Unrelenting snowfall darkening our moods
It’s not you. It’s the snow.
From commuting odysseys to back-wrenching shoveling and days without a drop of sunshine, this winter’s unrelenting snow is wrecking the region’s collective psyche.
Precious free time for trips to the gym, often a psychological balm, has largely vanished. Ditto for meeting friends or gathering with family.
For many, a single-minded focus on navigating the avalanche of storms can weigh heavily, therapists said Monday.
“It is assaulting people,” said Barbara Green, a psychologist at the Center for Integrative Counseling and Wellness in Hingham. “Even strong, resilient, upbeat people are starting to feel a bit frayed emotionally.”
Green said she is hearing from patients that normal daily stresses — commuting, working, taking care of a family — seem magnified many times over, especially for people with low-paying jobs who do not have the luxury of missing a day at work.
“People’s normal coping skills and strategies erode,” Green said. “Instead of eating a healthy diet, they eat cookies, maybe even drinking more.”
The storms have surely battered Celia Fei’s spirits. She waited, yet again, in a snow-packed bus stop in Somerville’s Union Square on Monday as she commuted home from work at a Holiday Inn.
She said her normal 40-minute commute from Cleveland Circle — by bus or by Green and Orange Line trains — was dragging into two hours in the storms.
And as a hotel employee, she cannot work from home; the Holiday Inn has been sold out, with a mix of stranded travelers and people staying close to the city to avoid long drives.
“It’s a service, so I have to be here,” said Fei, as her bus pulled up to the snow-lashed stop. “A little snow is OK,” she said, rolling her eyes, “but this is like, it doesn’t give you a break.”
Farther down Somerville Avenue, Hieu Pham was trying to dig out his car — again. The Northeastern University finance student, a native of tropical Vietnam, wanted to make sure his car did not become encased in too much snow and hardened ice, piled up from passing plow trucks.
“It’s enough [snow] for my lifetime,” said Pham, who is 24 and on his fourth Boston winter.
“This is the worst,’’ he said. “It’s just continuous,” a cycle of bundling up and digging out, bundling up and digging out.
Pham said he was worried about the number of days that classes had been canceled and how students would get through the necessary material by the end of the term.
“The school is trying to find a solution,” he said, as he continued to shovel snow away from his car.
At Boston Medical Center, the snow seemed to be exacting an even heavier toll on people already grappling with depression and anxiety, said Dr. Sherry Nykiel, medical director of outpatient services in the hospital’s psychiatry department.
Even for patients who manage to gain the upper hand on their depression, “you add in the bad weather and it becomes a lot more high risk for these folks,” Nykiel said.
In addition to prescribing antidepressant medications and counseling, Nykiel often recommends her patients get plenty of exercise and see friends to battle depression. For many of her patients with low incomes or who are homeless, exercise typically means a long walk outside, and many must ride the subway to meet friends, two outlets largely shut down by the storms.
Yet about half the patients in her Monday morning group therapy session made it in, some trekking for two hours.
“I like to take vigorous walks and you can’t do that in this weather,” said Scott Braga, a 46-year-old house painter who normally walks 2 miles a day near his Roxbury home.
Braga has been trying to substitute with a flurry of sit-ups and push-ups instead.
“I feel isolated,” he said. “It wouldn’t be as bad if the sun were out.”
Lack of sunlight darkens moods across New England in normal winters, Nykiel said.
Known as seasonal affective disorder, or SADD, the depression is related to changes in the seasons and usually begins in the fall and continues through winter.
“People who are normally just fine — this year, it’s affecting everyone across the board,” Nykiel said. “It’s hard to keep up. I have not seen it like this, where everyone has been affected.”
That includes Stephen Cann, a 32-year-old homeless veteran, who normally rides the subway to his information technology job.
“When I feel depressed, things that help are being able to get outside, being in the light, being around other people,” Cann said.
“When the subway shuts down,’’ he said. “I am stuck. I am stuck inside.”