Suffering from winter blues? Here’s Why Mental Health Deteriorates In January And How To Cope | Lifestyle

For many of us, the start of the new year means a clean slate from our grueling year-end holiday schedules, giving us a chance to reset and make New Year’s resolutions.

But striving to achieve such lofty goals can go against our natural instincts as humans, said Brianda Diaz de Leon, a licensed social worker at Dallas-based mental health company Thriveworks.

The winter season – which brings colder weather and less daylight – takes its toll on many. The pressure to accomplish more in January, coupled with the fallout from the holiday season, has people struggling with their mental well-being, she said.

“We are still kind of animals, and in a way (winter) is hibernation for us, so we experience more fatigue and tiredness,” said Diaz de Leon.

This is what makes this time of year even more challenging for people and ways to cope with increasing anxiety.

What makes January depressing?

While January presents a new set of challenges, mental health begins to decline towards the end of the year, Diaz de Leon said. More people were stressed during the holiday season in 2022 than last year, in part due to rising inflation, according to a study by the American Psychiatric Association.

“Sometimes our capitalist society and the demands of our capitalist holidays don’t really equate to being human,” Diaz de Leon said. A recent APA poll found that recession, gun violence and the war between Russia and Ukraine also contributed to Americans’ fears of 2022.

During the holiday season, people also have awkward conversations with family members they haven’t seen in a while, she said. Those who experience anxiety are more likely to feel residual shame from these exchanges, which can continue into January.

“We’re kind of in a place where there’s a shift in consciousness and maybe even a political identity, so that definitely came out over the holidays,” she said.

This year, Diaz de Leon said she has noticed higher rates of work-related and pandemic burnout among her patients. News of the XBB variant in December 2022 worried some customers as they enter the third year of a global pandemic.

“Most of my clients are having a really hard time,” she says. “We remain hopeful, but it’s harder for them to bounce back than before.”

What about the new year?

Many employees also use their paid time off to celebrate the end of the year. But returning to the office comes with the “PTO blues” and getting used to the stressors of everyday life again, Diaz de Leon said.

“Once January comes, the holiday season is over,” she said. “Many of us are now facing the consequences of the financial decisions we have made.”

Unrealistic New Year’s resolutions can also contribute to feelings of failure and depression, and can peak around mid-January.

“Halfway through the month, we realize that our New Year’s resolutions are probably not achievable, and many of us are falling a bit off the bandwagon,” she said. “So there’s also a lot of guilt and shame that adds to the stress we already felt.”

Seasonal affective disorder, a recurrent, seasonal depression that usually peaks in the fall and winter, may also play a role in January’s mental health decline. SAD affects about 10 million people in the United States, and women are more likely to be diagnosed, according to Psychology Today.

How do I deal with it?

Diaz de Leon recommends that people practice self-care, which includes staying hydrated, eating nutritious meals, getting enough sleep, and incorporating some form of exercise.

“What I mean by self-care is literally taking care of yourself in the most basic sense, like making sure we’re actually getting enough meals and that our meals are rich in nutrients and calories that we especially need in the winter months,” she said.

For people who work from home and lead sedentary lives, it’s important to move during the day, even if it’s a walk or five minutes of stretching.

And when it comes to New Year’s goals, she recommends people break their goals down by month or quarter to better manage their expectations.

“If your goal is to open your office by the end of 2023, maybe we can break it down into quarterly goals so we can better track what’s going on,” said Diaz de Leon.

If you’re struggling with the winter blues or any other mental illness, help is available. If you are in a crisis, seek help immediately and call 911 or the suicide prevention hotline at 988. A crisis text line is also available by texting SIGNS to 741741 for free, anonymous advice.

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© 2023 The Dallas Morning News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Suffering from winter blues? Here’s Why Mental Health Deteriorates In January And How To Cope | Lifestyle

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