Addressing the January Blues

Friday, December 30, 2022 by Catherine Gilliland | Support Through Rough Patches

Encouragement is the act of giving someone support, confidence, or hope. When we encourage another, we are either trying to stimulate the development of an activity, state, or belief, or we may be trying to persuade another person to do or to continue something.

There are numerous reasons why we may find ourselves desiring or needing any of these forms of encouragement at some point. January is well known as the most depressing month of the year. Why? Some perceive a let down after a festive holiday season. Others are receiving credit card statements and the painful reality of impending payments is weighty. Still others (research shows up to 20%) are  affected emotionally because of the physiological effects of the cold, dark, and often dreary weather that is synonymous with the first month of the year. Add these realities to an already heavy sense of regular responsibilities and one can truly experience a heavy case of the blues.

How can one move out of this condition? Often it helps to evaluate how you usually feel in mid-January. If you know you typically struggle with low mood in January, plan ahead for yourself, for how you will wisely practice self-care. Are the blues you are experiencing abnormal for you? Applying the same measures will help you, too. 

How are you feeling right now?  Are you feeling strong and optimistic, or are you sliding into melancholy or worse, gloom? Are feelings of overwhelm sabotaging your motivation? Try a few of these ideas to help yourself out of the pit of sadness that often accompanies the 31 days of darkness called January. Be sure, however, to contact your health care provider if your feelings of depression are ongoing or if you have ideations of self-harm.

  1. If you are experiencing a "SAD January", be determined to be kind to yourself. Practice self-compassion. Reduce responsibilities that may be adding to the doldrums. Is there one thing you do not like to do from which you can take a break for this month only?

  2. Be intentional to give yourself positive affirmations. Various scientific studies suggest that positive self-affirmation practices can be beneficial in many ways. Saying positive affirmations activates the reward circuits in your brain much the same way eating a favorite food or winning a prize does. The Neuroscience of How Affirmations Help Your Mental Health

  3. Go to the light. Your light might be a vacation to a warm sunny climate. It may also look like daily basking in the light of a "happy light" to enhance your mood, energy, sleep and focus. If using a happy light, begin in early September. It takes some time for the pineal gland to ramp up its production of melatonin, helping you feel more chipper.

  4. Try something new. Plan and prepare a new dinner recipe. Sign up for painting or another type of creative class. Take the kids swimming once a week and swim with them. Go to bed earlier and give yourself an extra hour of sleep each night.

  5. Clean out one room (or part of a room) each week. Reducing the clutter that accumulates can help you feel much better.

  6. Plan three or four low budget, minimal planning required, special family activities: movie and popcorn at home, board-game night, reading an exciting story out loud on certain nights of the week.

  7. Practice laughing daily. Laugh with your kids. Tell each other hearty jokes. Listen to an enriching comedian together. Say, "Alexa, tell me a good joke!"

  8. Practice daily gratitude habits. Focusing on gratitude as a habit will lift one's mood on a more permanent basis. Write five things daily for which you are grateful. Mindfully note the good that comes from otherwise difficult circumstances. Do you have generally good health for which you are thankful?

  9. Be vigilant to make time for daily exercise, optimally outside during the sunniest parts of the day. Even if completed indoors, daily exercise releases at least four different hormones that contribute to overall feelings of well-being and energy.

Reach out to your friends. Chances are they may be struggling with a blue January, too. What can you do to encourage them? No pity parties or griping sessions are allowed. Simply support one another by recognizing together the reality that January is hard right now, but in 31 days it will be over and you both will be feeling better as February and March roll around.