Kim Moore, senior lecturer in Mental Health at Birmingham City University

It’s January, and after the Christmas rush you may feel tired and run down with the New Year stretching out in front of you into the great unknown. The cold weather and dark nights in combination with Christmas indulgences (and overspend) and last year’s unachieved resolutions – can make many of us feel overwhelmed. If, like me, you feel tired at the thought of returning to work or study, you are not alone; many people find January the gloomiest month of the year and experience what many call the January blues.

The good news is that many of us can improve our mood during January by implementing some simple and quick ideas.

Biology and sunlight

First if you are feeling down in January – this is normal.  There are some good biological reasons you may feel low or lack energy which are linked to the lack of sunlight with the long winter nights.  For many of us, the lack of sunlight can cause us to feel blue or down.  The good news is that there are some simple steps you can take to alleviate this:

  • Take every opportunity to walk outside during the day to maximise the sunlight you can get, this can really improve your mood.
  • For more persistent problems, you could consider investing in a daylight bulb which replicates the effects of sunshine. Check out the Seasonal Affective disorder webpage for daylight therapy.
  • Some people face more than January blues and can experience a persistent low mood or depression. If you are feeling this way, don’t hesitate in consulting with your General Practitioner or seeking some psychological support.

Food and nutrition

If you are anything like me and overindulge with Christmas sweets, rich foods and alcohol, you could be experiencing sugar withdrawal.  Some people can be sensitive to the effects of sugar, and one of the typical symptoms when initially reducing sugar intake can be a low mood.  Your mood will improve over time, but you may notice a distinct lack of energy during this time. Some dieticians suggest certain foods can help improve your moods, what you eat can improve your mood, but knowing what to make or choose can be hard. For more information on healthy eating to improve your mood, visit the following sites for dietary ideas and recipes for every budget and skill level.

  • Food and mood information sheet by the British Dietetics Association
  • Students living away from home – can’t afford takeaway? Try visiting Recipes or eating for some ideas on recipes that can boost your energy and mood.
  • If you are on a strict budget (like me), NHS choices has a webpage to help you achieve healthy eating to improve your mood on a budget as part of their ‘Live well campaign’.


New Year’s resolutions

Many people will make a resolution to improve or change their health and wellbeing in January, ‘exercise more’, ’study more’ or ‘lose weight’.  They may be the same resolutions we made last year, but did not quite achieve which can be depressing – what can be even more depressing is that most of us will fail to achieve the new resolutions we set ourselves.

If you are making a resolution to improve your health and wellbeing, keep your goals realistic.  It can be more motivating to have smaller achievable goals which you can achieve.

  • Try doing something new that you have never done before. Not only will you find this mentally stimulating, it can also be exciting.  A good way to beat the blues.
  • Students could prioritise upcoming work by doing some extra reading or exam preparation, even finishing your essay early – you will feel much better for having done it.
  • Do something different. Many of us can get stuck in regular patterns and activities. By trying something new, you provide yourself with a situation where you can make mistakes, you break out of your old cycle of behaviours and you challenge your imagination and thinking.

Get up and dance

Health professionals often recommend regular exercise to improve feelings of depression.  One of the best ways to lift your mood is by being active, exercise like brisk walks, dancing or singing to your favourite song can make you feel better and lift your mood.

  • Dance or move to your favourite song in the comfort of your own home. But if dancing is not your thing, then alternative forms of movement or stretching can help boost your mood.
  • Take a look at the Help Guide for new ideas on different types of activities (for all budgets) that can improve feelings of low mood.
  • If you find self motivation hard, team up with a friend, you might be amazed at what you can achieve with support, friendship and a little rivalry.
  • Not into exercise? Stretching can achieve a mood boost, take a look at the Harvard health videos for stretching exercises that can help improve your mood and general health.


Money worries?

Many of us will have spent big this Christmas and money can be very tight at this time of year, with many people paying for Christmas using credit.  This can sometimes spiral out of control.  If you are one of the many people struggling to manage debts in January, help is at hand. Visit the ’12 days of debt action campaign’  for some ideas on practical steps to reduce overspending this Christmas and new year. For free advice and help, contact the National Debtline or visit their webpage.

Reflecting on the old year

We often think of New Year as a way of wiping the slate clean and starting over, and in many ways this is true.  January is often a time of reflecting on what you have achieved over the previous year, but it is easy to get stuck in dwelling on things that you did not achieve or do.  You may have some specific stressors such as family tensions, missing loved ones or feeling tired from hectic days of organising or partying that are worrying you at the moment and it can be hard to know where to make a start;

  • Take a ‘me day’ – a day to yourself to unwind where you can give yourself some quality time for physical and mental refreshment.
  • Make a list of all the positive things that you did or achieved in 2015 to balance against things you wanted to achieve.
  • Spend some time with people who make you feel good and laugh.
  • Write down three things that you are worried about and list two possible solutions you might consider to manage these.

If you have tried some of the tips above, but are unable to shake off the January blues, no matter what the reason you may feel this way, seek out or ask for help as soon as you can.  Early action can help to manage the January blues before they feel out of control.  Having goals to aspire to can be motivating, but remember not to beat yourself up if you don’t achieve them all.

Find out how you could study Mental Health Nursing at Birmingham City University.

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Kim Moore

Kim Moore

Lecturer in Mental Health, Birmingham City University’s Faculty of Health