By Angela Heeley
Although many us of struggle through the holiday season, January has the distinction of being commonly referred to as, “the most depressing month of the year”.
There are many reasons for this. Holiday spending catches up with us, as does the fatigue of the December hustle and bustle. Social engagement and helpful connections, so prevalent the month prior, return to their baseline, leaving some people feeling lonelier, with less opportunity for supports like community dinners, charity drives, etc. Winter weather, as always, can put a damper on things.
Of course, January can represent a fresh start, an entire year ahead to make changes.
“This year will be different,” we say. It is important not to let this sense of optimism lead us into self-sabotage.
Take the tried and true new year’s resolutions. Here we are, tired and depleted, yet how often do we decide to make a commitment to something that furthers our strain? When we can’t achieve what we set out to, we may judge ourselves for “failing”.
Rather than look at January as the month where we set new obligations for ourselves, we can look at it as a time of reflection and restoration. Try “meeting yourself where you are now” rather than where you think you should be. It is okay if you are not feeling your best, and if things don’t look bright.
For some of us, the toll of 2023 felt like running an emotional marathon. Instead of pressuring ourselves to start the “race” of 2024, it is okay to rest and recuperate.
One of the benefits of the quiet of January is the time it gives us to slow things down and pace ourselves. A good way to start is by addressing factors related to the winter months. Less exposure to sunlight, vitamin D and physical activity can leave us feeling physically and emotionally depleted.
Try to get outside during the day for fresh air and sunshine when possible. If you can’t get outside, try sitting next to a window. Light therapy has also been a successful option for many people. Getting movement and exercise is helpful to our overall health as well.
Even if we are stuck inside, getting up and moving around helps us. If you feel overwhelmed, try “chunking” your activity. If you can’t manage a 30-minute walk for example, try getting active for 10 minutes, three times throughout the day. Consult with your doctor about monitoring your vitamin intake, activity and any dietary changes that may improve how you are feeling.
Just as our bodies can fall into an inactive state, so can our minds. Many of us, when faced with a lack of stimulation, will occupy our minds with ruminating, judging, worrying and all sorts of things that can lead us to spiral into an unhappy state. Ensuring that we are engaged and occupied can be a healthy distraction, and can also enhance our sense of self-worth.
Pursuing hobbies and interests can keep us mentally active, which can be crucial, especially when we are confined to the indoors. Rather than passively sitting on the couch staring at TV, we can try baking, crafts, reading, playing games, doing puzzles, journaling, or whatever interests us. You don’t have to become an expert, the process is the point.
Be selective about where you direct your mental and emotional energy. Limit things like using social media and watching the news if you find it to be detrimental.
Finally, know that you are not alone.
“January blues” became a term because it is a common, collective experience, not just an individual struggle. Being in a state of relative isolation makes it all the more important to reach out. Check in on friends, neighbours and community members. Make a phone call, pay a visit, or even drop a note into someone’s mailbox.
If you need support, it is only a phone call away. You can call HERE 24/7 at 1-844-437-3247 in Waterloo Wellington for crisis support, as well as access to local mental health supports. You can also call Canada’s new “988” hotline for suicide prevention and mental health crisis support.
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Angela Heeley is a mental health promotion and education coordinator at the Canadian Mental Health Association of Waterloo Wellington.
The “Open Mind” column is sponsored by community partners who are committed to raising awareness about mental health, reducing stigma and providing information about resources that can help. For local mental health resources/information, visit www.mdsgg.ca or call 1-844-HERE247.