you your job? In most cases, the answer is no, so take a deep breath and consider that you’ll have the unexpected *gift* (yes, I said gift) of downtime with your kids or your spouse or just time to yourself which you in all right probably need but never give yourself. Snow is the Universe’s gift to you to help you *slow down* and remind you where your true priorities are.
I have just shown you a way to change the descriptor associated with snow, from the adult version of negative and boring, to being a gift. You can do it too, with anything! Now let’s try it with shoveling. Shoveling is a boring chore, right? Barring injuries that prevent you from doing physical tasks like shoveling, there is much to be gained from shoveling. First, It’s time outside, which in itself offers health benefits, even in the cold. We are inside way too much of the time, secluded from sunlight, fresh air and nature, all of which have documented positive benefits on health and well-being. Second, physical activity is good for you, and there is something satisfying about a task where you can see the progress right before your eyes and feel accomplished at it’s completion. Third, it’s time you can spend with family and neighbors. Unless you are in a secluded area, shoveling is an opportunity to connect with neighbors, the real people with real lives who live close to you. In my neighborhood, we all come out together to shovel out our cars. We chat, and when we finish shoveling out our cars, we shovel out the cars of our neighbors whom are older or single mothers. Doing for others is also highly rewarding and can enhance personal happiness and alleviate stress. It takes a village, and it feels great! Shoveling is healthy, rewarding, social and fun. There. We’ve just changed the descriptors associated with shoveling.
The next time the weather forecasters call for a winter storm, think “Snow Day!!!” and all the positive things associated with snow. Light a fire. Have hot chocolate or an adult beverage and enjoy the beauty of the snow and the quiet time it gives you to be at peace with your family and yourself. Snow = Peace.