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6 Tips for Overcoming the 'January Blues'

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It’s mid-January: Christmas and New Year celebrations have been and gone, with nothing new to look forward to. Fairy lights and decorations have been taken down, family and friends have returned back to home and work, the novelty of new gifts has worn off, the pressure to achieve something big and new this year has started to cause unnecessary stress, and everywhere and everything just seems darker and gloomier than it has before. Even if mental illness isn’t present in your family, many of us struggle with what I’ll call the “January Blues.” Whether we’re consciously aware of it or not, people on a whole seem to have a tendency to slump into general dissatisfaction, unhappiness and habitual negativity more so at this time of year than any other. This may manifest itself in different ways, but if you notice yourself becoming more apathetic, short-fused, weary and detached at this time of year – it’s likely you’ve been affected by this reality, too.

This can be an extremely difficult time for many, and sometimes there is no quick and easy fix, particularly if there are more deep-seated, ongoing mental or emotional concerns taking place. I cannot claim that any of these things will heal or cure anything such as this; however, there are some small positive changes we can all endeavor to make to lift our mood just a fraction as we push on into this new season.

Here are my top six tips for overcoming the January Blues:

1. Make your new year goals realistic, measurable and accountable so that you’re not discouraged.

Many of us fall into the same trap year after year: we set ourselves goals of reaching a certain point by a certain time and enter January with all the right intentions and optimism. But very quickly, good habits slip, our goal seems a lot harder to achieve than we originally thought, motivation is lost, life gets busy and before we know it we’ve completely lost sight of what we were originally headed for. Our goals need to be realistic and measurable if we are to make any progress at this. Instead of setting goals for points far off in the future, start small. Measure it by the week. For example, if your new year goal is to cut out sugar in your tea and coffee, going from tea with two sugars immediately to none isn’t going to taste good, and isn’t going to be very good at encouraging you to continue. Similarly, setting monumental fitness goals without starting small and working up slowly is going to be very difficult (and potentially dangerous). Of course, this method doesn’t work for all changes (e.g. smoking and drinking habits) – however, being accountable to someone is also a key to success in almost all circumstances. Have someone check in on you, encourage you, remind you.

2. Discover some new music to listen to.

This one has been particularly refreshing for me this year. There’s a wealth of scientific and social evidence that music affects our mood and I think this also extends to the everyday as well as those times when our emotions are heightened. Listening to something new instead of having the same 20 songs on repeat again and again can be incredibly refreshing and symbolic – even if those 20 are dynamic and special. I know I personally attach the music to which I’m listening to to the events in my life, and often this can bring down my mood if it’s a negative time or linked to a time or space I need to stop dwelling on. My senior mentor at church recently introduced me to Bruce Springsteen – not something I would have naturally gone for – but I’ve since become a bit of a fan. If you use a music streaming service, check out their music recommendations and playlists (I can promise they’re not always weird and awful), or you can hunt through for some cheap CDs in a second-hand shop.

3. Write down three things you’re thankful for every day.

Please don’t stop reading here. I know many people will roll their eyes when they hear this advice, as it sounds deplorable, pointless exercise. But it isn’t. It’s been proven that thankful people are happier people. I can send you some papers via Google Scholar if you wish. Taking the time every day to write down three separate, specific things you are thankful for that day, in particular, is a powerful tool against discontentment. It gets easier and easier with practice, and on a particularly rough day, you can look back at your notes as a reminder.

4. Try to do one positive thing for yourself and others every day.

Make your bed. Smile at a stranger. Eat breakfast. Buy someone a coffee. Draw the curtains. Text a friend to ask how they are. Clean your car. Pick up a piece of litter. There’s joy in the small but purposeful things that help us to think a little wider than ourselves.

5. Remember your self-care.

If self-care is a struggle for you, it should be a top priority this time of year. By this, I don’t mean it’s OK to sit wrapped up in your duvet all day, every day. Self-care includes giving your body what it needs (physically and mentally), even if you don’t feel like doing so. Eating well, keeping mobile, resting, setting a rigid bedtime routine, taking a hot shower. It also includes doing nice things for yourself – do a face mask, paint your nails, go for a walk, take a bath, read a good book. Even if self-care isn’t usually a struggle for you, it can be so easy to let these daily things slip without recognizing. Make a conscious effort to include self-care in your routine.

6. Plan something to look forward to.

In mid-January, when Christmas feels long gone and summer feels a long time away, it can feel as though we are gliding through life aimlessly without anything to look forward to. Put things in your diary that you can look forward to in order to keep the everyday morale just that little bit higher. Plan a holiday. Arrange to see a friend. Book a spa day. Whatever does it for you.

While these tips don’t offer a quick fix and are not clinical treatments, they are what I call “purpose builders.” They offer the mind something to focus on, daily and looking forward, and they encourage us to consciously engage in fulfilling all our basic, psychological and self-fulfillment needs (see Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to discover what these are). If that’s not somewhere to start in beginning to combat our January blues, then I don’t know where is.

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Getty Images photo via Ridofranz

Originally published: January 19, 2018
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