For some reason January just seems to go on forever. I’m sure we’ve all seen the memes about how long January feels.
Original Tweet: Via @BishopCognac
And I’m sure we’re all aware that March, May, July, August, October and December all have 31 days too, so what’s so special about January?
The days are beginning to get longer after the winter solstice (December 21st) and the sun is setting later so why is January see as such a long dark month?
In this article we’ll take a look at the psychology behind why we seemingly hate January so much. Note that we won’t be covering the made-up “Blue Monday” in this article as we’ve already talked about that previously.
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For those of you in the Southern Hemisphere, we haven’t forgotten about you! Swap December for June and July for January and you’ll get where we’re coming from!
So as January enters it’s 376th and final day, let’s look at why January is such a long and depressing month.
The December Factor
December is full of anticipation: we have the run-up to Christmas, we’re often attending various parties and family gatherings, we have present shopping to do, there are pretty lights up everywhere and there’s the prospect of time off over the Christmas break for some of us.
As we start getting closer to Christmas, it’s quite common for people to postpone tasks until after the holiday break: “Let’s circle back to this in the New Year”, “We’ll put a pin in that until after the holidays”.
The problem with this? You have to deal with all of these delayed tasks when you get back to work in January. This can lead to overwhelm and a feeling of lack of control, this can have a huge negative impact on your motivation and productivity furthering the thought that January is to blame as it’s seen as a month that’s more busy and stressful than others.
All the parties, the gift-giving, great food and celebrations in December can raise dopamine levels making December the “feel good” month. When all of these fun activities start to dwindle as we move into the New Year, dopamine levels drop and we start to feel more depressed (see ‘What Is “January Brain”?’ below.)
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The Boredom Factor
As said above, December is full of activities and anticipation: parties, New Year and trips out. January tends to be a bit of a dead zone when it comes to socialising and as a result that can make the month seem to drag on and on.
In December you were probably out every weekend (if not night!) having fun, but in January a lot of people are trying to recover financially, mentally and physically from the holiday season and so we tend to stay inside more and this can make the month seem much longer.
The Resolution Factor
January is seen as the time that we should be making a fresh start. The mantra “New Year, New You!” is on many people’s minds.
This may take the form of a diet, new exercise regime or dry January and this change of lifestyle can weigh heavily on people.
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Essentially you’re removing all of the fun elements you might have had in December (a glass of wine with dinner, extra chocolates etc.) and almost forbidding yourself from having them. This can impact your motivation and mood in a detrimental way, making the month seem like it’s dragging due to the lack of enjoyment you’re now feeling.
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Resolutions also force us to look at the previous year and examine what we did and, more importantly, didn’t accomplish. This can lead to frustration at the lack of progress you made on a certain aspect of your life and this will again have a negative impact on your mood and motivation further making January seem like it’s a terrible (and lengthy) month.
What Is “January Brain”?
The word might not be scientific it certainly sums up the feeling January gives us in a nice succinct nutshell!
Brain fog, a lack of motivation and general feelings of malaise all seem to be more prevalent in January – more so than in other months at least.
January brain can be seen as “Mental Sluggishness“, we’re not quite back to our usual productive selves and struggle to get through the most mundane tasks like replying to all those emails we put off in December.
Some research has shown that levels of dopamine drop over the winter months and can fall even more in January post-party season. This can cause us to feel even more depressed and less motivated than usual meaning that days feel longer and that January seems to last forever.
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There’s also some scientific research that has linked “January Brain” to our more primitive selves when we used to be hunter-gatherers and would normally be shacked up in a nice warm cave over the winter months. This seems to make our brain work differently in the winter than in the summer when we’re generally more active.
What Can We Do About It?
There are many things you can do to mitigate the effects of a never-ending January and while It might (hopefully/finally) be the last day of the dreaded month, the following tips can still be applied to any month when you might be feeling a little bit down – but make sure you bookmark this page for next year!
Plan Fun Activities
We’ve spent the whole of December running around seeing friends and family and generally socialising only to have January feel like a barren social wasteland.
With this in mind, plan some fun activities across the month, they don’t have to cost a lot either. You could organise a movie night with friends or family, play some board games or go on a walk in a local park.
Anything that breaks up the monotony of the month will help alleviate your low mood.
