Feeling down in the dumps now that the holidays are over? If you’re hoping for something uplifting on these dreary days and cold nights, you’re not alone. T.S. Eliot, in The Waste Land, said, “April is the cruelest month.” But studies have found that for the majority of Americans, January is the most depressing month of the year.
Have you experienced any of this yourself? Your eager anticipation for the holidays is over, replaced by the reality of a celebration that didn’t live up to your expectations. Your clothes are tight from the weight you gained from the parties and winter sweet cravings. Your loved ones are gone and you’re feeling lonely. By the end of the first week of January, one-third to one-half of you have already caved in on your New Year’s resolutions, leaving you feeling disappointed and frustrated. The credit card bills have arrived and you realize you spent more than you planned. And, with all the holiday lights in December, you may not have noticed the short days and long nights – but now it’s painfully obvious that winter is clearly here.
It’s time for some honest self-reflection. What is currently disturbing you the most? Consider both your physical and emotional reactions. Once you are aware of the real problems, you can begin to identify possible solutions and map out a plan to implement them. Here are 10 tips to help you deal with January gloom and direct your focus to the opportunities open to you.
1. Have realistic expectations as you set New Year’s resolutions you can achieve with goals you can accomplish. You may need to scrap your original list and come up with less grandiose aspirations. Don’t beat yourself up for falling short of promises you made to yourself that were out of reach. Who hasn’t made mistakes? Take it one day at a time as you revise and come up with a Plan B.
2. Commit to an exercise plan you will continue. Physical activity can release endorphins, reducing your stress level. Studies show that 30 minutes of brisk walking reduces depression for several hours. A regular exercise routine can also play a part in weight reduction and better sleep patterns. Plan to include some outdoor daytime exercise to take advantage of the natural light outside.
3. Establish eating habits that incorporate nutritious foods in well-balanced meals. During the holiday season, women can gain an average of five to seven pounds. Now get back to a healthier diet and smaller portions. Leafy green vegetables with high levels of folic acid and oily fish with vitamin B-12 and omega-3 fatty acids help maintain an upbeat mood. Foods like Brazil nuts are rich in selenium, needed to produce serotonin.
4. Draw on your strengths. What worked for you before when you were feeling down? What core values guided you as you coped with frustrations and disappointments? Use these again as you face challenges in January and watch your resiliency come to the forefront. Don’t hesitate to call upon resources that are there for you.
5. Identify activities that reduce the stresses in your life – then include them in your schedule. If you’re a Sandwiched Boomer, these can range from having help with childcare or eldercare to setting aside time to listen to music, read a good book or just do some deep breathing. Get in touch with your spiritual connections for balance and grounding. When you are feeling relaxed and authentically free, you’ll be better able to cope with the hassles you face this winter.
6. Get support from your family and friends. It was easier to connect during the holidays, but make an effort to follow-up with your social network in January. Share your concerns and validate your feelings or gain a fresh viewpoint. New support and discussion groups as well as community colleges classes generally begin after the New Year. Reach out and join to gain insight and perspective. And don’t forget to spend time with friends just for the plain fun of it – laughter is a great tension reliever.
7. Turn crises into challenges and challenges into opportunities. Use this time to research changes you want to make. Although you can’t control what happens, you can control how you handle it. If you’re unhappy with your current job, consider how to make it more interesting and engaging. Instead of holding on to family conflicts that boiled up over the holidays, let go of your resentments and anger. When you can forgive, you stop feeling sorry for yourself and become more optimistic.
8. Express gratitude for what you have. It may sound simple, but as you’ve heard many times, “Happiness is not having what you want, but wanting what you have.” What are the things and people in your life that you are grateful for? You’ll find that when you increase your awareness of these positives, you’ll be less likely to experience feelings of hopelessness and helplessness.
9. Look outside yourself to those in need. Studies have found that when you perform acts of kindness and giving to those who have less, you feel happier yourself. Around the holidays, numerous organizations send out requests for financial donations but all year they need volunteers to help staff their programs. Consider what best fits your interests, abilities and schedule – then make your contribution with your feet.
10. To cope with financial issues, make plans that won’t further impact your budget or credit card debt. In the current recession, many families are enjoying activities such as potlucks with friends, visits to local museums, taking daylight walks, borrowing a book from the library. Be creative in your quest for low-cost entertainment.
With a new year and a new decade, this is your opportunity to set the tone for this time in your life. However, if you’ve tried the tips above and are still feeling the winter blues, you may have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) or a clinical depression. Consult a specialist in psychological disorders for constructive input about these conditions.
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