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  • Writer's pictureDeric Hollings

Anxiety About Freezing Weather



Winter storms


I was born and predominately raised in Amarillo, Texas (featured above) where snowstorms and even blizzards were common occurrences in my childhood. Having later lived in Aurora, Colorado from half of my fifth to half of seventh grade years, I also encountered similar weather.


Both Amarillo and Aurora building contractors and utility crews stabilized infrastructure to a degree whereby freezing weather didn’t completely wreck these locations. Therefore, when living in Amarillo as an adult and before moving to Austin, Texas, I was accustomed to inclement weather conditions.


Having resided in Austin since 2012, I’ve been curious about the responses of others in relation to freezing weather. In particular, the “snowmageddon,” also called the “snowpocalypse,” of 2021 was eye-opening for me.


Regarding freezing conditions of Winter Storm Uri, I wrote in a blogpost entitled Chosen Suffering:


Not my first environmental event, I’ve experienced tornados, blizzards, earthquakes, typhoons, firestorms, hailstorms, and heatwaves. There was no catastrophizing or awfulizing for me during the “snowpocalypse.” I simply endured as I had in other events.


Currently, Austin is experiencing the impact of yet another freezing event. Per one source, “In Texas and Louisiana, it’s going to be bitterly cold, with some freezing precipitation. That could mean ice and snow on the roadways, and pipe-bursting temperatures.”


During weather events such as this, I’ll usually peruse the Austin Subreddit (Reddit) to see how locals report their experiences. Inevitably, someone evokes the diagnosis of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in association with the storm of 2021.


GAD versus PTSD


While I have little doubt that some people who feared imminent death or lost a loved one to the effects of Winter Storm Uri experienced trauma, I suspect that the majority of people misunderstand the difference between PTSD and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).


This is understandable, because not too long ago PTSD fell under the category of anxiety disorders in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). However, PTSD currently occupies its own category, partially because it’s an experiential disorder.


Allow me to elucidate. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), “Anxiety is an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts, and physical changes like increased blood pressure.” Sound familiar?


According to the World Health Organization, “Anxiety disorders are the world’s most common mental disorders.” Given my experience in the mental, emotional, and behavioral health field, I’ve mostly encountered GAD.


Noteworthy, the APA defines worry as “a state of mental distress or agitation due to concern about an impending or anticipated event, threat, or danger.” I don’t personally know anyone who has never worried at some point or another in life.


As well, I think it’s worth defining fear so that the reader can differentiate it from anxiousness. The APA defines fear as “a basic, intense emotion aroused by the detection of imminent threat, involving an immediate alarm reaction that mobilizes the organism by triggering a set of physiological changes.”


Minor clarifications aside, I now turn to how GAD is diagnosed. The latest version of the DSM (DSM-V-TR) describes GAD as relating to the following symptoms:


1.The presence of excessive anxiety and worry about a variety of topics, events, or activities. Worry occurs more often than not for at least six months and is clearly excessive.


2.The worry is experienced as very challenging to control. The worry in both adults and children may easily shift from one topic to another.


3.The anxiety and worry are accompanied by at least three of the following physical or cognitive symptoms (In children, only one of these symptoms is necessary for a diagnosis of GAD):


·  Edginess or restlessness

·  Tiring easily; more fatigued than usual

·  Impaired concentration or feeling as though the mind goes blank

·  Irritability (which may or may not be observable to others)

·  Increased muscle aches or soreness

·  Difficulty sleeping (due to trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, restlessness at night, or unsatisfying sleep)


While the presence of anxiety or worry is common, excessive worry is the component of a disorder. From a Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) perspective, cognitive, emotive, physical, and even behavioral symptoms are referred to as consequences.


The ABC Model frames the self-disturbing relationship between Actions, Beliefs, and Consequences. Rather than an Action-Consequence (A-C) connection, REBT posits that there’s a Belief-Consequence (B-C) connection with which you disturb yourself.


As an example, a frozen weather event occurs (Action), you Believe, “I can’t stand the potential for elevated danger,” and because of this unhelpful assumption you experience unpleasant Consequences of anxiousness, ruminating thoughts, tightness of your chest, and you continually refresh the weather app on your smartphone while monitoring the climate.


The important takeaway lesson is that people upset themselves with beliefs, causing excessive anxiousness and worry. This is the B-C connection; although, people tend to mistakenly assume an A-C connection is what causes this experience.


