Weather vs. Climate
Hello, Minnesota! Welcome to winter!
There’s no more denying the past few days of subzero temperatures, snow, and ice here in the Twin Cities. Winter is no longer coming. It has arrived. I tromp out into the snow in the mornings, my breath fogging the path in front of me, to start my car. I slip the key into the ignition and turn, waiting through the beat of silence before the engine churns to life. The interior lights flicker for a second, and then, vrooooom, the engine reluctantly starts. The methodical scrape, thump, scrape, thump of my shovel (which I’ll admit my husband mostly wields) can be heard alongside the deep, throaty whirr of snow blowers doing their thing. Yep, it’s winter all right.
Here in the land of the U.S. Pond Hockey Championships, we can count on blustery temperatures, waning sunlight, and shoveling all winter long. The climate is pretty invariable.
On the other hand, the weather can still change day-to-day. Early in the week, we had a heat wave of almost 15 degrees. Of course, now the temperature is holding steady at 6, with a wind chill of -12, but who’s obsessively checking the Weather Channel for updates, er, I mean, who’s counting?
And so follow mood and emotion. Mood is akin to our emotional climate, the backdrop to our daily experience that stays more or less the same as we pass through our days. Feelings, on the other hand, are the equivalent of emotional weather. Only somewhat predictable (on a good day), sometimes intense, and always fleeting, our feelings change much more rapidly and frequently than do our moods.
It’s easy to confuse emotions for moods. We feel seething anger toward a partner, bubbly joy celebrating a birthday, or intense sadness following a breakup, and we’re tempted to slip into thinking, for good or ill, “Well, I guess this is how I’m going to feel for the rest of my life.” Okay, we don’t often outright think such things, but we start to behave as if it were true, especially when the feelings we experience are on the darker side of the continuum.
But unlike moods (think: winter), which rarely spontaneously change to something completely different, feelings (think: sleet) can change on a dime, if we allow them to naturally flow without insistently pulling them close or pushing them away. I might not like the weather (or what I’m feeling) today, but I can be pretty sure that it will be at least somewhat different tomorrow (yes, there are variations in the weather in Minnesota, even if it doesn’t feel like it sometimes).
When we start noticing that the emotional backdrop to our days feels like a six-month Minnesota winter, it’s probably time to look into interventions beyond wait and see. We Minnesotans have somehow adapted to the long, cold winters (I think mostly through summer amnesia, but I digress). We hunker down, stock up on firewood, wax our skis, and learn to cope with adverse conditions. When depressed, we can tinker with our diets, exercise, sleep, relationships, medication, and so on, until the long darkness gradually brightens into spring.
I’m writing this in my office, looking out on the ever-narrowing street, downsized by ever-growing piles of snow. And now, I think I will go home and revel in the remaining hour or so of daylight (with bonus visible sun!). Right after I tromp out to my car and coax the hibernating motor back to life.