Last time on the blog, we explored some strategies for coping with the festive overwhelm that dawns upon many of us towards the end of the year. But now it’s all over, we’re back to school, work, routine resumes, the resolutions have probably started to feel a little less appealing and we may well be feeling pretty… well… awful. Even if we enjoyed Christmas, the last few weeks have been emotionally challenging. So today I’m going to explore some of the things that might trigger the January blues and remind you to go easy on yourself and your mental health in this darkest of months.
Change in routine This is something that we don’t really acknowledge but which is pretty obvious from the way we structure society – people don’t like change. Our brains are pre-programmed to find consistency, routine and predictability more comfortable and when we have those things in place we are less likely to have an anxiety response. Don’t forget, anxiety is not inherently bad – your brain creates an anxiety response to a situation in order to alert you to the possibility that something unexpected is about to happen and get you ready to respond. The holidays from school, college or work, as well as the travelling, preparing and socialising that take place around this time of year are often enough to wake up your brain’s anxiety response as it starts to notice that routine has changed. It’s not necessarily bad, but you will probably experience heightened emotions during this time and as the routine re-emerges, the come down from all that emotional excess can manifest itself as low mood, lack of energy and depression.
Weather It’s pretty widely acknowledged now that there are some very physical aspects to maintaining good mental health and getting plenty of natural daylight is one of those ways. Unfortunately, the stressfulness of Christmas also happens to fall at the darkest and most dreary time of the year. The anticipation of the festive season may keep us afloat in the run up but those days between boxing day and new year can be quite hard work, and the dark days in January don’t help. If you can get out for a walk during daylight hours, that’s a good way to catch whatever rays you can!
Relationships It’s not true for everyone but Christmas can put a strain on relationships – most people tend to spend time with family members that they might not have seen in a while or may not spend regular time with. The intensity of spending time together when we’re not used to it can lead to frayed tempers or issues surfacing that the normal routine of day to day life has allowed us to ignore. There is also a lot of pressure around relationships, particularly the family, at this time of year. Images of Christmas depict perfect, happy families having perfect, happy times and this is often a far cry from the real complexities of family life. Equally, you may not have a family or may not have good relationships with family members. That is, of course, totally okay, but the pervasive images of Christmas may lead us to feel isolated, lonely or that we are in some way missing out as we compare our own situations to the synthetic families shown in the media. As we emerge into the new year we may find ourselves feeling angry, dissatisfied or exhausted with some of the relationships in our lives.
Social pressure People put a lot of pressure on themselves and each other at this time of year. The 'new year, new you' pressure that follows a season of excess and exhaustion means that suddenly we are all imagining lofty visions of self-improvement; thinner bodies, healthier diets, better jobs, dream holidays. Reality is you're probably tired, emotionally drained, cold, and sustaining a bit of a sugar habit developed over the last few weeks. Add to that the fact its raining and cold and the last thing you want to do is go to the gym or eat a salad. You can be forgiven if the weight of all of this becomes too much to bear.
So overall, that’s a lot of energy spent fending off a lot of stress and pressure, and it kind of makes sense that you might not always manage to maintain a super smiley face.
I encourage you to forgive yourself. Every day is the beginning of a new year, technically speaking. And you have the rest of your life to work towards your goals. Sometimes life is just about survival and that is okay. Not every day has to be life changing. Nothing in nature blooms all year round.