What Is Winter Fatigue?

This man crossing the street in Brooklyn is very much done with winter. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

March is the harbinger of spring, but it hasn't felt like that for the Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern U.S. The fourth nor'easter of the month is expected to drop even more snow, with its icy fingers reaching into the Ohio Valley and as far south as North Carolina.

And people are just about sick of it. They're tired of digging out their cars from snow, of going without power as power companies scramble to keep the lights (and the heat) on and constant travel delays. This is to say nothing of the chapped lips, snow shoes with minimal arch support and itchy-but-moderately-warm scarves that people are ready to be rid of.

In short, "The Shining" is starting to feel like a documentary and not a horror movie about a man's inability to deal with his inner demons.

Done with winter

OK, so we don't have it quite that bad — in fact, the scene from Central Park after the big snow (video above) is quite beautiful! — but there's enough frustration that people are expressing their winter or snow fatigue, as some local news outlets have dubbed it.

This isn't SAD, or seasonal affective disorder, which is when many people experience bouts of depression starting in the late fall and through winter. Certainly a longer, snowier winter isn't doing people with SAD any favors, but it's not quite the same thing.

No, winter fatigue is exactly what it sounds like: being tired of all things winter, especially when you get four snowstorms in as many weeks. It's a mental and physical point when people are simply over it — between the weather itself and the logistics of dealing with it. Factor in being shut indoors for days on end, and it's a recipe for fatigue, if not full-blown frustration.

Alice Frye, a clinical psychologist and senior lecturer in UMass Lowell's Psychology Department, told Massachusetts' the Lowell Sun that this parade of snowstorms is creating new stressors for people, and it's wearing them down.

"So what happens is, in our every-day lives, we have stressors that we're accustomed to and then, on occasion, something unusual happens and the schools close ... and we need an extra half-hour to clear our car out and that can happen once or twice in a winter," she said. "But it's not something that keeps happening again and again."

And because it's not something that usually happens every week — and especially not in March — we start getting testy about the whole concept of winter.

So while people in these areas are used to dealing with snow, they're not used to dealing with it for such prolonged and intense periods. A few days to a week without power isn't ideal, but it's sort of expected to happen in winter given the region. But four weeks of it? It's enough to drive anyone up the walls.

Also, take a peek at the calendar: it's not winter any longer. It's spring, and there shouldn't be any more of this kind of weather. We should be moving on to pollen and allergy fatigue.

Coping with winter stress

A man runs through a Brooklyn park following a snowstorm
It's hard to get outdoors during winter, especially when you're sick of it, but getting moving is a good idea any time of year. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Winter is already hard enough to figure out without lots and lots of snow. Thanks to the shorter days and longer nights, our sleeping and wake cycles can get thrown off. We go outdoors less often because it's cold and we lose out on that valuable vitamin D. Both of these things make us tired and amplify the stress of winter fatigue.

As Frye notes, the first step to dealing with this sort of fatigue is recognizing that it's valid. From there, you can begin to deploy strategies to help you get through the worst of winter, including:

1. If it's safe, go outside. We don't exercise enough in the winter, but getting outside and walking around can help you work off some stress. Being outdoors can help you feel better, even if it's just a stroll on the sidewalk. Regular exercise will also help you sleep better. And while you're outside ...

2. Socialize with others. Meeting up with a neighbor and talking through your respective done-ness with winter is better than sitting at home and grumbling about it to yourself. It'll also give you a change of scenery to help with that cabin fever you may be experiencing.

3. Focus on easy-to-do relaxation methods. Being angry and frustrated is understandable, but getting hyper-focused on the slowness of the power company or another three feet of snow — both things you can't control — won't make the situation any better. After you've recognized those feelings, take a few deep breaths and focus on the process of breathing to get yourself oriented.

4. If possible, focus on doing things you enjoy. This may be harder if you don't have any power, but if you're stuck at home, try taking this as a some you time and doing things that make you happy. Reading, cleaning or practicing a new skill can help you pass the time and bring a little bit of emotional sunshine into your winter days.