The January Blues are Real: Causes, Symptoms & Relief
You or a loved one may feel “blue”, or down after the holidays. Some people think it is letdown after the excitement of the holidays. Others think they have eaten too much of the wrong food for too long, making them feel sluggish. All of those things may be true, but the January Blues are very real, caused by physical, mental, emotional and environmental factors. If you feel consistently blue, it’s important to seek help.
Many times the January Blues are caused by a type of depression called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), caused by a lack of sunlight during the shorter days of winter. It is treatable by using light boxes that increase one’s exposure to light and exercise. You can learn more about SAD in our November blog on the subject.
Depression isn’t just a mental or emotional condition, it can cause physical aches and pains as well. When emotional issues like sadness, depression and grief go untreated they don’t disappear. Instead, they manifest themselves in the body and become aches and pains. That discomfort is the body’s way of alerting the brain that something is wrong and needs to be addressed. The physical symptoms of depression can include:
- Low energy or fatigue
- Back pain
- Overall aches and pains
- Vision problems
- Stomach pain
- Digestive problems
What to do about the January Blues
The first, and most important, step to take when feeling blue is to talk to someone about it. Tell your doctor, a family member or trusted friend. Explain how you feel and ask them to help you find support. Depression is treatable in many different ways including lifestyle changes, therapy and medications.
Food can help to increase energy and feed the brain. Eating the right foods can help to battle depression and the blues.
- Lean proteins like salmon are high in omega-3s which are a great source of energy and can help to battle fatigue and low levels of depression. Omega-3 fatty acids can also be found in foods like walnuts and flax seeds.
- Eating less sugar can help your body and brain to function better. Initially, sugar creates energy but then the body crashes and the sugar high is replaced with fatigue. Replacing sugar with fresh fruits and vegetables gives the brain the vitamins and minerals it needs to function and can prevent the roller coaster sugar high and crash.
- Dark green leafy vegetables can help your brain. They contain high levels of folic acid and other beneficial vitamins and minerals that feed brain cells.
- Less sunlight during the winter months can contribute to depression, partly because we absorb less Vitamin D from the sun. Supplements can boost Vitamin D levels, as can eating foods like milk, egg yolks, mushrooms and fish with bones.
- Bananas contain magnesium, which may help improve sleep and reduce anxiety.
These foods alone cannot treat depression, but they can create a good foundation on which other treatments may be successful. Feeding the brain is just as important as feeding the body.
There are other ways to combat the January Blues, including self-care and practicing mindfulness. Taking care of yourself is more than eating the right foods and getting enough sleep. It is also a matter of being kind to yourself. Take the time to do something that gives you great joy is time well spent and an investment in improving mood and combating depression.
At first, it may be difficult to carve out time to pay attention to yourself, but you will experience the benefits when you do. Here are some ways to practice self-care to combat the January blues.
- Take a walk early in the morning
- Find a support group
- Find a hobby group
- Schedule a massage, manicure or pedicure
- Take yourself out for coffee
Mindfulness is considered a good strategy to address anxiety and depression because it can change thought patterns. It is the act of being more aware of where you are and what you are doing. It is a way of creating space between you and your actions, which can reduce anxiety. Here are some other ways to practice mindfulness to combat the blues and depression:
- Put away the cell phone, tablets and computers
- Spend time with a loved one, look them in the eyes and truly listen to them as they talk
- Practice taking deep breaths, in through the nose, out through the mouth.
- Pay attention to what you eat and drink. Taste it completely and without distractions like the TV and cell phone. Fully enjoy the flavors and textures of each food and drink.
- Remember life does not have to be a race. You can re-calibrate your life, begin saying no, slow down your pace and make time for yourself.
Consult a professional therapist or psychiatrist. If the blues impact your ability to live your daily life, see a professional. A trained professional can help you to prioritize and reorganize things in your life to support good health and avoid anxiety. He or she can also discuss medication with you if that would be beneficial.
It is possible to combat the January blues and feel better. Take the first step and tell someone how you feel and ask for help. The strategies you learn will serve you well for a lifetime.
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