January sucks when you live in the Northern hemisphere (and maybe even if you don’t). There are many reasons to feel low during this month: the anti-climatic post holiday return to the office, weight gain, shorter days, less sunlight, and frigid temperatures.
After the festive period is over, it seems like there is less to look forward to other than the coming of Spring. This feeling of being down during the winter months is classified as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) — a type of depression related to the changes in the seasons — but many call it the more colloquial January Blues.
During this time year, loneliness is at its most high, with people staying in more and not socializing. This is especially true for those who may live alone or are single. For me, a break up in the Fall has made me feel considerably more lonely these winter months, over the holidays, and now gearing up to my 31st birthday in February (not feeling this momentous winter occasion).
So how do I get through these dreary times without wasting ALL of my time in front of the TV or gaining 50 lbs (not promising I don’t)?
Below are 6 tips that I find helpful, and aren’t cliché. Many people think it is as simple as “getting yourself out there”, “exercising more”, or “hanging out with friends”. But when it is -30 outside, getting yourself out there could be dangerous.
1. Tell Someone
One of my favourite articles on loneliness was featured in Flare Magazine and written by Briony Smith. The tagline: “We often celebrate the power and pleasures of the single life, but skim over one of its harshest realities: loneliness”. There is an eagerness to discuss (in-depth) everything about one’s personal life, except for what it feels like to feel lonely. The reason, she writes, is because loneliness reads as weakness and it doesn’t align with our goal to be a “#bossbitch”.
But lots of people are lonely, particularly in large cities and among senior citizens, and it is ultimately detrimental to our health. So start to talk about it. Tell someone close to you, that you know will understand, what you are feeling. If don’t have the words to describe it, I have included a great quote below to help you.
People are not mind readers and they may think that you are doing fine or just busy with your life. When they know more, maybe they will invite you over for dinner or to some events. And if they don’t, than maybe they aren’t the friend who is there for you during these types of trying times. But it could open some opportunities to feel less isolated.
It’s a dull sort of pain, like a poke in the eye or the slow ebb of cramps. Often I don’t feel it for a while; there’s a new crush, perhaps, a big project at work, springtime. But then I’ll experience a moment, most often when I am coming home from the cozy confines of dinner or a movie night at a couple’s house, that reminds me I am alone. The pain leaps suddenly, like the horrible surge of heat when you remember you forgot to do something important. Sometimes it spills out of me in tears that trickle down from behind my sunglasses as I sit on the streetcar on my way home from work, inching home toward another solitary meal, another night alone in bed.Briony Smith, Flare Magazine
2. Don’t make unrealistic New Year’s resolutions
Unrealistic resolutions set you up to fail and can make you feel even worse when you cannot fulfil them. If you are going to make resolutions, ensure that they are achievable and realistic so that you aren’t feeling guilty in January.
I think that this is the first year that I made a ‘resolution’, if you can even call it that. And that resolution has failed miserably already. I have not been able to create the blog content I know I should have, and this adds to my stress.
In hindsight, I think that this annual goal was too broad and unrealistic. Instead, perhaps make weekly resolutions — and meet those successfully — so that your entire year is not defined by one unmet goal.
3. Limit your Netflix consumption to 1-2 hours a day
When it is -20 outside, it is hard to do anything but binge watch your favourite shows. But this probably won’t aid in improving your mood.
Netflix knows that peoples have nothing to do in January besides sit inside and watch hours of Marie Kondo folding tiny garments, or learn about the disaster that is the Fyre Island Festival.
What to do instead? Read a book (whoa), write a blog post, cook a bunch of healthy meals for the week (what I have been doing), or clean out your closet or room in your house after each Kondo episode.
Sidenote: This also applies to Amazon Prime video and all other streaming services. I just got out of the rabbit hole that is 3 seasons of Mr. Robot (Rami Malek is my new boyfriend…btw).
4. Plan at least one social event a week — be it an exercise class or simply a coffee with a friend
One thing a week. Just one a week so as not to be overwhelmed. Then look forward to it. For me, I like to plan one set of drinks or dinner and then have a regular occuring yoga session with a friend on weekends.
Exercise is always good for your mind, but I find it even better when you make it a social event. Even if you are huffing or puffing or forced to be quiet (like a yoga class), it is still nice to have a person beside you to enjoy (or maybe endure) it. Also, the locker room banter can make you feel good.
5. Stay off of social media, as much as is humanly possible
It may be a great way to stay connected, but studies show that spending hours scrolling through social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram can make us feel like crap. A recent study from the University of Pittsburgh found that those who spend most time on social media are 2.7 times likely to be more depressed. A UK survey found that one in five people admit to feeling depressed as direct result of using social media.
It seems that flicking through the virtual lives of others can cause anxiety, isolation, low self-esteem and poor sleep. It can also make you feel less-than, as you compare your life to others “perfect lives” on instagram, not knowing that most of it is done solely for the ‘gram in the first place.
How to get off? It’s hard, but try and delete the app on your phone. If you have to use your desktop to see facebook or instagram posts, it may deter you from checking. If you have to check it for your job, limit your time with applications like ‘Screen Time’ that let you know how you are currently using your phone and for how long (that app is terrifying).
6. Know that you are not alone (even when you may feel like you have no friends).
All of these tips are great if you have the friends available to help you fulfill them. As I have gotten older, some friends have disappeared and become less responsive — be it because we don’t have as much in common or they have become absorbed into their relationships (even without children).
But there are always ways to find people to talk to, even if they aren’t your friends. Be it a weight watchers support group, a meditation class, a paint session, or your therapist.
Lots of people will be going through the same or similar feelings, but you may not realise it.
And if you build that network in the winter, maybe you’ll feel even better in the Spring.