In Michigan, the shortest day of the year has less than nine hours of daylight. It’s easy to fall into the mood of the climate when there are so many days of cold, cloud covered skies. Seasonal Affective Disorder, also referred to as winter blues syndrome, affects many people in Michigan and is often over-looked as a serious issue.

snowy leaves --  CC Image courtesy of chichacha on Flickr

CC Image courtesy of chichacha on Flickr

It’s important to be aware of lifestyle changes in the more dreary months of winter. Time spent outside is probably drastically less than in the warmer months. Fresh air turns into something you need to fend off with scarves and gloves. Less of the sun’s UV rays are absorbed causing a lower production of Vitamin D. Unsafe winter weather leads to more cancelled social events and more time spent at home in an attempt to stay warm and comfortable. These little changes during the winter months have a huge impact on your mental and physical health.

How to Beat Those Winter Blues

Step 1: Awareness
Look at and identify the endorphin-producing activities that are no longer very present in your life such as weekly social outings, regular exercise and time outside.

Step 2: Routine Activities
Find practical ways to add your normal activities back into your life.

Step 3: Adapt
Change your summer routine to fit with the colder months.

skis  --  CC Image courtesy of Anders Ljungberg on Flickr

CC Image courtesy of Anders Ljungberg on Flickr

Step 4: Incorporate fitness into your daily life
On your lunch, head to an indoor mall and take a brisk walk for 10-15 minutes. Use the staircase in your house for some quick cardiovascular activity. A consistent exercise routine is a sure-fire way to boost endorphin levels. If you’re active outside in the warmer months, consider joining a gym for the cold months. You’ll change your normal fitness routine and meet some people you normally wouldn’t meet. Look to YouTube, OnDemand or Netflix for free workouts. Consider joining a sports league at a local club.

empty fitness center  --  CC Image courtesy of Ms. Phoenix on Flickr

CC Image courtesy of Ms. Phoenix on Flickr

Step 5: Keep your social life alive
Social support is extremely important to mental and physical health. Make a weekly phone date with a friend who might live out of town. Talking for 30 minutes on the phone can be a great way to feel a connection. Plan small outings or local trips with a spouse, friend or family member. Hang a calendar on the wall and write in the plans. This gives you a visual reminder of the plans already made, as well as provides some motivation to keep going through the three or four day stretch of gray skies.

coffee mugs --  CC Image courtesy of chichacha on Flickr

CC Image courtesy of chichacha on Flickr

Step 6: Take advantage of the sunny days
Grab a friend or mp3 player, bundle up and go outside for walk. Ten minutes of sun exposure, even when temperatures are low, can help improve your mood and push away the blues.

sunny winter day  --  CC Image courtesy of bobistraveling on Flickr

CC Image courtesy of bobistraveling on Flickr

Step 7: Talk to someone, if needed
Professional counselors and therapists are available to help you through these winter months. Do not be afraid to make an appointment, find some help and make these cold months your best yet!

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Chelsea Van Tongeren, MA, Art Therapist, LLPC
Chelsea is an art therapist and limited license professional counselor. She received her masters in both community counseling and art therapy from Wayne State University. She provides individual art therapy or counseling for children, adolescents, and adults. As a therapist, Chelsea encourages and explores the possibility for change.
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