Get Some Exercise
As suggested above, a nice walk can really help lift your mood – and it doesn’t have to cost anything!
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Remember that exercise doesn’t have to be linked to resolutions either: you don’t have to try to achieve some arbitrary goal of x thousand steps or y minutes per day, just walk when you have the time and energy.
If you feel up to it, now is the perfect time to dust of that gym membership you’ve been meaning to use for the past 12 month. Again, don’t fee like you have to set a specific goal as that can actually be detrimental to improving your mood. Instead just do what you feel capable of doing and if it turns into a routine then that’s great!
Get Enough Sleep
The amount and quality of sleep we have has a huge impact on our mood, motivation and productivty and January has been named the worst month for sleep so it’s not surprising that we are feeling tired and run down.
Early sun sets, getting up when it’s still dark and the stress of returning to work all have an impact on our sleep cycles and circadian rhythm which is turn affects how we feel which further adds to the feeling that January never seems to end.
Make sure you’re getting enough water during the day, try to stick to a set schedule, avoid too much blue light an hour before bed and think about using relaxation techniques such as meditation to help you nod off.
You might also consider using the “Scandinavian Sleeping Method” although that might not work for everybody!
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Get More Sunlight
January is quite a dreary month for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere and when we’re in the office we’re usually under artificial lighting which does us no good at all.
Try to get out of the office at lunch time and take a little walk (we’ve seen above how beneficial this can be), this will also expose you to natural light which can help improve your sleep cycle and improve mood.
Sunlight can also fix your circadian rhythm and help your day get off to a good start but this is difficult to do during the dark, dreary January mornings. Think about using a specialised SAD Alarm Clock Lamp, these are lights which mimic a natural sunrise getting brighter as the time moves closer to your alarm wakeup time. Using a natural light alarm can help you wake up more gently and also improve your exposure to “good” light.
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I don’t know about you, but having a good declutter really boosts my mood. Not only does it give me a nice space to live/work in, it also makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something even if that “something” is just taking the recycling out.
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Getting organised isn’t just about having a quick tidy, it can also mean planning. Whether you want to just plan out a week, a month or schedule things in for a whole year organising your appointments, recurring tasks/chores, vacation days, family get-togethers and more can really boost your seratonin by giving you a sense of order and control.
Eat The Right Foods
There are many “mood boosting” foods (and no, they don’t all involve chocolate!)
Fish that are high in omega-3 oils such as salmon and mackerel, eggs, iron-rich foods such as spinach should be on the menu and if you’re looking for a little treat opt for dark chocolate instead of milk.
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Make sure you eat no later than 3 hours before you head to bed and if you are desperate for a midnight snack opt for something like bananas or almonds.
Take A Social (Media) Break
The festive period is often full of social interactions and sometimes we just need to be able to recharge, this applies to your social media accounts as well.
Because we have extra time over the Christmas holidays it’s usual for us to spend more time scrolling through our social feeds so consider taking a break (or limiting the time spent) from social media, especially as some of them are becoming increasingly toxic, especially in the run-up to some important elections around the globe.
Understand It’s Okay To Feel Blue
There seems to be a lot of societal pressure to always be happy, bubbly and perfect especially with the amount of social media we consume.
Remember that what we see online does not necessarily reflect what is happening in the real world – filters, people passing off rented cars and Airbnbs as their own property and “stretching” of the truth has turned social media into a “keeping up with the Joneses” warzone where if you aren’t putting out a persona that fits in you’re no longer relevant.
This lead to Instagram being rated the “rated worst media for mental health” in 2017 and I can’t see that status having improved in the past 7 years either. Factor in trolls on Twitter (I will not call it “X” no matter what) that will come at you for the smallest perceived slight and it’s no wonder we can feel depressed and “less than”.
Try to accept that you don’t have to be happy 100% of the time and know that it’s normal but if you’re starting to feel overwhelmed and like you can’t carry on please reach out to a trusted friend, family member or helpline in your local country to talk through your feelings.
Over To You
What do you think about January? Are we making a mountain out of a molehill or does this one particular month really drag on for what seems like forever?
Let us know in the comments below, and drop your tips for coping with the January blues and January brain (or July Blues and July Brain for my southern-hemisphere readers).
I for one am thankful it’s February tomorrow!