If you don’t feel at your best in January, you are not alone.
Although January is supposed to be a time of new beginnings and renewed enthusiasm, most people actually experience the first month of the year as a rather gloomy time that makes them feel depressed, lethargic, and hopeless. The phenomenon is so widespread, in fact, that we have a name for it – the January Blues – and statistics show that millions of people in the Northern Hemisphere are affected by it.
Although it’s often confused with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which is caused by a lack of sunlight, the January Blues is a different situational depression that’s specific to the beginning of the year. The January Blues usually start right after the New Year, and symptoms can last for weeks, the peak being the third Monday of the month. You may also know this as Blue Monday, dubbed the most depressing day of the year. Statistically, women are more prone than men to having the January blues, but otherwise, this condition is spread evenly across all age groups, including teenagers and seniors.
But what exactly is it about the new year that drains us so much emotionally and causes the January Blues? Scientists have pinpointed several causes, and understanding what triggered yours is the first step towards getting better.
Weather is perhaps the best-known factor behind the January Blues. In the Northern Hemisphere, where this condition is the most common, January is the bleakest month of the year, with minimum temperatures, rain, snowstorms, and very little sunlight. How does that impact your mental health?
Studies have shown that exposure to the sun releases serotonin, one of the “happiness hormones”. Meanwhile, exposure to darker lighting releases melatonin, a hormone which helps you fall asleep. When it’s cloudy all day, and the sun sets at 4 pm, your serotonin levels drop, leading to low moods and depression.
The weather is also cold and gloomy in December, but we’re not as bothered by it because of the holiday cheer. Most of the time, we’re so busy thinking about presents, seeing our loved ones, and a much-needed vacation that we don’t mind the cold. December snow feels dreamy and magical. After the holidays, however, we tend to experience it as more of a nuisance because the festive spirit is gone, and we need to get back to work.
Christmas is a time of kindness and togetherness, but also a time of excessive spending that can cause financial stress. One study showed that 60% of adults in the UK overspend on Christmas gifts, foods, and decorations, and many families even take out a loan to cope with the financial stress of Christmas. At the time, this may seem like a necessary sacrifice, but when the holidays are over and the first bills of the year come in, we find themselves with depleted savings accounts and unpaid credit card debt. That can cause a lot of stress, family arguments, and budget restrictions.
If there’s ever a time to put your diet on pause and treat yourself, that’s Christmas. But after indulging in roast potatoes, Yorkshire pudding, pigs in blankets, mince pies, and red wine for weeks, your body isn’t in the best shape. And that reflects on your mental health. Excessive eating and drinking, coupled with a sedentary lifestyle, makes us feel tired, moody, sleepy, and generally sluggish. Too much sugar initially raises your energy levels, but studies have shown that, in the long run, it impairs brain function, making you forget things more easily and causing that “foggy” feeling.
Plus, the extra pounds gained over the holidays cause guilt and low confidence levels. That’s why January is the “detox month”, when people stock up on fruits and veggies, and also the month when people buy the most gym memberships. While getting back to a healthy lifestyle is the best way to get rid of post-holiday grogginess, we recommend setting realistic, achievable goals. Don’t be too harsh on yourself and try to achieve too much, too soon, because that will create even more pressure and affect your mental health.
Studies show that 60% of people make New Year’s resolutions: join the gym, find a new job, go vegan, quit smoking, save money, pick up a new hobby, and so on. However, less than 10% of these resolutions are fulfilled. In the period immediately after New Year’s, we’re usually more excited and even take steps towards achieving our goals (buying a gym subscription, fitness equipment, healthier foods, etc.), but as the weeks pass and we get back into old habits, we realise that we’re behind on our resolutions and or might not even achieve them. That causes low motivation, low self-confidence, and ultimately puts us in a depressive state.
From debt to extra pounds, January can be a tough month. But in 2021, January may be even tougher because it comes after a challenging year that stretched our mental health to the breaking point. And although vaccination has started in the UK and we can finally see some light at the end of the tunnel, that doesn’t cancel out all the sacrifices we’ve had to make in the past nine months: loneliness, travel restrictions, layoffs, financial pressure, living with the constant stress of the unknown, perhaps even losing friends and family. That festive cheer that usually made December more enjoyable might have lacked this year, causing depression even earlier than January. So, while feeling down in January is normal all the time, this year it’s more important than ever to pay attention to your mental health and be kind to yourself.