The January blues and new year period can be particularly tough on our mental health and lead to feelings of depression. After the excesses typical of the festive season, going back to the usual daily routine can be overwhelming. Personally, I've always thought about this time of the year as an expanded version of the Monday blues – something many of us go through on a weekly basis!
Furthermore, during the new year, most of us also tend to take stock of our lives. This sometimes means realising that things haven't turned out as we expected or hoped. Perhaps we look back on past 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. We've all had a few couple of years due to the pandemic, and this challenging period is likely to continue, perhaps intensifying the January blues.
Also, 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 be lovely but it can also drain our energy and lead to confrontations or fall-outs. Added to that, intense gift-buying sessions may have left us with an empty bank account.
In fact, research shows that the January blues and new year depression are a very real thing. Suicides peak on New Year’s day, considered the deadliest 24 hours of the year. 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 all relationship break-ups happen in January.
New year depression is 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: the weather, motivation levels and debt.
In 2023, Blue Monday will fall on 16th January. So, in preparation for this dreaded day and the month beyond, here are seven scientifically-proven ideas on how to beat those January blues.
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!
Snow limits: wrap-up and embrace a winter walk shutterstock/Nik Hoberg
Indeed, 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, going for countryside or coastal walk in nature, or ice skating. The strong-willed among you may even want to consider a dose of winter wild swimming!
But 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 and beating the misery January brings.
Going on a trip is scientifically-proven to 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.
“Going on a trip is scientifically-proven to improve your mood and help you beat the January blues, especially if it's somewhere sunny.”
But what if your finances are tight after the holiday season? Fear not. 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. So, even though many of us may not be able to travel to sunny climes to avoid the January blues right now, we can at least get on the net and start researching where we want to go next.
New Year resolutions can be a double-edged sword: on the one hand, they can motivate us, but since only 8 per cent of people follow them through, 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 then continue it for the rest of the year.
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 we seek the sun or find so much pleasure in our favourite cup of tea, coffee or chocolate.
A hot choc can help beat the January blues shutterstock/igorstevanovic
If you’re feeling down with the January blues, take your time to enjoy a long soak in a warm, relaxing bath (even better if you add some warming essential oils like rosemary, ginger or cardamom). According to researchers, even just touching something warm can give us a little happiness boost.
January’s bleak weather and lack of funds can make it very tempting to stay home and veg out all day. But instead of giving in to staying 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.
“Why not take up a new hobby for one month only? The idea is to find something that inspires you and gets you through the January blues. If you find yourself really enjoy it you can carry it on for the rest of the year.”
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, organize healthy and budget-friendly cooking competitions, have a wardrobe clear out and swap session, or even have a go at geocaching.
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. To counter this, include nourishing good mood foods in every meal, especially those rich in omega-3 oils, which according to some studies can help fight pessimism and sadness.
If you're really struggling to keep 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. 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, or in some cases, medication.
This winter, don’t let the January blues spoil your mood and well-being. Use the suggestions above to prevent the symptoms from developing, and if you find yourself struggling despite your best efforts, seek help. You’re not alone 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. What do you to fight back against depressive symptoms over winter? Share your ideas below!
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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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