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Winter in Michigan: the ultimate gray area

The winter is pretty devoid of color in Michigan so the author embraces neutrals to get through. She has lately been enjoying picking up dried flowers and drawing the grey skies and snow. (Lucy Tobier/YJI)

Ann Arbor, Michigan, U.S.A. – Imagine an endless world of gray: gray leaves, gray skies, gray ground. Now add freezing temperatures, take away sunshine, and you get Michigan, U.S.A., during the winter.

A minimum of four months of endless monochrome, ice-cold days, coupled with isolation from friends not willing to brave the cold for a short outing.

Snow-covered cars and freshly shoveled sidewalks outside the author’s house. One of the nuisances of winter is having to frequently shovel and scrape down the icy car. She’s been late many times because of ice and snow. (Lucy Tobier/YJI)

It would be one thing if there were piles of fresh white snow and sparkling, flocked fir trees, but instead, there are usually uninspiring piles of gray slush.  

The months-long weather patterns can take a toll. The technical name for it is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). When your body doesn’t receive any natural sunlight, it affects your body’s internal clock and reduces your level of serotonin, a brain chemical that affects your mood. 

People with SAD often feel tired, unmotivated, and moody. 

I often suffered from SAD in the past, feeling sluggish in the winter. I feel like I am hibernating. My energy levels drop and I spend more time in bed and less time being active.

This year with the pandemic, I especially feared the winter. Without warm cafes to sit in or cozy hangouts with friends, the usual isolation during the winter increases. During gray winters, the weather doesn’t change, but now with virtual learning, neither does my environment. So I took action. 

One way to combat SAD is with light therapy to stimulate natural sunlight. Although I don’t own a light therapy box, I do have a Himalayan salt lamp. I keep it turned on whenever I’m in my room, and its warm orange glow has made a noticeable impact on my mood.

I’ve also been going outside during the rare sunny days to soak up as many rays as I can. This winter seems to be a bit sunnier than normal. The winter sun has a different quality than the sun does in warmer months, too. It always seems brighter and stronger. 

Another thing I’ve been trying to do is appreciating the winter instead of fearing it. I made a list of all the things I love about winter (hot chocolate, snow, being cozy inside) and take time every day to appreciate the season.

Facing my fears instead of hibernating has made me feel a lot more inspired and awake. In November, I made a list of my favorite winter self-care ideas and I treat myself to one whenever I feel down. 

I also try to stick to a strict schedule. Without one, I can easily spend my virtual school days scrolling on my phone and the days blur. But with clear times for focused work and creative rest, I feel a little bit better. The common saying “work hard, play hard” seems especially useful now and I’ve been trying to section off my days. 

The author’s backyard vegetable garden taking its yearly winter nap. The winter makes her really excited to garden and cook with fresh vegetables. When she’s feeling down in the winter, she plans out her spring garden and dreams about the warm future. (Lucy Tobier/YJI)

Some of my favorite hobbies are cooking, baking, and preserving food. In the winter, there are fewer local and seasonal options, so I have to embrace root vegetables (parsnips, potatoes, onions) and come up with new recipes for those.

I find a lot of joy in roasting vegetables while staying cozy inside. I also get to enjoy the summer produce I canned and dried in the summer and am reminded of the last summer. 

I’ve always loved the seasons. For as much as I gripe about the gray, I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. When I’m done drinking my hot cocoa and walking through the snow, I can spend my time dreaming about farmers’ markets and spring flowers. The cold and gray of the winter just make the warm and sunny spring that much better.

Lucy Tobier is a Reporter with Youth Journalism International.

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