This Year, the January Blues Seem Turbo-Charged—Here’s How to Banish Them
Let’s face it: January is the most depressing month of the year. Just ask all those with January birthdays. Your friends are either doing Dry Jan or intense detoxes, and have spent all their money on unnecessary Secret Santa gifts. The weather is usually pretty terrible, and people are just generally less inclined to help you celebrate one more trip round the sun. But this year, the January Blues feel that much more depressing, whatever month you were born in. As Omicron spikes and Flurona rears its head, we’re back to working from home. We’re testing positive and feeling negative. Uncertainty abounds and burnout cranks up a notch as we attempt to get back up and running after the post-Christmas slump. Sound familiar? You’re not alone. There is, however, light at the end of the tunnel. We’ve asked leading mental health experts for their top tips on how to cope with the 2022 January blues in the face of, well, everything.
Gail Marra, clinical hypnotherapist and author of Health Wealth & Hypnosis
Boost your serotonin! Practise deep abdominal breathing. When you take a deep breath right down into your lower abdomen, your heart rate quickens slightly. As you exhale slowly your heart rate slows down. By focusing on taking five or six slow deep breaths, your heart rate and your breath will synchronize, signalling to your brain to release wonderful feel-good hormones like serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin and endorphins, all of which have a natural calming, balancing effect on your mind and body. Do this often during the day or any time you notice yourself losing the will to work!
Let the sunshine in
Throw open your windows (if there’s a chill in the air, grab a jumper, stay warm). Keep your blinds and curtains open during the day. Get outside as often as you can during the daylight hours.
Bring the outdoors indoors
Researchers from Bristol University and University College London discovered a friendly bacteria in plant soil (Mycobacterium Vaccae) that triggers the release of serotonin. So, not only do indoor and outdoor plants look nice, but they can also alleviate symptoms of depression.
Did you know that our brains respond extremely well to rewards? Decide on the reward you’ll get upon completion of your new thing. Treat yourself with a gift, massage, movie, book… By visualizing the celebration, your reward desire will motivate you further, as you know what’s coming up upon completion.
Curl up in your favorite chair (by the window if you can!) and read what you want—particularly fiction—guilt-free. Research has shown that reading fiction helps you boost empathy, creativity and happiness. It provides you with escapism, opens your mind and reduces stress.
At times when you feel low, shift your energy by turning your brain onto gratitude. Gratitude is a powerful habit, and one that has been proven to have neural effects in the brain. Write down five things you are grateful for every day—ideally by hand, and as the last thing you do before night.
Focus on the present
Watch out for the “go, go, go” mentality, and make time to be mindful by journaling, doodling, and meditating. These mindfulness activities help you focus on the present, and as a result, reduce stress and anxiety, boost self-esteem and improve sleep.
Sharmin Aktar, psychological counselor for Private Therapy Clinic
Identify your thoughts and feelings
Taking some time during the day to reflect on our thoughts and feelings can go a long way in helping us to be more understanding and compassionate towards our experiences and ourselves. One tip I give all my clients is to keep a reflective journal where they write about their thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Alternatively, speaking to a friend or family member about it could also help to manage those January blues.
Due to shorter days and the return to working from home, we may be moving around less than usual. This can make you feel weak and lethargic and can contribute to a low mood. One tip to help manage this is exercise, which helps to release endorphins and contribute towards better mood and wellbeing.
Connect with people
Working from home inevitably makes us feel more isolated. We not only miss our teammates but also those ad hoc interactions that occur daily. To counter this, reach out to a different colleague each day. Book in a coffee over Zoom, or go for a walk and talk meeting. It’s guaranteed to enrich both their day and yours.
Try something new
Variety is a great way to break up the humdrum of daily life, particularly when working from home. Try setting yourself a new challenge that you will enjoy undertaking. Learning new things will make you feel more confident, as well as injecting some fun into your routine.
Focus on diet
Eating a good diet rich in nutrients that affect brain health, such as vitamin D, magnesium and omega 3 all affect mental wellbeing in a positive way.
Activities that relax the body such as hot baths, massages, and yoga can release trauma trapped in the body.
Seek professional help
If things get out of control, there’s always the option of seeking professional help in the form of counseling, talking therapies, medications, or a combination of these. Do not hesitate to ask the advice of your doctor or psychologist/therapist if you feel overwhelmed and need directions.
Dr Olivia Remes, mental health researcher and author of The Instant Mood Fix
Take a dose of positive emotion
January can dampen our moods but taking a dose of positive emotion, such as by watching your favorite comedian for five to 10 minutes, can offer a lift. This boost can make it easier to get things done. This is a great hack when our motivation dips, as is bound to happen when we’re dealing with the monotony of working from home again. A boost of positive emotion also raises your endorphin levels (feel-good chemicals in the body), and lowers your stress hormone levels.
Increase your tolerance of uncertainty
One thing that can help us during this time is tackling intolerance of uncertainty—becoming more comfortable with “not knowing” rather than letting it fuel our fears. In my coaching practice, when I ask people who may be struggling with anxiety how they’ve been trying to cope, oftentimes they will say that they’ve been trying to increase the certainty, doing everything they can to feel more sure in an uncertain situation (working longer hours at the expense of their health, indulging superstitions to prevent dreaded outcomes). But doing this only serves to raise their stress and dampen their moods even more. A much more effective way of going about it is working to increase the tolerance. Becoming more tolerant of unpredictable situations—whether it’s job insecurity or this pandemic. You do what you can (getting the work report in on time, wearing a mask in crowded indoor places), and then letting the chips fall where they may.
Oftentimes we think that worrying helps us arrive at a useful solution. And this is why we may become preoccupied with our worries, focusing on worst-case scenarios and trying to mentally solve them. But worrying can dampen our moods.
Find the balance
It’s important to find the balance of Yin and Yang as a means of coping with stress and anxiety and low mood as we return to work, and in light of all these covid variants. Yin is the quality of nourishing and support that helps us be soft and rounded, and Yang will weigh in with energy, fire and passion.
Breathe in joy
Imagine something ahead of you that brings you joy, a real or imagined pet, person, view, that has a good feeling with it. Inhale: breathe in that joy, exhale: just let it go. Float your arms up to chest height as you inhale, and float them down as you exhale. Repeat for one to five minutes.
Inhale, floating both arms up to chest height; and as you exhale your arms float back down. Look for a tiny pause at the bottom of the “out” breath, where your arms are just dangling by your sides. Inhale, taking in; exhale, releasing; and a tiny moment of complete stillness. Repeat for one to five minutes as often as you like.
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