The January blues and new year winter can be particularly tough on our mental health. After the excesses typical of the festive season, going back to the daily routine can be overwhelming. Personally, I've always thought about this time of the year as a blown up version of the Monday blues.
During January, most of us tend to take stock and, in some cases, this means realising that things haven't turned out as we expected or hoped. Intense gift buying sessions may leave us with an empty bank account; perhaps we look back on the past years’ resolutions to find out that we weren’t able to maintain them, or we’re saddened by memories of people who are no longer with us. Furthermore, a season of treats, big dinners, and high alcohol consumption usually means we end up with a few extra inches or pounds and a negative body image. And having friends or relatives visiting can drain our energy, too.
In fact, research shows that the January blues and New Year depression are a real thing. Also, there are links between low morale at this time of the year and an increased number of extramarital affairs. In fact, 65 per cent of relationship break-ups happen in January, and suicides peak on New Year’s day, considered the deadliest day of the year.
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The January blues and depression are so prevalent that it's led to the term Blue Monday being coined. This refers to the most depressing day of the year, and it’s calculated using a formula that takes into account three things: weather, motivation levels and debt. This coming year, Blue Monday will be on 20th January. So, in preparation for this dreaded day and beyond, here are seven scientifically-proven ideas on how to cope with those January blues.
Going on a trip can improve your mood and help you beat the January blues and new year depression, especially if it’s somewhere sunny. That's because our bodies create Vitamin D from sunlight, and this vitamin is directly linked to our mood. You don’t need to go on a long trip – even a weekend getaway can make a difference. But what if your finances are tight after the holiday season and can’t afford it just now? Interestingly, the simple fact of just planning or researching a trip can improve your mood. Studies have found that pre-trip happiness acts as a mood booster, as it fills us with anticipation of good things to come.
Physical activity is a great mood booster that is proven to help fend off depression. And although exercising is probably the last thing you feel like doing at this time of the year, the benefits are so worth it that once you get going, you’ll want to keep going! Recent studies claim that both short sessions of high-intensity exercise or longer sessions of low-intensity activity are effective at keeping the blues at bay. And the season itself offers opportunities to try something new, whether it's snow sports like skiing or snowshoeing, going for countryside or coastal walks, or ice skating. And there are still options if you don’t feel like braving the cold: saunas, steam baths and hot yoga are all excellent for well-being.
Snow limits: wrap-up and embrace that winter walk shutterstock/Nik Hoberg
January’s bleak weather and lack of funds can make it very tempting to stay indoors and veg out. But instead of giving in, it’s worth finding ways of staying active and sociable. For example, collective plans or resolutions can help you stay accountable and motivated, making you more resilient to New Year depression. And there are tons of activities you can enjoy with others without spending a lot of money: for example, you could gather at a friend’s home and learn a new dance using YouTube videos, organise healthy and budget-friendly cooking competitions, have a wardrobe clear out and swap session, or even have a go at geocaching.
“Research shows that January blues and new year depression are a real thing. Suicides peak on New Year’s day, considered the deadliest day of the year.”
New Year resolutions can be a double-edged sword: on the one hand, they can motivate us, but since only 8% of people follow through their resolutions, failing to achieve them can make us feel inadequate. To take the pressure off and still work towards something meaningful, why not take up a new hobby for one month only? The idea is to find something that inspires you and gets you through January. If you find yourself really enjoying it, you can continue it for the rest of the year!
When it comes to our diet, Christmas and New Year are usually synonymous with excess. Some of us love to indulge in mince pies, Christmas pudding, and other high-carb and high-sugar treats, but overeating these foods can lead to low energy and a dark mood typical of the January blues and depression. To counter this, include nourishing good mood foods in every meal, especially wholefoods and those rich in omega-3 oils, which according to some studies can help fight pessimism and sadness.
Never underestimate the healing effect of warmth, especially during the coldest months of the year. In fact, our bodies are meant to be comforted by warmth – this is why seek the sun or find so much pleasure in our favourite cup of tea, coffee or chocolate. If you’re feeling down with the January blues and New Year depression, take your time enjoying a warm bath (even better if you add some warming essential oils like rosemary, ginger, or cardamom). According to researchers, even touching something warm can give us a little boost!
Cup it up: a warm tea or choc can boost the mood shutterstock/igorstevanovic
If you're really struggle keeping a positive mindset or if your health is negatively affected every time January arrives, you may be suffering from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). This condition affects 10 million people in the US and 1 in 3 in the UK, and the symptoms include irritability, tearfulness, low self-esteem, high stress, lethargy, and a loss of interest in things that we’d normally find enjoyable.
It’s important to speak to your doctor if you suspect you may have SAD, since in some people this can evolve into depressive symptoms. You should know that treatment is available and you don’t need to let this type of January blues or depression take over. Your doctor may recommend Vitamin D supplements, using a light therapy box, going for walks whenever there’s sunlight outside, or in some cases, medication.
This winter, don’t let the January blues and New Year depression spoil your mood and well-being. Use the suggestions in this article to prevent the symptoms from developing, and if you find yourself struggling despite your best efforts, seek help. You’re not alone in this and every step you take to beat the winter blues will be a worthwhile investment in your overall physical and mental health. ●
Main image: shutterstock/Marjan Apostolovic
Do you struggle with the January blues? If so, head over to our forum on depression.
A social sciences graduate with a keen interest in languages, communication, and personal development strategies. Dee loves exercising, being out in nature, and discovering warm and sunny places where she can escape the winter.
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