Embrace the helplessness of a snow day

Time lapses show snow cover the Northeast
Time lapses show snow cover the Northeast

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    Time lapses show snow cover the Northeast

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Time lapses show snow cover the Northeast 00:59

Story highlights

  • Peggy Drexler: Winter storm shuts us in, but also forces us to slow down, yield to something out of our control
  • She says it's a good opportunity to help neighbors, give and receive human kindness

Peggy Drexler is the author of "Our Fathers, Ourselves: Daughters, Fathers, and the Changing American Family" and "Raising Boys Without Men." She is an assistant professor of psychology at Weill Medical College of Cornell University and a former gender scholar at Stanford University. The opinions expressed in this commentary are hers.

(CNN)You've likely heard by now: There's some serious winter weather happening in the Northeast.

No question, extreme weather -- and in particular snow -- presents a serious physical challenge. It's almost impossible to get around, or even leave the house, at least not safely. But that's what makes it a legitimate psychological challenge, too. Short of evacuation, there is no escape -- no matter how hard you try. It presents an ever-rarer situation in which your fate, or at least your day, is almost entirely out of your hands.
Depending on your personality, and how much you need to get done, this fact can range from mildly frustrating to rage-inducing. If you are homeless, elderly or living in substandard housing, extreme weather presents a whole different set of sometimes harrowing challenges -- and it's, of course, up to our government officials, and the charitable among us, to keep you warm and safe.
But if you are lucky enough to be stuck in your comfortable home, recognize that there are real advantages to being snowed in.
For example: for those people who thrive on order, or whose lives necessarily revolve around precise planning, the snow can be a real lesson in letting go, and relatively safely. A blizzard is one of the few major events in life that you can both plan for -- in that you can cancel engagements, stock your fridge, test the batteries on the flashlights and dig out your unscented candles -- but also do nothing about. You can make all the lists you want, but the snow will be the one who decides whether or not you get any of it done.
This can be frustrating, yes. You really wanted to have that meeting/make that dentist appointment/get your car fixed! You won't be able to do any of that.
The only recourse is acceptance -- which can be liberating. While, sure, some people will try to "beat the snow" -- those are the working stiffs you see trudging 30 blocks uptown to the office jobs they're convinced will fall apart if they don't get there -- it's, in fact, far more productive to work with it.
Do what you can do from home (and these days, there's lots you can do). When you can't do that anymore -- power outage, perhaps, or something that really must be done in person -- accept it. You can control almost everything in life these days. You cannot control the weather. Perhaps remind yourself (and your boss, if necessary) of the following quote I saw recently on social media: "Almost everything will work again if you unplug for a few minutes. Including you."
Is this storm really a blizzard?
blizzard explainer defintion nws orig_00011424

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Is this storm really a blizzard? 01:26
Another upside: Perhaps because they force us to slow down or halt entirely the plugged-in lives that keep us, more often than not, ironically disconnected from other people, extreme storms are one of the few times of year we may see neighbors taking the time to help one another out -- the elderly who perhaps cannot shovel, or get around the day before to prepare.
Take comfort in that ever-rare display of human kindness; perhaps display some yourself. For those who feel unsettled, or worse, when facing the prospect of being stuck in the house, pull on your snow pants and boots and go ask a neighbor if there's anything you can do for her.
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And if you're prone to panic, it's important to remember that while, yes, there is a storm upon us, much of the frenzy surrounding it is media-generated (some cynics may even wonder if meteorologists intentionally hype forecasts just to boost TV news ratings).
Think about it: When's the last time you really tuned in to hear what your local meteorologist had to say -- or even watched your local news at all? Everyone needs a time to shine, and to remind people of their relevance. Give your weatherman that. Or don't. But at the very least, find relief in knowing that the panic you're hearing about may not be necessary.
Lastly, you can take heart in the fact that there's an inevitable solution to the snow, and one that requires nothing from you -- and over which you also have no control: In the end, it melts.