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  • Writer's pictureGeraldine Claire Therapy

How to beat the January Blues…

January is frequently presented as a time of new beginnings where we are annually encouraged to engage in aspirational hope and planning for the forthcoming year. Yet in reality it is a difficult time for many people, the new year can often activate negative thinking spirals and overwhelming emotions. It’s important to note that if these patterns persist for over two weeks, this is enough to meet the threshold for clinical depression. The lead up to January can often be an extremely stressful for many people, but what are the specific pressures that come with Christmas and the New Year that can impact mental health?

• Extra financial burdens - buying presents for our loved ones can cause huge amounts of stress with a good few dashes of guilt on top of that; guilt for overspending and guilt because we feel we might not have spent enough

• Increased expectations to socialise - If you are someone who is introverted the increase in parties, gatherings and general social engagements, particularly post Covid 19 can feel particularly daunting and draining.

• A race to finish work projects before the bank holidays - we can often cram in more work in order to not have to work over the festive period.

• Expectations from family members - family members might have ideas about how they want to spend Christmas and this might be in conflict with our own needs. Spending time with parents and siblings can often throw us back into dysfunctional family dynamics and roles.

• Increased exceptions towards ourselves - we want to create an amazing time for the people we love but this can soon look like: Plan - Prepare Food - Serve - Tidy Up - Repeat.

• Societal expectations and cultural norms centred around being part of a couple or family group. During December many of us are bombarded with questions about who we’re spending Christmas with and adverts depicting the “2.4 children families with a dog” happily enjoying their time together. For those people who don’t fit this mould these questions and images can trigger feelings of alienation and even defectiveness.

• Increased alcohol use can really impact our mood, similarly, for people who are trying to reduce their alcohol use or avoid it altogether then increased accessibility via parties can cause a high level of anxiety.

• The festive season can often cause us to remember those who aren’t around to share the good times with us. Remembering a lost loved one is always going to be hard and over Christmas most of us cannot escape the huge emphasis that is placed upon being with those people who are important to us.

• Dark early nights, short days and rainy cold weather can really negatively impact on mood. Daylight and time spent outside really does have a positive effect on the mood when the elements cause us to stay indoors our mood can take a dip.

• In the run up to the new year social media tends to get flooded with what looks like other people having a perfect time. Photographs showcase friends/family/influencers making ginger bread houses, cooking amazing meals, effortlessly decorating houses and making them look like winter palaces. Scrolling through these images leads to us comparing our lives negatively with others based on only a couple of photos or a 1min 30 reel!

All these factors really highlight why many of us can feel low, burnt out and stressed by the time January 1st hits but what are the signs and symptoms of the January Blues?

• Frequently feeling hopeless, disappointed or pessimistic.

• Predicting the worst.

• Adopting an “all or nothing” mentality (it’s all great or it’s all terrible - no in-between)

• Feelings of disappointment.

• Unnecessary feelings of resentfulness towards others.

• Increased irritability.

• Decreased motivation.

• Low energy.

• Feeling tearful.

• Believing you’re a failure.

• A reduced interest in the things you once enjoyed.

• A reduced capacity to concentrate joined by an increased capacity to doom scroll.

• Avoiding social contact.

If you’re experiencing any of the above symptoms it’s important to know that there is hope and there is a solution; Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is the recommended treatment for low mood and depression and Schema Therapy is a very robust treatment for persistent and recurrent depression. If you find yourself feeling low in January here are some mood boosting CBT techniques that you can do to help:

❖ Take a step back and look at how you are spending your time. Our actions impact our mood and we can easily fall into negative behavioural cycles; scrolling on social media, binge watching TV, spending time worrying or constantly looking after others all effects our emotional health.

❖ Every day do one thing that gives you a sense of achievement, one thing that gives you a sense of connection and one thing you enjoy. It’s important that you plan this and after the event record on shifts in your mood that you noticed this helps to strengthen your neural pathways which can hold a more balanced perspective.

❖ Become your own thought detective. Don’t just follow the path laid out to you by your negative thoughts, learn about them. Common negative thought patterns are: All and Nothing Thinking, Negative Filter Thinking - only focussing on the negatives and filtering out anything positive, Comparing and Despairing - believing we are awful in comparison to others, Mind Reading - believing we know what others are thinking of us, Low Frustration Tolerance - Believing we can’t cope with every day situations, which leads to the avoidance of them.

❖ Once you know what kind of negative thoughts you are having practice challenging them with the Theory A Vs Theory B Technique. For example,

Theory A = it’s been an awful day and I’ve achieved nothing. Theory B = It’s not been that bad, I got out of bed, I replied to some messages and I opened the post. Tomorrow I’m going to try and get out for a walk.

❖ If you feel like you need extra support contact your GP and ask for a referral to your local IAPT service, you should be offered an initial consultation and access to treatment. If you have private medical insurance or you are are able to fund your therapy find an accredited Cognitive Behavioural Therapist to help you develop strategies and techniques to challenge your low mood.

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