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Psychology Today: The Emotional Calendar

The Emotional Calendar -- What it's all about.

From The Emotional Calendar

Each of us has very deep personal and emotional connections and reactions to the seasons of the year. My goal in writing the book The Emotional Calendar, to be published in January by Times Books/ Henry Holt & Company, New York, is to help you recognize that you can control your ups and downs throughout the year-but with that control first must come an understanding of how these emotional responses emerge, year after year.

Our connections to the seasons are affected not only by weather but also by cultural expectations. From our earliest childhoods on we are imbued with a series of beliefs and ideas about what each time of year should bring - culturally, physically, and personally. Holidays, we are taught to believe, are a time for joy and familial closeness. Summer is meant to be an expanse of warmth and freedom, a time for playful adventures and limited responsibilities. Thunderstorms are supposed to be scary. The dark days of winter are supposed to be depressing.

But so often, the realities of each season are at odds with our expectations. Many of us find that holidays are a source of far more stress than of joy; most of us, upon reaching adulthood, cannot leave our jobs for more than a week or two during the summer, leaving our fantasies of endless partying and relaxation unfulfilled. And, as more and more research has revealed, we all react to different weather types in different ways. There simply is no "normal" or "supposed to" when it comes to how the seasons make us feel.

Most interesting of all are the individual connections each of us make to the seasons through the memories we accumulate over time. Each time we experience a significant event - a loss, a joyous occasion, an important shift in our life cycle - part of our brain links it to our surroundings in that moment - the day, the weather, the general mood around us. Thus we automatically react to seasonal associations from previous times in our lives. And these can cause shifts in our outlook, our emotions, and our expectations.

It's these individual experiences and the way we respond to them that make up our unique emotional calendars. Your emotional calendar is just one way of looking at the story of your life, and for that reason it should be embraced. The problem is, though, that most of us are not particularly aware of our personal calendars or the problematic spots on them. Even if you recognize that autumn is a difficult time of year for you, or that snowstorms always cause you anxiety, you might not realize why, or just how deeply those conflicted feelings are affecting your thoughts and behavior.

In this blog, I intend to explore more of the common factors that influence people's emotional calendars, and to explain the psychological process behind how those factors might impact a person's emotional state. It is my hope that by unpacking the complexities of the emotional calendar, readers will be better able to understand and achieve a measure of control over the myriad of influences in their own lives.