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5 Deeply Relatable Reasons Why People Experience The 'January Blues'

Photo: alena ozerova / shuttertock
woman with dark reddish hair has a pensive winter thought, in the wind

For so many of us, feeling sad or blue after a big event like a wedding, college graduation or the holidays is a regular thing.

And it’s not a good thing, especially in January, when so many people experience what might be called "January Blues". 

I have clients who don’t even enjoy the holidays because they know they will just be sad when they are over.

Understanding why you find January depressing just might help you manage it, so that you don’t spend too much time in an emotional funk.

RELATED: The First Thing You Need To Do If You Can't Stop Feeling Sad

   

   

Here are five reasons you might experience the January blues

1. Pressure from unrealistic goals

Setting a New Year’s resolution is something that many of us do every year. Of course, goals can be set at any time of year.

But the idea of a "new year, a new you," is very compelling and we set these lofty resolutions with sincere intent.

And then, a few weeks in, we often let those resolutions go, either because of apathy, lack of time or how hard the resolution is to keep. And what does dropping our resolutions do?

It makes us sad or lose confidence.

Letting ourselves down is one of the major causes of situational depression. We feel like a loser that we can’t keep a promise to ourselves, or to others, and that self-judgment can send us into a dark place.

But there are ways for you to keep those resolutions (or at least some of them) to help you feel better about yourself and let go of the depression.

How many resolutions did you set? Did you decide that you were going to quit drinking, go vegetarian, get to the gym and sleep more?

Or perhaps did you just decide to "be healthier?"

Those goals are great, truly. But they really aren’t achievable. Why?

Because you have bitten off more than you can chew.

No one, and I mean, no one, could successfully quit drinking, go vegetarian, go to the gym and sleep more in one fell swoop.

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It’s just too much to change too quickly, especially with things that might be very challenging.

As to deciding to "be healthier," how would you accomplish it if you don’t have a concrete plan?

What I do, and what I encourage my clients to do, is to choose one thing to start with.

That one thing can’t be "get healthier" but it could mean quitting drinking for a month. Or to eat less red meat. Or to commit to the gym 3 days a week. Or to put your phone away at 11 p.m. so that you will sleep.

Anyone can do one of those things if they set their mind to it.

Have you bitten off more than you can chew with your new year’s resolution or another type of personal goal? If yes, try paring it down a bit so that it is in manageable chunks.

If you can do this you might find that you feel better about yourself and the world.

RELATED: Why You Need To Set Realistic Goals For Yourself

2. Seasonal affective disorder

One of the things that always amazes me in January is how dark it is.

Of course, it’s the time of year when the days are shorter, it gets dark earlier and it's cold outside.

And just this alone, particularly the absence of sunlight, can make someone depressed or grumpy.

But what I also notice in January is the complete absence of Christmas lights. For me, this is beyond bleak.

Christmas lights go up soon after Thanksgiving and they last, usually, through New Year's. And then, poof, they are gone.

Of course, there are always a few holdouts but mostly, the colorful lights that we see outside people’s houses have been put away for the year.

For me, this is always depressing. I am not a big holiday person but I love the lights.

So, what do I do to get through these dark days of January? 

The first thing I do is get a full spectrum lamp, one which imitates the spectrum of light from the sun. These have been found to be beneficial in many ways, especially for easing the winter blues.

The second thing I do is that I keep a few Christmas lights around my house.

Every year, we put our Christmas tree outside but leave the lights on it. It isn’t really a Christmas tree anymore. It’s more like a beacon in the night, bringing some light into the darkness, as we wait for spring to come.

I love looking at those lights from inside the house or as I am pulling up in the driveway. A little bit of spirit during these difficult months.

RELATED: The 8 Types Of Depression (And The Best Way To Handle Each)

3. Post-event disappointment

Be honest. Do you, every year, hope that this year will be different?

That you truly will have a holiday season as you see in the movies.

Where you will celebrate with family and friends (with no arguments about politics). Where you will get all the gifts that you wanted. Where you will bake cookies for your neighbors and appreciate the joy in the season.

And are you let down and disappointed again, just like last year?

This can be a big reason why you are feeling depressed after the holidays. The big hopes that you had for the perfect holiday season have been dashed with no hope to try again for almost a year.

I get it. But remember, there are many things that let us down every year, no matter how hard we try. We plan that perfect trip but lose our luggage.

The project that we worked on didn’t turn out the way we wanted. We wanted that new Volkswagen but had to settle on a used one instead.

And, do we get through those letdowns every time? Do they bog us down for a bit but then do we let them go and move on to the next thing? 

The same will happen with the holiday letdown.

It might feel acute right now but I can promise you that it will be gone by Valentine’s Day, at the very latest.

RELATED: 5 Easy Ways To Beat Winter Blues Caused By SAD

   

   

4. A wobbly relationship

Did you know that January is the number one month when people file for divorce?

Why? Because they think that they just can’t get through one more holiday with the person they are with.

Holidays can bring out the worst in people and they can make an already stressful time more stressful.

Whether it’s conflict around traditions, disagreements about the amount of money that will be spent on gifts, the crazy schedule of holiday events or the time spent with extended family, the holidays can add a lot of pressure to a relationship that might already be struggling.

Also, over the holidays we often have to spend a lot more time with our partners and, if that relationship is already stressed, more time together might just exacerbate problems or allow us to see them more clearly.

So, what is the state of your relationship? Might your depression be the result of feeling helpless around it? Might it be because you are sad that you fight so much? Was spending time wonderful or like pulling your fingernails out?

Whether it’s good or bad, the state of your relationship might be one of the reasons you might be feeling depressed after the holidays.

RELATED: 14 Signs You're In Denial About How Your Toxic Relationship Is

5. Months of monotony between holidays

The nice thing about the fall is that we have lots of fun holidays.

We have Labor Day which is a celebration of the end of the summer, one involving family and feasting.

We have Halloween with all its pumpkins and candy.

We have Thanksgiving and then we have Christmas and then we have New Year's.

The mundanity of our everyday lives is broken by fun things all through the fall. That doesn’t happen so much after New Year's. What we have is a long stretch to another holiday — Independence Day. 

Sure, we have a few special days in the interim: Presidents Day and MLK day, Memorial Day and perhaps spring break. But really, what we have for six long months is the day-in, day-out routine.

And the anticipation and living in it can be one reason why you are feeling depressed after the holidays.

I make a huge effort every year to make a plan to do things to break the winter doldrums.

I try to travel to New York City to see my kids once a month. I make movie dates with my friends.

I try to have a special night out with my boyfriend. I make an effort to be spontaneous when I can be.

Are there things that you could do to break up the mundane over these next few months? I am guessing there are. So, make a plan to do those things. Get yourself out of the routine before you get stuck there.

Sometimes just having something to look forward to is enough to break the cycle of depression that can come after the holidays or a long-planned event.

I do want to say that while all of the reasons that I have listed above might be contributing to your feelings of sadness or situational depression, know that there might be more to it than that.

If you find that you are having a hard time pulling yourself out of your depression or if it’s getting worse, I would encourage you to reach out to your primary care doctor and see if they can help you.

If you find yourself isolated or having no desire to do things that you usually like to do, reach out to your primary care physician or a mental health professional.

RELATED: 6 Hidden Signs Your Depression Is More Than Temporary

Mitzi Bockmann is a certified life coach and relationship coach. With over 10 years of experience, she helps clients find happiness in love and life.

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This article was originally published at Let Your Dreams Begin. Reprinted with permission from the author.