As the new year rolls in, decorations disappear and festive celebrations fade away, it can be easy to slip into regular bouts of low moods, anxiety and even depression at the beginning of January. Thankfully, it’s nothing irregular and millions of people experience these lulls in emotion — often dubbed the “January blues” — every single year.
Typically, the January blues can last a few weeks up to ‘Blue Monday’, which has been coined as the most unhappy day of the year. But, we say, this needn’t be the case. Armed with the right knowledge, scientific knowhow and expert advice, your first foray in 2021 can be a positive one. Below, we’ve assembled the handy hacks and tactful tips that can up-end any low mood when January begins. Let’s get going.
Give Outdoor Workouts The Green Light
The fitness industry’s worst-kept secret is that the best workout for you is the one that you can stick to. For most, this means switching things up and finding a balance between gym-based workouts and outdoor training. Science agrees — a study from the journal PLOS One suggests that getting out of the gym and partaking in steady-state outdoor cardio (trail running, anyone?) made participants considerably happier than indoor workouts such as HIIT or resistance training. Moreover, a study from the public health graduate school at Harvard University found that grinding through physical activity in greenery led participants to live up to 12% longer. That you’ll get a welcome hit of mood-boosting vitamin D is just a bonus.
Switch Up Your Diet
It’s no secret that the festive period is rife with temptation — countless sweet treats, glasses of alcohol and more mince pies than you can shake a cracker at often equate to a more sensible January. Cutting back on the sweet stuff, however, doesn’t have to equal dietary doldrums — instead, learn to work with fresh, seasonal and healthy ingredients (from tagliatelle to tenderstem broccoli and oily fish to oatmeal) — as the journal Social Indicators Research found that people who eat seven or more servings of produce a day were found to be happier and enjoy better mental health.
Use Exercise As a Way to Spend More Time Between The Sheets
Give the January blues a one-two punch by combining a good night’s sleep with a formidable exercise routine. Clinical Sports Medicine published a study detailing how a late-afternoon workout session raised your body temperature and helped participants’ bodies nod off easier. Ideally, hit the weights no later than three hours before your bedtime to get the biggest bang-for-your-buck. On the flipside, set an early AM alarm (a surefire to make sure you’re tired later) to get a morning workout in, which will increase anandamide — the “joy, bliss, delight” hormone — and mood-boosting dopamine en masse.
Get Help With S.A.D.
More often than not, January’s daylight hours — or lack thereof — are a catalyst for the blues, or ‘seasonal affective disorder’ (S.A.D.). Even a rainy or cloudy day will provide your body with the light it needs. It doesn’t have to be a blazing sun. However, if that’s not an option, lean into light therapy. A S.A.D. lamp, for example, offers a low-effort solution to S.A.D., helping improve moods during winter and early spring. Broadly, at-home light therapy involves sitting by a S.A.D. lamp for half an hour every morning, as they’re designed to lessen the effects of the blues by mimicking sunlight and boosting the feel-good hormone serotonin. Check out Lumie’s Vitamin L S.A.D. Lamp to boost your mood.
Have a Cold Shower (Seriously)
Hear us out on this one — while leaving a warm bed for an ice-cold shower will feel like a mortal sin, there’s plenty of science to back up your chilly new habit. By exposing your body to cold, the icy water will activate your sympathetic nervous system — your body’s response to dealing with stressful situations — and spike noradrenaline to make you feel great once you step out. Just have a cup of tea brewing in the meanwhile.
Research from mental health charity Mind shows that four out of five 18 to 34-year-olds put on a brave face when they’re feeling low or anxious, so if you — or a friend — are experiencing persistent low moods, it could be time to reach out. By maintaining active social connections, both your mental and physical health will benefit — analysis of data from 148 separate studies on heart attacked patients showed a 50% higher survival rate for those with stronger social connections. Similarly, when we interact with friends, the feel-good hormone oOxytocin is produced, helping level psychological stability.
Break Off a Slice of Chocolate
Abstinence from chocolate has no place in a balanced lifestyle. You hit your workouts hard, so why not reward yourself? Do so and you’ll break off bountiful benefits, as flavonoids found in dark chocolate can reduce stress-causing hormones that are often instrumental to new year blues. Save some for us though, please.
Limit Your Social Media Intake
Chances are you’re familiar with the fear of missing out — ‘FOMO’, often exacerbated by endless scrolling of social media — but, interestingly, adopting an opposing attitude could be a welcome booster to your mental health. Psychologist Svend Brinkmann penned a book on ‘JOMO’ — the joy of missing out — focusing on the reader giving social media a wide berth at regular intervals. Previously, a San Diego State University study had linked FOMO to “depressive symptoms”, so it pays to switch off. Even Google CEO Sundar Pichai is an advocate of JOMO. Likewise, less-than-positive updates delivered on social media are linked to sharp spikes in the stress hormone cortisol. Time to log off.