Dr. Deb’s Mental Health Vitamin: Fighting off the January blues
By Dr. Deb Wade
GCU Vice President, Counseling and Psychological Services
Have you felt the “jolt” that can come in January? If you’ve experienced it, you know it!
It comes around the third or fourth week of the month – you know, that “cradle time” between the excitement of the New Year, filled with goals … and the reality burst, when all remnants of Christmas decorations are packed away in storage, resolutions seems unmanageable and unattainable, the routine has resumed and the “glitter” is gone.
It is a time when many can begin to sink into a depressed mood and even can begin to feel some anger and resentment build, often without even knowing the trigger. This sluggishness and general “down in the dumps” sensation is often referred to as the January blues.
So what is behind this “jolt” and how can we assure that this is a seasonal thing and not something more serious that should be inspected more closely?
Professor Ed Watkins of the Mood Disorders Centre at the University of Exeter explains this dilemma in a very succinct and clear manner:
“Depressed mood is often exacerbated by a perception of a gap between how someone wants things to be and how they actually are. These actual-ideal discrepancies are highlighted at this time of year … there are cultural messages around Christmas and the New Year about goodwill to all people, the importance of spending time with close friends and family, having fun and making new starts. However, for people who are isolated or finding these activities difficult for whatever reason, this stark contrast can make them feel inadequate and blue.”
Add to this the notion that the newness of the exciting start of a new year has begun to lose its glimmer, that routine has settled back in and the energy for striving toward the goals and accomplishments one self-promised has waned, and you have a perfect set-up for an emotional crash.
So what in the world can we do? I believe that one of the best antidotes to depressed mood, melancholy or the “blues” is ACTION. For example:
- Start – or continue – your exercise routine. The “high” one experiences with aerobic activity is real. The accomplishment one feels from striving, sweating and achieving new heights of endurance is like a monster fighting the blues … and ultimately chasing them away.
- Have at least one thing planned per week that you are looking forward to. And, please note, don’t wait for a feeling of “wanting” to go to motivate you. Rather, determine to go and just do it … your feelings of pleasure and contentment will arrive after you’ve gone!
- Don’t beat yourself up if you’ve gained some weight. If you do, you will ever so slightly give yourself permission to continue. It doesn’t mean you are weak, irresponsible or worthless. Just circle a date on the calendar, make it nonnegotiable and get back on track.
- Stretch yourself. You’ve never been to a ballet, an opera, a museum, a rodeo or a professional sports event? Decide to do something that is completely out of your comfort zone. You will feel soooo good when you do it!
- Clean out your closets, your pantry, your garage, your attic. When you tackle a place that has accumulated some clutter, the remarkable thing that occurs is that YOU feel less cluttered! It is liberating to realize that you have cleared out some clutter, some cobwebs, and have overcome a mounting eyesore that was possibly bringing you down.
- Since January can sometimes be a month that is dark and cold, which leads to hibernation and reclusiveness, find ways to counter it so that you add some vitality and brightness to your world. Wear something bright and colorful, invite friends in OR burst open the blinds, challenge the outside dreariness and see the positives anyway! It is a choice, you know!
Let’s not let the “January Jolt” win! We can defeat the blues that tend to occur during the cradle of this month.
Rather, kick open the door, let in some brisk fresh air, renew your commitments for self-improvement and get back on the bandwagon of life enjoyment. You – and I – can defeat this Jolt and diminish it to a mere whimper!