Bad mood, apathy, lack of motivation and hopelessness – these are just some of the symptoms of the “January Blues”. Although it’s not the same as clinical depression, the January Blues can still take a toll on your mental health and make you experience the beginning of the year as a stressful period instead of a reason for excitement. For millions of people, the prospect of a new year is met with anxiety rather than anticipation, and the bad weather and long workdays add to the post-holiday sadness. If you had a great time for Christmas, you might be feeling nostalgic already and unmotivated to get back to work; if you didn’t, Christmas might have stirred feelings of inadequacy and loneliness.
If you’re dealing with the January Blues, the first step towards feeling better is understanding that what you are going through is normal. After taking time off, relaxing, sleeping more, and indulging in your favourite festive treats, it’s normal to not be in top mental shape. However, there are small steps you can take to get back on track and be excited about the opportunities of a new year.
The January Blues are first and foremost caused by reduced exposure to sunlight – it’s what makes this seasonal condition so common in the Northern Hemisphere and why so many people try to escape it by booking a vacation to exotic islands. This year, that’s out of reach for most people, but still, you can lift your mood by spending time outside whenever you get a chance. Even if you’re busy at work, a short walk during lunch break can provide a much-needed breath of fresh air and make a difference – but remember to maintain physical distancing, wear a mask, and respect local restrictions. Ideally, you should get between 10 and 30 minutes of sunlight per day to maintain vitamin D and serotonin levels.
For most Brits, the typical holiday diet includes mince pies, Christmas pudding, turkey, and lots of alcohol. But while indulging in these treats may feel comforting, excess isn’t good for your physical or mental health. An unhealthy Christmas diet can make you feel tired and sluggish in January, but the good news is that you can fight this by adding some greens back on the menu. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acids provide the nutritional intake your body needs to stay strong. Avoid takeout and precooked meals as much as possible because they can have too many fats and sodium and instead learn to cook at least three meals a week. Once you get the hang of it, meal planning can help you regain your energy and feel good in your body.
Feeling bored, sad, and unmotivated? A 30-minute workout session can make you feel better. It’s science! Studies have shown that engaging in physical activity for one hour a day stimulates the production of endorphins, acting as a natural mood lifter. What’s more, exercising regularly has been proven to reduce stress, depression, and their associated symptoms.
Even if gyms aren’t the safest places right now, you can still find ways to be active at home, such as Pilates, dancing, and indoor cycling. If you have a garden, that’s even better. Gardening sounds like a passive pastime, but the World Health Organization classified it as a form of exercise because you can burn up to 300 calories in just half an hour. Plus, you spend time outdoors, so it’s a win-win.
Most of us tend to set New Year’s resolutions. As one year ends and the other begins, these goals are a way to commit to becoming better versions of ourselves. However, only about 8% of people end up achieving their New Year’s resolutions and, a few weeks into January, when they realise they aren’t on the right track, that causes feelings of hopeless and low self-esteem.
So, does it mean you shouldn’t set any goals on New Year’s Eve to avoid the January Blues?
Not at all. Goals are actually essential for boosting your focus and giving you momentum in life. The key lies in setting achievable resolutions. The most popular resolutions (losing weight, quitting smoking, making more friends, being more organised), are too audacious and involve making major life changes. So, if you have a big dream, try to break it down into several more achievable steps to stay motivated. For example, if your goal is to lose 45 pounds, that’s a long and intimated process, so first set a smaller goal to give up soft drinks and walk 5000 steps/day in January. That’s more achievable, and the fact that you see results will motivate you to keep going instead of quitting mid-January.
Going back to work after the holidays is one of the main causes behind the January Blues. You may need some time to get back into the swing of things, and you may feel extra pressure to work hard to cover the credit card debt that tends to pile up in December. But even when things become very demanding, and you’re dealing with lots of deadlines and overtime, it’s important to find at least one hour every time for your hobbies. Whether you enjoy reading, playing with your pet, cycling, cooking, or playing computer games, hobbies are a form of self-care, and you deserve to take a break from time to time. Studies show that people who spend time doing what they have are less likely to experience stress and depression, so don’t feel guilty about it.
The January Blues typically resolves itself within a few weeks, or more if you are also dealing with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), but it is a manageable condition that gets better with small lifestyle changes. However, there are cases when there’s also something else behind seasonal sadness, and when you should seek professional help. If your symptoms have been so overwhelming that you cannot focus on daily activities, you’re having intrusive negative thoughts, or just need someone to guide you through this difficult time of year, a therapist can help you navigate your feelings and address the root of the problem.