Why January Blahs?

Did you say more yesses than usual over the holiday season to people wanting to connect with you professionally, or otherwise too?

It just started rolling off my heart, “Sure, how about after the first of the year.” And now that we are getting closer to the time, it occurs to me that there is more on the calendar than usual—during a month when my energy, even though I fell great right this minute, tends to drift lower over the course of this month.

January is the month my father died suddenly when I was 15 years old. You might think I’d be over that by now, but no. (The Body Keeps the Score is a great book on why that is so.) Some years are easier than others. It usually sneaks up on me. One January day I just remember, “Oh yeah, that again, that’s why I feel like this.”

But a lot of people get blah in January. I just looked it up: “A new YouGov survey of more than 15,000 US adults shows that January is the most disliked month.”

One woman called it the “Monday of Months…The end of fun, joy, tranquility and dreams. The return of the reality. The same is with January.”

Why so? What is it about January? Too many things to count actually. Here are some:

January seems to take the cake for being the most depressing. Post-holiday letdown turns into failed New Year’s resolutions, which are exacerbated by short days, long nights, bad weather, and holiday credit card bills. This kind of low-level winter depression seems to be a seasonal fact of life. “It’s very common for people to get down during long winter months,” says Dawn LaFrance, PsyD, associate director of the Counseling Center at Colgate University in upstate New York.

True, and given the holidays November and December, people in general may just be tired.

But another way to think about it is simply that January is just not December. Life is different. Things have changed. Change demands adjustment. And adjustment to change, in and of itself, is stressful. So, let’s talk about stress.

Defining Stress

From the World Journal of Gastrointestinal Pathophysiology:

Stress can be defined as any threat to an organism’s homeostasis[,]. The function of the stress response is to maintain homeostasis and may involve both physiological and behavioral adaptations[].

One common misconception is that we are stressed from something bad. But researchers have known for a long time that this is simply not true. Stress is not about good or bad as much as it is about the demands on our system to adapt to change.

Because the exertion to adapt may feel bad, we think it is bad, when we may actually be trying to adapt to something good.

Check out the life event stress rankings on the famous Holmes-Rahe Life Stress Inventory, Social Readjustment Rating Scale. There you will see that good things, such as vacations and outstanding personal achievements, are considered stressful.

The item on that scale that says it best, though, is the change in the number of arguments with spouse. The stress points for that are not based on whether there are more or fewer arguments, but simply that there has been a change in the number of arguments in either direction.

So, January may be especially challenging for, among other reasons, just how different it is from what came before it, rather than because January is bad.

In fact, if “Life is what our thoughts make it” (Marcus Aurelius), well then, our thoughts can make January better.

I actually love what’s on my January calendar, even if it is more and different. And I am filled with momentum for the coming year, based on the good that came before it.

Thinking this way puts my life on a continuum that makes movement into January not such a jolt and, in so doing, reduces my stress. I also heard that planning your next vacation can ease the transition from the possibly higher spirits of December to January’s relative lows.

Here are some other tips.

2 Tips for a Better January

1. Free Time: As posted earlier, science suggests that we schedule in some daily free time, not too much, not too little, 2-5 hours, no more, no less, just right:

Free Time is discretionary time. So, does it matter how the so-called free time is spent. Yes, it does. Psychologist and professor, Cassie Holmes, warns that too much free time can interfere with our sense of purpose, which then interferes with our happiness. So, she recommends a variety of ways to spend discretionary time that increase sense of purpose and, in so doing, our sense of being more ‘time affluent’ too.

To this, I would like to add: 

2. Feeling Time: Again, January can be taxing to many, for many reasons—a month filled with feeling. What we resist persists and can come back even stronger, so here is a favorite Rumi poem on how to do more good than harm when your own feelings arise.

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

~ Rumi ~

IOW, just let them come, and let them go. And when they come back, good chance they may, let them come, and let them go, again…and again, as a way of life.

If there is action to take, by all means take it, but then the feelings have served their purpose, so it is fine to let them go.

It takes, and wastes, tremendous amounts of energy to fight them, and when we let them come, get what we need from them, and let them go, it frees up all of that energy for whatever your heart desires.

Practice, practice, practice…and see what happens. And for help with this or something else, Contact Me at [email protected]

Warm wishes for 2023!


Photo by Pexels Ready Made

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About the Author: Madelaine Weiss
Madelaine Claire Weiss (LICSW, MBA, BCC) is a Licensed Psychotherapist, a Board Certified Executive-Career-Life Coach, and bestselling author of “Getting to G.R.E.A.T. 5-Step Strategy for Work and Life.” sfas

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