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You don’t have to be a depression therapist in Toronto to know that a lot of people have anxiety about going back to work, dealing with Omicron, and everything that goes along with starting a new year.

In the classic ’80s tune “Blue Monday,” the moody, synth-pop group New Order sings:

  • How does it feel
  • When you treat me like you do
  • And you’ve laid your hands upon me
  • And told me who you are?

The singer may be brooding over maltreatment or betrayal from a beloved, but this sentiment also seems pretty apt for January’s infamous Blue Monday—allegedly the single most depressing day of the year.

how to deal with the January blues

Invented about 15 years ago, the term Blue Monday refers to the third Monday in January. The idea was actually a publicity stunt dreamt up by a UK travel company encouraging people to book a tropical getaway, except… there’s a lot of truth in it. January really can be a particularly difficult time for those facing mental health challenges.

Why January is a depressing time

For those of us living in northern climes, January is cold, snowy, windy and dark. Of course, the same is true in December, but a month ago we were looking forward to holiday festivities: gifts, eggnog, latkes, visiting with friends and family, and even holiday music and movies. But now, the bill for all that has come due—literally in some cases, for those who overspent during the holidays. On top of that, there’s not much to look forward to (unless you engage in winter sports). It’s still cold, it’s dark by 5PM, we’re going back to work, and most Canadians don’t even have a statutory holiday until mid-February. In addition, we’re facing another period of stress, worry and disruption due to the COVID-19 Omicron variant, which has now taken hold in Canada. The fatigue is almost palpable, as we contemplate another month, or season, or longer of living with this pandemic.

All of these factors can cause us to sort of hibernate for the winter, and this can compound existing mental-health challenges. For one, we’ve spent recent months reestablishing  routines of work, school and family activities, and disrupting that can be hard on everyone. To cite just one example, those living with anxiety need that routine. The everyday social rituals of talking to people at work, getting a coffee and chatting in the lunchroom help keep social anxiety at bay. When these interactions stop, the anxiety returns and grows.

Fighting the January blues – tips from an anxiety therapist

Fighting the January blues

As I’ve written in previous blogs, there are a number of measures we can take to improve our mental health. A large body of research shows that a combination of medication and therapy is effective. In addition, we also know that many non-medical, lifestyle factors are important. At first glance, these can seem daunting or even impossible in the depths of winter, but there are real solutions.

Believe it or not, a lack of crucial vitamin D, which we get from sunlight, is a real issue in the winter. So it may be worth talking to your doctor about a supplement. Also, many people benefit from getting vitamin D by sitting under a sunlamp. 

Another strategy is moving your exercise routine to the daytime. If you enjoy daily evening walks in temperate weather, try moving that walk to midday.

Although it is usually cold in January, there are also many sunny days. If you bundle up, they can be quite pleasant. This is a two-for-one, helping with both exercise and vitamin D.

Of course, it can be hard to find the energy and motivation to get out. Since many of us feel this way, it’s extra-important to reach out to others and maintain social connections, plan small outdoor meet-ups and motivate each other, perhaps as walking buddies. We mental-health professionals call this “taking a break” from the low mood. And study after study shows that just 20 or 30 minutes of time being outdoors and active improves mood.

Finally, self-compassion is also essential. Remember, part of the reason we’re all struggling is because these are some of the most challenging times we’ve faced in a generation. And many of us have been forced into difficult work, family, school and financial situations through no fault of our own. We’ve had no choice, and we have limited control. So try to acknowledge that reality, take breaks and take care of yourself. The original version of “Blue Monday” is an epic seven and a half minutes long, and partway through, the song feels like it might never end. This dark, cold pandemic winter may feel the same way. But like the song, this difficult winter will also end, and if we can just hang on, we can look forward to better times. 

Interested in letting a professional guide you through getting your mindset back on track for the new year? Contact a depression therapist in Toronto today.

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