Coping with winter — the snow, ice, up-and-down temperatures and overall dreariness — can have an emotional and psychological toll on those experiencing it. This is particularly the case during long, unpredictable winters such as this one. As we face another possible six inches of snow in Chicago, Hollie Sobel, PhD, clinical psychologist at The Family Institute at Northwestern University, is available to comment and provide tips on how to cope with this seemingly never-ending winter.

“Regardless of your feelings about winter,” says Dr. Sobel, “the weather can keep us from doing the things we want or need to do, causing a change in routine that we can’t control. “The disruption can cause stress and frustration, particularly for people who have a hard time coping with change.”

Dr. Sobel points out that long, unpredictable winters impact people differently depending on age and/or life stage. Children, for example, view things differently than their parents: “Children may not understand why they can’t play outdoors and often complain about boredom. Parents can have a difficult time managing their children’s level of hyperactivity while they are stuck inside. In addition, children may find the end of winter and subsequent temperature fluctuations (sunny at 50 degrees one day, snowstorm the next) confusing, or even bittersweet. Whereas a parent is likely to view the start of the spring thaw as a positive thing, a child sees his/her snowman melting away in the front yard.

The elderly also have unique stressors, as the winter can be an isolating time of year. They can lose their independence by not being able to walk or drive outside the way they can in warmer months, and tasks like getting to the doctor become much more difficult.

Dr. Sobel says that it’s important to note the different needs of the people in your family during this season, particularly in long winters such as this one. “What you may need and how you may cope is most likely different than those of your children, your aging parents, or other family members.”

But it isn’t all bad. Dr. Sobel points out that winter provides a lot of opportunities to practice problem solving techniques. People can reach out to others to make plans and combat isolation. The season also provides the opportunity to work on finding a sense of calm amongst the loss of control, and to create a consistent, structured routine to keep oneself on track.

Additionally, it’s important to get creative: “Try some fun things to take your mind off the weather’s ups and downs. If it snows again, instead of dwelling on the disbelief that it happened again, do something fun with it. When the snow starts to melt again and your child’s snowman starts to disappear — make a new one out of cotton balls to keep the cheer alive.”

Hollie Sobel, PhD, is a clinical staff psychotherapist at The Family Institute and a published author. To speak with Dr. Sobel about issues facing families during this long winter, or to learn more about The Family Institute, contact Colleen O’Connor, Content & Grant Manager, at 312-609-5300 ext. 485 or [email protected].

ABOUT THE FAMILY INSTITUTE AT NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY – For 45 years, The Family Institute at Northwestern University ( has been committed to strengthening and healing families from all walks of life through clinical service, education and research. An affiliate of Northwestern University, The Family Institute is a unique, innovative not-for-profit organization, governed by its own independent Board of Directors and responsible for its own funding. The Institute offers a wide range of high quality mental health counseling through our staff practice and our sliding-fee scale Bette D. Harris Family and Child Clinic, where we are committed to serving at-risk, under-resourced communities. The Family Institute also operates two nationally-renowned graduate programs in marriage and family therapy and counseling psychology in affiliation with Northwestern University, and conducts cutting edge research projects that lead to a better understanding and treatment of mental health issues.