Short days, cold weather, the end of the holidays, and for some, abandoned New Year’s resolutions make for an explosive cocktail: the so-called “January blues”. Defined by feelings of low mood and sadness paired with a lack of energy and motivation, the January blues affect a large part of the global population, despite the feeling of isolation they can give.
In the UK, The Samaritans have assessed that 20% of people experience depression at this time of year, compared to 4.5% at any other time. In the US, 10 million people are affected by the January Blues, a mix of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and post-holiday blues.
Are you getting the winter blues? Check out our tips to deal with the January blues and cope with low mood during darker days.
Seek the light
We mean that literally. Research into seasonal affective disorder suggests that a lack of sunlight could be affecting a part of the brain called the hypothalamus, resulting in changes in melatonin and serotonin levels as well as our internal clock.
Getting as much exposure to natural sunlight as possible can help you deal with low mood in winter. Try to go on a daily walk on your lunch break to get the most light. You can also use a lightbox to get your daily light fix when the sun gets shy.
Can’t seem to get rid of this one, can we? According to various studies, keeping active helps reduce depression and anxiety while also boosting self-esteem and cognitive functioning.
No need to run a marathon or to take up acrobatics. A simple walk or bike ride can do if you’re able to schedule those into your diary. Find a solution that works for you. Why not take this opportunity to catch up on your favorite podcast or call a friend?
Keeping warm can help you prevent colds and flu. However, the cold is not only a threat to your physical health. It can also affect your mental health. Your body uses energy to keep warm. That means being cold drains your energy and can make you feel tired and less inclined to do the things that make you feel happy and productive.
While energy bills are a concern this year, there are other ways you can keep warm if you’re reluctant to turn up the heat. Layer up and keep your feet warm with cozy socks to maintain your body’s temperature. Some people also like to take their shower in the evening to get warm before going to bed.
In winter, we tend to get attracted to foods that are not always what’s best for us. While cheese, potatoes and charcuterie might be winter staples for some, eating them regularly can affect your mental health along with your arteries.
Try to incorporate more healthy foods into your diet to fight low mood in winter. Leafy greens can help boost your immune system, and research such as this study from 2018 show that omega-3 fatty acids you find in mackerel, salmon, walnuts and even chia seeds can help reduce depression symptoms.
Read more about the best foods to fight depression here.
Improving your sleep schedule can help better cope with the January blues. Sleep and mental health are closely intertwined. Bad mental health can lead to sleep problems, but similarly, sleep problems can affect your mood.
Create a bedtime routine that will help you fall and stay asleep more easily to get the rest you need. Avoid screens in the last half hour before bed so you get time to relax and let go of the worries of the day instead of letting them emerge as soon as your head hits the pillow. You can also try journaling to better identify your worries and deal with them appropriately.
Try to go to bed at the same time every day, and strive to get good quality sleep, rather than focusing on how many hours you “should” be getting. Nowadays, most phones have a bedtime mode to help you log off at night and monitor your sleep to improve your habits.
Set realistic goals
January is the time of year we make New Year’s resolutions. It’s also the time of year we drop them. Setting over-ambitious goals in the middle of winter can be a recipe for disappointment.
Review your goals for the year and ask yourself how you can make them more realistic and achievable. Sometimes, it’s not about aiming for the moon. Taking baby steps toward your goals is great too!
Do something fun
The post-holiday blues can make everything feel very dull in January. After the holiday cheer, getting back to work and our daily routine provides a stark contrast. But who said the beginning of the year had to be boring?
Take the time to do things you enjoy. It could be curling up in bed with a good book, starting a new sketchbook, playing cards with friends, going swimming… Whatever floats your boat! Make sure your hobbies are not the first thing to go when you’re busy. You should allocate time to them in the same way you allocate time to your more “serious” activities.
Get on a social media detox
Several studies suggest a strong link between social media usage and symptoms of both depression and anxiety. Often used right before bed, social media has also been found to affect the amount and quality of sleep of users.
A 2018 study published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology found that limiting social media use to half an hour each day could help improve wellbeing. Why not try a light social media detox to beat the January blues?
Practicing gratitude can help us pay more attention to the good things in life and “reprogram” our minds to focus on the positive.
One way to practice gratitude is to write down five things you’re grateful for every night before bed. It’s a way to look back on your day in a positive light and put your worries in perspective.
Try something new
Going back to your usual routine might feel a bit underwhelming after the cheer and warmth of the holidays. Why not spice things up with something new and exciting?