Having described how GAD functions, I now turn to PTSD. According to one source:


The DSM-5 divides PTSD symptoms into four categories:


·     Intrusion

·     Avoidance of thoughts and behaviors

·     Negative changes in thoughts and mood

·     Changes in arousal and reactivity


It makes sense that a person may confuse GAD with PTSD. However, let’s look a bit closer. One source summarizes the diagnostic criteria for PTSD thusly:


Criterion A (1 required): The person was exposed to: death, threatened death, actual or threatened serious injury, or actual or threatened sexual violence, in the following way(s):


·     Direct exposure

·     Witnessing the trauma

·     Learning that the trauma happened to a close relative or close friend

·     Indirect exposure to aversive details of the trauma, usually in the course of professional duties (e.g., first responders, medics)


Criterion B (1 required): The traumatic event is persistently re-experienced, in the following way(s):


·     Unwanted upsetting memories

·     Nightmares

·     Flashbacks

·     Emotional distress after exposure to traumatic reminders

·     Physical reactivity after exposure to traumatic reminders


Criterion C (1 required): Avoidance of trauma-related stimuli after the trauma, in the following way(s):


·     Trauma-related thoughts or feelings

·     Trauma-related reminders


Criterion D (2 required): Negative thoughts or feelings that began or worsened after the trauma, in the following way(s):


·     Inability to recall key features of the trauma

·     Overly negative thoughts and assumptions about oneself or the world

·     Exaggerated blame of self or others for causing the trauma

·     Negative affect

·     Decreased interest in activities

·     Feeling isolated

·     Difficulty experiencing positive affect


Criterion E (2 required): Trauma-related arousal and reactivity that began or worsened after the trauma, in the following way(s):


·     Irritability or aggression

·     Risky or destructive behavior

·     Hypervigilance

·     Heightened startle reaction

·     Difficulty concentrating

·     Difficulty sleeping


Criterion F (required): Symptoms last for more than 1 month.


Criterion G (required): Symptoms create distress or functional impairment (e.g., social, occupational).


Criterion H (required): Symptoms are not due to medication, substance use or other illness.


As you can see, PTSD is a little more involved than merely related to excessive anxiousness or worry. However, I don’t mean to minimize GAD, because many people suffer due to their beliefs about events and make their selves miserable by doing so.


Not unlike GAD, PTSD uses a B-C connection. Moreover, clinical trauma isn’t the same as one claiming that offense to an unpleasant joke, not getting one’s desires met, or apprehension about freezing weather is akin to “trauma.” These examples aren’t traumatic.


I tell my clients that if anxiety, worry, or fear had a language, it would speak in “what if” terms. For instance, “What if I die in a freezing weather event?” The inference of this question is, “I must not die in a freezing weather event!”


What if?


When reviewing the Austin Subreddit yesterday, I was pleasantly surprised at how one Redditor (person who uses Reddit) accurately described anticipatory cognitive, emotive, and behavioral impairment as that relating to anxiety. It was refreshing to see the following:



Crucially, the Redditor stated that “everybody being rude and commenting how folks are freaking out over nothing are missing the point. Logically, I know this isn’t as big of a deal as 2021/2023. This is my thought process I’ve been repeating to try and help myself get to a place of believing that.”


Kudos to this individual! The Redditor admitted that the beliefs which cause anxiousness aren’t logical or reasonable. Likewise, it isn’t as though this person wants to self-disturb about freezing weather.


As an antidote to needless suffering fueled by the B-C connection, the Redditor instead chose to carefully and accurately outline a plan for a worst case scenario. You see, asking oneself “what if” questions over and over and over, though not as a means of planning, isn’t helpful.


On the other hand, it appears as though the Redditor understood that “what if” questioning in the form of preparation could actually reduce one’s level of self-disturbance. For example, “What if a pipe bursts? I can just turn off the water connection.” Precisely!


The mind tends towards use of irrational beliefs. Consequently, it wouldn’t be an uncommon occurrence for the Redditor to conclude, “It would be awful to experience another 2021 weather event and I couldn’t stand it if my pipes were to burst!”


However, flexible preparedness, unconditional life-acceptance, and taking the additional step of shame-attacking by posting rational conclusions on Reddit may’ve served the Redditor well. After all, pipes may burst and power may wane, though the Redditor’s rationality remains intact.




I grew up experiencing winter storms, so I don’t upset myself with unproductive beliefs about weather events. Although some Austinites may qualify for a PTSD diagnosis in relation to Winter Storm Uri, I suspect many people instead experience self-disturbed GAD.


I teach people to pay close attention to the assumptions they make, especially when using “what if” narratives. To my surprise, I recently discovered one Reddit user who effectively demonstrated proper preparedness strategies in relation to anxiety about freezing weather, presumably stemming from “what if” beliefs.


Use of REBT can allow people to achieve similar results. Admittedly, you and I cannot control the weather. For all I know, my pipes may freeze and burst during the current weather event. Nevertheless, you and I have the ability to affect how we respond to events, and that can make all the difference in the end.


If you’re looking for a provider who works to help you understand how thinking impacts physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral elements of your life—helping you to sharpen your critical thinking skills, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.


As a psychotherapist, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues ranging from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.


At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!



Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW





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