My strategy to beat the January blues

January Blues

‘I feel stuck. Life seems to be on hold and I’m living in limbo, waiting for something to shift. It’s difficult to sleep at night and focus on work during the day. If I can’t kick-start my positivity soon these January blues may turn into a deeper depression’.

I wrote this in January 2022 with the third Monday, the most miserable day of the year, less than a week away. The covid pandemic was still a thing and it was all beginning to take its toll. I had coped really well in 2020 and I threw myself into doing up and selling our London flat. I dreamed of a new life by the coast but in 2021 things didn’t quite go to plan. The new home remained tantalisingly out of reach and my partner had to have spinal surgery. The post-Christmas period is generally acknowledged as being hard on our mental health. Short and dark days make it difficult to get the sunlight, fresh air and exercise we need. Instead my instinct is to comfort eat carbs and drown out my sorrows with alcohol.

This is my strategy for banishing the January blues.

Take control

Depression and I are very old enemies. I recognise the signs when black clouds are gathering. The first thing I do is to own my state-of-mind and prepare to go into battle. If this sounds like fighting spirit let me assure you I only have the energy for the simple affirmation, ‘I have the January blues’. I also tell someone else how I feel. Speaking it out loud somehow helps to take control. I usually tell my brother who is no stranger to dark days himself.

Next I attempt to write this post. Writing is a carthartic process for me. I began this blog in menopausal meltdown and it helped me to keep sane while riding a rollercoaster of mood swings and hot flushes. It really doesn’t matter to me if my words are read or not, but ordering my thoughts helps me process and begin to control them. In this case I haven’t written anything in a very long while and it’s consequently slow progress.

Don’t wallow

A lot of self-help guides say ‘be kind to yourself’. That sounds nice – but candles and massage have never worked for me. I need the discipline of a routine to help me regain energy and focus. Sleep has been a real issue and I either find it hard to fall asleep or I wake early and cannot drift off again. Waking late after a sleepless night only exacerbates the problem – so its strictly to bed at 11pm with a 7am alarm call.

Fill the day

I work for myself and home is also my office so it’s easy, especially in the quiet period after Christmas, to do nothing. Check a few emails, look at social media, repeat. Instead I’m going to schedule the day as much as I can.

During lockdown I did a daily yoga flow before breakfast and I will resurrect that. Dog walks with Ricci need to be a bit longer and brisker to get my step rate up. But it’s back at my desk where I tend to come apart. I will write down a to-do list and work my way through them. Paid work comes first (of course) but if there isn’t any I can write, design self motivated projects, do a few software tutorials or get on top of admin.

If I find myself drifting during the day I’ll pop the washing machine on or steam-clean the floor. Really? Yes. Cleaning is something of a personal obsession as described in my A-Z of eco friendly spring-cleaning tips. The point is that even obsessions go out of the window when I’ve got the January blues. Literally nothing matters. But if I force myself to do these things, bit-by-bit, I can get my mojo back.

The one thing that is sure to improve my mental health is gardening. This is a sore point and it might also be the reason I am feeling so down in the dumps. There is little to do in the garden when it’s cold and wet. Just walking on soil can lead to compaction. It’s too early to sow seeds. Perhaps I need to use this time to watch gardening videos and read-up on inspirational gardeners and gardens.

Get out there

My instinct is to hide away but I know from experience this is not beneficial. I’m going to book some things into the calendar. I’ll arrange to catch up with dog walking chums, go out for dinner with my partner and even take a look at the cinema listings. I’m also going to drop in for a cuppa and a chat with a few friends who have been ill or live on their own. There is nothing in the world like perspective and it is hard to feel miserable when you’re trying to cheer someone else.

Once, many years ago, I broke down in front of my GP. He suggested I took a holiday which I thought was just about the shittiest bit of advice ever. I told my long suffering partner who promptly went round to Thomas Cook and booked a cheap week in Greece. It turned out the doctor was right, it wasn’t a magic cure for my depression, but getting away was a key part of the mending process. Luckily I did make it to the Kent coast and now everyday affords sea views, big skies and windswept beaches. Its easy to pretend I’m on holiday every day. When the sky is blue and the sun is shining being outdoors, even when its cold, is just the best tonic.

Eat healthily

Even a veggie like me can get into a rut of comfort food and treats at this time of year. From now on there will be less carbs and sugar and more fruit, vegetables, salad and soups. I need food that gives me energy and fights the overwhelming desire to slump.

As well as good nutrition a healthy gut is also important to our mental health (if you need to read the science take look at the BBC’s Microbes and Me). To keep those gut bacteria happy I’ll brew up a batch of kombucha and add some kimchi and kefir yoghurt to the shopping list.

Last of all I’ll cut down on alcohol. I will. Promise. I confess it’s not going to be a dry January in this house, but it will definitely be drier.

It will be OK

Most importantly I need to give myself a good talking to: ‘You can nip this in the bud and turn around this bout of January blues. You’ve done it before and you can do it again.’

It might seem cheesy to talk to myself but I have to drown out the negativity of my inner voice. You know the one. It chips away at your self esteem and loves to bring you down.

And that’s my coping strategy. Wish me luck.
Avril x

Image from an original by Kumiko Shimizu by Unsplash