Bevan Wilson was angry about snow removal efforts at his apartment complex – really angry. In a show of outrage after he discovered snow was blocking his vehicle, the Michigan man fired a handgun at a snowplow driver just before 7:30 a.m. on February 18. The bullet struck the front windshield but did not injure the driver, and Wilson, 39, was charged with multiple felonies, including assault with intent to murder.
Mere days earlier, a Massachusetts man was arrested for clobbering a plow driver in the head with a shovel after the driver pushed snow in front of his driveway. Douglas Haskell, 40, was charged with assault and battery with a deadly weapon after the violent confrontation. He later told a Boston TV station that he “lifted up the shovel, and it just happened.”
Clearly, snow stresses us out. So much that experts are now warning against snow rage, or extreme angst caused by the wintry days. “Weather and emotions are about as tied together as you can imagine,” says Josh Klapow, a clinical psychologist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “We like to make light of this – snow rage sounds funny. But many people experience this level of frustration, of anger, of snapping. The good thing is you can take control of it by taking proactive steps. Otherwise, you’ll suffer the consequences, whether they’re benign or severe.”
In an interview with U.S. News, Klapow described the intricacies of snow rage and how we can protect against it. His responses have been edited.
What is snow rage?
It’s not a psychiatric diagnosis. It’s an emotional point at which people have reached their tolerance – physically, emotionally and cognitively. When you put those three things together, people can lose it temporarily. And that’s the rage.
Specifically, it’s a combination of very uncomfortable conditions physically, lots of logistical problems – whether that’s in terms of getting out of your driveway or house, not being able to travel, or experiencing difficult and laborious travel – and then this general air of feeling trapped. You put all these things together, and then there’s typically some sort of triggering event, and people cross over. They may lose their tempers, be short with their families or resort to physical violence.
Think about your ability to cope or manage emotions like a bank or a tank of gas. And the snow starts taking money out or taking gas out – and the more severe the surroundings get, the less money or gas you have to manage your emotions. And people reach this point where there’s nothing left of their ability to manage emotions. That’s when they cross over.
What triggers it?
When we talk about snow rage, it’s not, “It’s snowing, I’m going to get enraged.” It’s typically some other event – like your neighbor pushed snow onto your driveway, or someone in the car in front of you cut you off. The triggering event doesn’t necessarily have to do directly with the weather. A lot of people say, “Snow doesn’t cause rage.” Well, snow causes enough frustration that someone cutting you off in line could cause rage.
What are some telltale signs that someone is suffering from it?
People, particularly those who live in snowy areas, will say, “Oh, I’m used to it.” Well, yes. But even so, you may have your threshold. The No. 1 sign: You find yourself feeling irritated for no particular reason, and you have a short fuse. You haven’t blown into a rage, but you’re snapping at people. And then you might also notice that you’re having a hard time focusing – paying attention and concentrating. Those are good signs that it’s time to do something, to modulate your emotions.
The other thing to pay attention
to is your physiological state. If you feel that your breathing is getting a
little more rapid and your muscles are tense, it’s time to control yourself,
because those are things that go along with being angry.
[Read: How to Control Road Rage.]
If you start feeling the rage, how should you cope?
It’s really simple things – from slow, deep breathing, to distractions, to doing something that’s calming. Tell yourself: I need to calm down before I do something I regret. Talk to somebody. All of these common sense things are very effective, if you do them early.
Is snow rage a sign that professional mental health help is necessary?
We’ve all been frustrated enough to slam our hand down on the table – but that has different implications than slamming your hand down on your neighbor. It all exists on a continuum. If you do something bad, and it doesn’t harm anyone else, and you’ve never done anything like it before, then OK: You’ve had a momentary digression. But if you find that it’s so bad that you’ve verbally abused your kids, you’ve gone after a neighbor or you got into a physical altercation, do you need to see a professional? No, but that does mean you’re not able to control your emotions.
The first thing I ask people is: Has this ever happened to you before? If the answer is yes, the last time we had a heat wave it happened, or the last time we were stuck in traffic it happened, it may not be just a momentary lapse. Most people who exhibit these extreme examples of snow rage – who take a shovel to a car – well, that’s typically not the first time something like that has happened.
[Read: 13 Fool-Proof Ways to Get Happier.]