While the concept of "Blue Monday"—typically the third Monday in January—as being the most depressing day of the year might not be scientifically proven, let’s face it: January and February can be a drag. Winter stretches ahead for weeks and, in many places, it’s so cold you don't want to go outside.
The combination can be enough to get anyone down. If you’ve got a case of the winter doldrums, use these tips to feel better and rekindle your energy and creativity.
Andy Eninger, program director at The Second City Works, the business training arm of the famed Chicago comedy theater The Second City, works with business clients to help them be more creative and engaging using comedy and improvisation techniques. He finds they often make one rookie error when they’re starting out: They don’t bring a sweater.
"One of the things that we've noticed, especially when we're coaching, is speakers want to dress really cute. It works against them because their arms are cold, so they're hunched forward. That's the first impression that people see when they step up," Eninger says.
While it’s a simple fix, he advises people to dress for warmth. If permitted and safe, bring a space heater into the workspace. Create an environment where you’re going to be comfortable and not distracted by how cold you are, he says.
Staying indoors during winter’s daylight hours can lead to a reduction in Vitamin D and generally make us feel less energetic, says Nicki Nance, PhD, who teaches human services and counseling at Beacon College. If you can’t get outdoors a few times a day, then try to sit near a window whenever you can to catch some rays that way. "If you are prone to Seasonal Affective Disorder, look into special lights that you can use at work," she says.
In January, your food choices are likely different than they are during the rest of the year, says health coach Dillan DiGiovanni. You may have indulged in rich, fatty foods during the holidays, which may make you feel lethargic. If you then began dieting as part of a New Year’s resolution, such dramatic food changes can have an impact on your energy levels, Nance adds.
"Cutting morning calories, giving up too many foods, and not addressing the needs that emotional eating fulfills can turn a health-bound dieting effort into a mental health emergency," she says. Talk to your doctor about how you can adjust your eating properly and opt for balance. DiGiovanni recommends adding greens into your diet and eating cooked food for soothing warmth.
People who live in cold-weather climates may find themselves more isolated during the winter months either because it’s too cold or plans get cancelled because of weather-related issues, says Emma Seppälä, PhD, science director at Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education and author of The Happiness Track. "We tend to stay indoors more and not socialize," she says. People who crave such social interactions may feel a lack of energy or enthusiasm without such connection. Positive social interactions are critical for our health and well-being, so make an effort to spend time with people who make you feel happy, she says.
Sleep is the cheapest and most effective medicine you can give yourself, DiGiovanni says. It’s important to know how much sleep you really need, and if you feel like you need to sleep more because of the shorter daylight hours, don’t fight it, he says.
It can be tempting to want to power through when you feel "blah," but Seppälä says it’s important to give ourselves the benefit of some downtime, too. Taking advantage of the winter months to slow down and "hibernate" can have tremendous restorative benefits and make our minds more creative, she says.
"Our mind is more likely to come up with novel, creative, and breakthrough kinds of ideas when we're idle. It's like the proverbial aha moment in the shower. Research shows that our brain is more likely to come up with those ideas when it's just hazy, daydreamy, right before sleep, or you're just relaxing," she says. But you can’t tap into that creative power when you’re mindlessly surfing social media or zoning out in front of the television, she says. Instead, work on being truly idle or meditating to repower your energy and creativity, she says.
Sometimes, a doldrum is more than a doldrum. If you are feeling depressed or anxious, it might be time for help, Nance says. Don’t hesitate to reach out to your Employee Assistance Program (EAP) or other mental health resources.
"Brief supportive intervention can go a long way in preventing stress-related illnesses. Some EAP providers have prevention programs, so supervisors might be able to infuse some energy into their workers proactively," she says.