January is a month of cold weather, dark mornings, early nights, financial hangovers (more so during the current cost of living crisis) and New Year’s resolutions being broken. The result, some argue, is feelings of low mood, sadness, lack of motivation, tiredness and low energy.
The following advice from clinical psychologists, GPs and wellness experts offers steps people can take to beat the January blues.
Dr Marianne Trent, Clinical Psychologist at Good Thinking Psychological Services: “We often find that the frenetic energy ahead of the Christmas break combined with the enticement of some time off, can carry us through until the New Year. But then January hits and suddenly the continuation of the darker mornings and evenings, acceptance of the idea of you must go back to a job which may not fill you with joy, combined with the increased costs to live, can make things feel a bit bleak. It might also feel that it’s ‘another year gone’ and cause reflections on how many more we’ll get and whether we have achieved ‘enough’. It can be helpful to prepare in advance by scheduling time with people whom you feel validated by and/or those who make your heart feel full or tears of laughter slide down your cheeks. Focusing on rest, wellness and nourishing yourself well can also be incredibly helpful.”
Dr Felicity Baker, clinical psychologist and co-founder at wellbeing and resilience training providers Ultimate Resilience: “It is thought that around two million people in the UK suffer from the winter blues, with people of all ages affected, including children. Linked to a reduction in exposure to sunlight, increases in the neurotransmitter melatonin affect our emotions and behaviour. This can lead to us feeling depressed and unmotivated. But there are a number of strategies that can help.
“On brighter days, try going outdoors particularly at midday when the sun is at its highest. Sitting near windows and painting your home with pale colours will allow you to benefit from reflected light from outside. Giving yourself time to rest is key to managing the winter blues. Taking time out to relax, engaging in a hobby, talking to a friend or watching a movie may feel indulgent but will help you to feel more energised.”
Linda Doe, chartered psychologist at Linda Doe: “Every year we are bombarded by New Year/new you/better you/best you resolution messages in the media and from those around us. The thing is, this is not the time of year for resolutions – the animal world is going underground, conserving, resting and waiting for Spring, which IS a great time for planning and goal setting and emerging into the light. The added pressure on those with mental health and family challenges through the Christmas/holiday period is one thing; followed up by pressure to pop up full of beans in January? – it causes a stress that can leave some of us feeling irritated, often intuitively out of synch with the world and those around us…but at worst it can be the stress that tips vulnerable individuals over the edge. Time to rest and reflect and keep warm – which is a further challenge right now.”
Dr Nikki Ramskill, The Female Money Doctor: “I think we buy into this idea that January is a miserable month far too easily. Yes, January can seem dull in comparison to December, but why not make a new tradition out of January? We always need something to look forward to. It has been shown that it is the anticipation of something happening that releases dopamine (a.k.a the “feel-good” hormone) in our brains, so plan to do something fun in January. Use up those vouchers you were given at Christmas so they don’t become one of the 10-19% of cards never used. Plan a change of scenery and go away for a weekend. If you’re worried about money, try veganuary or dry January and raise money for others less fortunate than you. It’s also a great month to plan out the rest of the year with fun things and focus on building healthy habits all year rather than harsh “resolutions” that never work.”
Sophie Green, wellness travel expert at luxury wellness holidays and retreats provider Health Travel: “We know it’s not for everyone, as with the current cost of living climate, it does depend on budget. But we certainly see an uplift in enquiries for Health Retreats in the New Year. During December we have seen people pre-booking a weight-loss or fitness retreat to kick-start their 2023, and hopefully, carry those new habits with them throughout the year. Some clients have booked New Year’s retreats purely for relaxation & de-stress and to have a break from the winter cold and dark; something we know is a big factor in the January blues.”
Sylvia Tillmann, TRE provider at TremendousTre: “Low mood, sadness, lack of motivation, tiredness and low energy? Shake it off!
“Shaking is our body’s innate reaction to deal with stress and by doing so we reset the nervous system, can feel calmer, deeply relaxed, more positive and more resilient.
“Once learned, it’s a tool for life and many people who practice TRE (Tension Releasing Exercises) can save time and money as they are now helping themselves (seven minutes!), rather than being treated by somebody else.”
Dr Suhail Hussain – private GP in Herts and greater London: “There is well known phenomenon called SAD (seasonal affective disorder). During the winter months people are more prone to low mood and anxiety due to lack of sunshine.This can affect circadian rhythms and production of melatonin and serotonin (feel good hormones) by the brain.
“Coupled to overindulgence at xmas, family feuds and false hopes pinned on the belief that there is a magic day “first of January” following which everything will be better it’s the perfect recipe for an untrammelled disaster.
“Far better to make realistic plans that are not time or situation bound and have positive, achievable milestones and encouraging people tied to them to ensure a happier, healthier outcome.
“A first good step – talk to a professional who will cut the flannel and lay things out as they are, whilst simultaneously supporting you.”