It happens every year, but we still feel a bit silly when it hits: the January blues.
After the excitement of Christmas and New Year’s Day, it’s easy to sink into a major slump.
The dip in mood makes sense when you think about it.
You’ve just spent weeks – or months, if you’re a real festivity fan – gearing up for December 25, then, in the blink of an eye, it’s all over.
No more presents and pigs in blankets. No daily advent calendar chocolate to look forward to each morning. No general merriment.
Then it’s back to work, and back to realising how dark and dismal it is right now. The New Year stretches out ahead, and after two tough years, it’s hard to feel hopeful.
So you’re certainly not alone in feeling down in the dumps. How can we all get through this tricky period?
Don’t make New Year’s resolutions that can’t be achieved
‘One of the main things that can leave you feeling defeated before the New Year has even begun, are unrealistic resolutions,’ say the experts at rehab centre Delamere. ‘For example, if you work long hours and don’t get a chance to exercise very much, telling yourself that you will go to the gym every day in the new year could be starting too ambitiously.’
Extreme and unrealistic resolutions set you up for misery, from the imposed restriction to the inevitable disappointment when your lofty goals fail.
Approach your resolutions with care and make sure they’re actually doable.
Schedule in something to look forward to
This is important. In the past months, we’ve always been looking ahead to the joys of Christmas. That’s kept us going.
Now Christmas is done and dusted, you need something else to count down the days ’til.
Book yourself a class, schedule in a proper catch-up with friends, or get planning a future holiday (bearing Covid restrictions in mind, of course).
Don’t overdo it
It’s tempting to try to extend the Christmas merriment by loading up your calendar with non-stop socialising.
As we mentioned above, scheduling in some fun is a good thing, but make sure you’re not going too hard.
‘Despite socialising being proven to have a positive effect on our mental health, committing to too much can sometimes work against us,’ say the Delamere team. ‘While it can be very nice to have a full social calendar, it can seem a little overwhelming to have no time to recharge your batteries throughout the week.
‘It is crucial that you set time aside for yourself. If you are going to a social event at the weekend, set aside the following day to emotionally gather yourself, rather than pushing yourself to go out again – this could possibly lead to feeling burnt out and deflated.’
Be nice to your body
Too often we use January as a time of restriction, of harsh treatment of our bodies. We push ourselves through gruelling gym routines and count calories, all while brutally judging what we see in the mirror.
As you might expect, this is not a path to happiness.
Neither, however, is staying in bed all weekend and giving into the desire of ordering constant takeaways and soothing sadness with sugar.
Treat your body with genuine love and care. That means not berating it for what it’s not, but celebrating it the way it is – and giving it the nourishment it needs to thrive.
Move your body every day, even if you can only manage five minutes of dancing around your living room. Make yourself food that makes you feel good. Rest when you’re tired.
Try to limit your screen time
Has your screen time been climbing in the past weeks? You’re not the only one.
We’re not going to suggest you go cold turkey on all tech, but check in with your screen use and make tweaks where needed.
Are you doomscrolling? Engaging in constant comparison? Getting eye strain from scrolling tweets you don’t really care about seeing?
Set some boundaries around your screens, even if that’s as simple as vowing to not look at your phone for the first five minutes of your day.
The Delamere team say: ‘A recent study highlighted that people were spending a whopping 6.4 hours on their phones every day, along with staring at screens while working and watching TV.
‘As well as distracting us from important things we should be doing, like cleaning, talking to friends or doing laundry, it also leaves people with unrealistic expectations of their own lives.
‘Being constantly bombarded with perfect airbrushed images, along with photos of influencers sipping cappuccinos in Paris while we are working a nine to five, is destined to eventually have a negative effect on our mental health.
‘Instagram actually increases dopamine (the happy chemical), so endless scrolling can lead to us relying on likes and story views to be happy. Too much social media consumption is a guaranteed anxiety trigger once the festive season is over.’
Do something joyful every day
The concept of advent calendars is actually pretty great. Why not make your own, with a daily activity rather than a chunk of choc?
Think about things that you can do that just feel good. Then make a commitment to do one a day.
Reading, baking, watching Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares – whatever it is, give yourself permission to do it. Turn off your phone for a bit to ensure you can fully immerse yourself in something that brings you joy.
Connect with loved ones
‘During the festive period, most people are surrounded by friends and relatives, and spend more time with their family than at any point during the year,’ note Delamere. ‘Once this is over, it is natural to feel deflated – especially if your family members live a long way away from you.
‘Due to this, it could be helpful to set a reminder on your phone to check in once a week. Choosing a specific day would mean that both you and your family or friends have a catch-up to look forward to.’
Gratitude is a powerful thing, but it’s a practice. You need to really commit to doing it, ideally every day.
Eventually, you’ll notice yourself naturally looking for the good instead of always focusing on the bad.
‘The world, especially for city-dwellers, can seem especially bleak and dreary sometimes, as the days get shorter and the nights get colder,’ say the Delamere team. ‘However, it could be beneficial to remind yourself to look up as you walk to work in the morning, as you make your way to meet your friend at the pub, or even as you nip over the road to go to Sainsbury’s.
‘It is easy to take our surroundings for granted, but taking the time to notice the little things could lead to stolen mini-moments of joy in the most everyday scenarios.’
Next time you go on a walk, challenge yourself to notice five beautiful/cool/pleasant things.
Or every night, write down three things you’re grateful for that day.
However you choose to do it, taking the time to savour life and feel genuinely grateful for it has been proven, time and time again, to make you happier.
Don’t be scared to ask for help
Are your January blues perhaps something a bit heavier? Don’t feel ashamed to admit that you’re struggling, whether it’s a momentary blip or something more long-term.
Seek out support from loved ones or a mental health professional, and don’t let shame or feeling ‘silly’ hold you back.
Your feelings are valid and you deserve help.
To chat about mental health in an open, non-judgmental space, join our Mentally Yours Facebook group.
Follow us on Twitter at @MentallyYrs.
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