Everybody goes into the New Year full of promise and the best intentions. Yet after the highs of the festive period, January and the cold, dark weather which accompanies it can often leave us feeling low in mood. It is believed that every year in January one day sees the perfect storm of factors contribute towards “Blue Monday”.
Typically, January Blues manifests itself as feelings of low mood, sadness, lack of motivation, tiredness and low energy. It is also the peak season for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which can induce serious depressive episodes during the darker months.
Blue Monday, so-called the most depressing day of the year, falls on January 15th this year. It is typically the third Monday of the month and it is supposedly the saddest day of the year, due to a combination of bad weather, long nights and lingering aftermath of the festive period.
Matthew Gill, Regional Director of Psychology at Cygnet Health Care offers some insight into the January Blues and how to overcome them.
What are the signs you are suffering from the January Blues?
It is important to remember that the January Blues are not a diagnosed mental health condition. But some signs that you may be struggling are:
• Difficulty sleeping
• Lack of concentration
• A persistent feeling of low mood, irritability or despair
• A loss of pleasure or interest in normal everyday activities
• Low self-esteem
• Feeling stressed or anxious
• A reduced sex drive
• Becoming less sociable
• Lack of motivation to do simple tasks
As a manager, how can you spot if your employee is having difficulties?
Some people may be upfront about their troubles, whereas others will be private and keep feeling to themselves. I would recommend looking out for the following signs and shifts in behaviour, as they could indicate that your employee is facing some struggles this January:
• Lower productivity
• Poor timekeeping
• Poor concentration
• Increase in absence
• Extroverts becoming introverted or vice versa
• Conflict where there was none before
• Reduction in communication
Prioritising wellbeing in the workplace is an effective way to help overcome the back-to-work blues. Sending a simple welcome-back email after the break can increase motivation and be a good way of lifting spirits. During a time when moods are low, the easiest way to pick staff up is by telling them you appreciate the good job they’re doing. Acknowledging hard work is an instant mood booster.
As managers and leaders we should also encourage staff to make the most of the very little sunlight we get to experience during January by encouraging them to go outside during their breaks. It may not always be convenient due to the weather, but even a ten-minute walk and some fresh air can often make a huge difference to our mental wellbeing.
How to overcome your January Blues
Try and identify what it is that is making you feel anxious or sad. Remember, there is nothing wrong with asking for help. Sharing how you are feeling with family, friends or somebody you trust is a first step to overcoming these feelings.
Many people will be going through the same or similar feelings, but you may not realise it. Understanding that it is a natural response is helpful and the best way to do that is to communicate with people and be open about how you are feeling.
We all need someone to talk to and Cygnet’s Employee Assistant Programme (EPA) also provides you with access to mental health support should you experience difficulties like stress or anxiety.
2. Set Healthy Boundaries – The Power of Saying No
Overcommitting can be a big problem in January as we try to embrace the new adventures and opportunities of a new year. Saying no can seem risky. We worry about offending others, damaging relationships, or hurting our own reputation.
Yet saying no can create more mental health stability by helping with self-care and build your self-esteem and confidence by setting boundaries.
As human beings we don’t like to disappoint or burden others but cramming our schedules can lead to us feeling overstretched and ultimately, stressed and burnt out. Don’t spread yourself too thing, prioritise your own wellbeing.
Try saying: “I don’t want to say yes and then let you down, so it’s a no this time,” if we need to let people down politely.
3. Stay Connected
January’s bleak weather and lack of funds can make it very tempting to stay home all day when we are off work. But instead of giving in to staying in, it’s worth finding ways of staying active and sociable. It is really important to have face to face social interactions with our friends, family and colleagues so that we feel connected and supported by each other.
4. Get as much daylight as possible
Lack of daylight is partly why people suffer from “The January Blues”. Not getting enough sunlight and Vitamin D, has been shown to decrease our happiness and leaves us feeling down in the dumps. The sunlight can make you feel better and also help to regulate your sleep cycles properly. Exposure to natural light increases the level of serotonin in the brain, which is associated with improved mood.
5. Keep Active
One of the best ways to improve wellbeing and mood is to get some exercise. A brisk walk with friends can be a great way to get some fresh air and release endorphins which will make you feel happier and healthier. Regular exercise has been proven to reduce stress, help improve self-esteem levels and relieve depressive tendencies.
6. Be Kind to Yourself
One of the reasons why people suffer from the January Blues is that they are overly ambitious with their New Year’s resolutions and are left feeling unhappy when they can’t fulfil them. Making resolutions to better yourself is a good thing, but make sure they are things you can stick to. Avoid difficult and vague resolutions such as “save money”, “be more organised” and make sure it is one you can actually achieve and measure. Remember to slow down and make some time for yourself.
7. Eat properly
What we put in our bodies can make a huge difference to our mood. When feeling down, you’re more likely to eat poorly, and either eat too much or too little. Having a varied, balanced diet can work wonders to improve your mood.
It is normal for us to want more fatty and heavy food during the cold months of winter. Apart from being very unhealthy, sugar crashes cause tiredness and make you crave food unnecessarily. You can improve how you feel by eating a good, varied diet with things like oily fish and take extra vitamin D – the ‘sunshine vitamin’.
A healthy diet will boost your mood, give you more energy and stop you putting on weight over winter. Balance your craving for carbohydrates, such as pasta and potatoes, with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables. Our Employee Assistance Programme (EPA) can provide you with access to a Get Fit Programme and support you with nutritional advice.
8. Sleep well
National Sleep Foundation guidelines advise that healthy adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep per night. Poor sleep can have a negative impact on your mental health and lead to you feeling irritable, anxious and worried.
Switching phones and tablets off at least 90 minutes before you go to bed can help you to relax, feel less anxious and get a good night’s sleep.
9. Learn Something New
Getting creative or learning a new skill is an ideal way to gain a sense of achievement and boost your confidence. There are plenty of hobbies you can take up indoors. Learn how to paint or cook, or try writing a journal. When you tap into your creativity, studies show that you reduce your stress levels and experience fewer symptoms of depression.
10. Get help for financial pressure
With money worries being one of the largest wellbeing challenges facing us during January and also in the months ahead with the cost of living crisis, more and more of us are experiencing stress about dealing with financial pressures. Worrying about money can negatively affect your mental health and the stress of dealing with financial pressures does not just affect your personal life, it can affect your work, family life, health, and relationships. Financial advice / support is available through our Employee Assistance Programme (EPA) which can help you find some practical solutions to these difficulties.
11. Use positive affirmations
Try to start every day with a positive thought, saying, memory, or quote that sets you up for the best possible start. Don’t forget to keep reminding yourself of it throughout the day too. The Cygnet Rewards portal has a wealth of free health and wellbeing information in the Wellbeing Centre. It also includes advice and tools to support your physical and mental health.
12. Be grateful for what has happened
Focus on the positive things taking place all around you – no matter how small. For example, you can be grateful for having a good night’s sleep, completing your work on time. Remember to treasure the little wins and celebrate your achievements, this helps to move your focus away from the negatives.