5 Ways to Survive January — the Most Depressing Month of the Year

The Scottish Borders in January 2010 during the worst Winter weather conditions in 20 years.January 24 is on record as being the most depressing day of the year. It’s not hard to figure out why. The bills come in from all those generous gifts you gave back when the holiday spirit had you feeling rich. The resolutions you made on December 31 are, well, broken. And it’s cold, dark, and dreary—the roads wear the kind of brown slush that is unbecoming.

However, my mood dips long before the 24th. It does a dive the Monday after the New Year—the first full week of January. I call it Yuck Monday or Yuck Week.

This week is Yuck Week.

I prepare to be down this week because it’s like clockwork. It has happened for as long as I can remember. Last year, it was especially severe. I was just emerging from a very deep and scary depression. The stress of Christmas numbed me, much like a sedative; I went into holiday gear—which is do, do, do, don’t think, think, think. However, hosting a family reunion proved to be too much. The dysfunction of my family of origin and the unresolved childhood pangs that I feel when I’m with my sisters and my mom was enough to break me.

Once they left, I couldn’t stop crying.

You’d think I’d learn from the mistakes of last year and be a bit gentler to myself. But the definition of insanity—doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results—applies here. Not only did I host a family reunion, but I launched a new community for persons with treatment-resistant depression. I am proud of the end product, but the stress involved in building it broke me.

On Yuck Monday, once again, I couldn’t stop crying.

However, this year I also spent Yuck Monday coming up with a set of resolutions just for January, Yuck Month. It’s true that more suicides happen in April and May than January, but that’s because people are so depressed in January that they don’t have the energy it takes to kill themselves. So, in order to emerge from Yuck Month going in the right direction—toward resilience—I have resolved to do the following things:

1. Stop doing one thing I don’t enjoy.

Sure this sounds easy, but have you ever tried it? It’s more challenging than you think. One thing that I feel like I should do is be an administrator for the support group that I created on Facebook, even as it causes me much stress. Admins have to delete suicidal posts, point a person toward appropriate help, make sure everyone is labeling appropriate posts with a “trigger” heading, deal with personal attacks from members, and a host of other things that I not only don’t enjoy, but I’m frankly not good at. I don’t have good boundaries and I’m super sensitive. When I realized that the stress I was giving myself was counteracting all the efforts I made during the holiday to eat right (I didn’t eat one cookie!), and was erasing the benefits of all my exercise, I got a bit peeved and decided to let people with better boundaries skills and less sensitivity issues lead the flock.

2. Clean out one area of the house.

In the last few years, I have had two television shows contact me to be a guest on their hoarding show to be “fixed.” I wrote a post somewhere along the line that my husband has a real problem with my clutter piles, and poof! The professionals are after me. I don’t think I’m that bad. Maybe I’m in denial, or I just have more important problems – like staying free of death thoughts for more than three days in a row. However, I spent Yuck Monday cleaning out my desk—the corner of real estate in my son’s bedroom (I do pay him rent) — and went through the seven legal pads of paper that held notes that needed to be organized. I immediately felt liberated from the prison of my “information clutter” as my husband calls it.

3. Go to the light.

I start using my light lamp in October; however, in January, this fixture becomes my best friend. Technically, we are moving towards more light every day in January, which is great news. But my circadian rhythm—the body’s internal biological clock that governs brain wave activity and hormone production—gets really out of whack this month. I think it’s the cumulative lack of sunlight since September. So bright light therapy becomes an important part of every January day.

4. Try something new.

Two nights ago I did something I never do—found an easy lemon-and-garlic chicken recipe online—and cooked dinner for the family. I bought my husband the book, “The Grain Brain Cookbook,” as we are trying to eliminate sugar and flour from our diets. I thumbed through it and was a tad intimidated from some of the recipes in there, but I thought to myself, “I can do this. All it takes is a little preparation and time.” When you try something new, your brain creates neural passages and increases your brain’s plasticity. Even picking up something with your left hand (if your right-handed) can make the old noggin work a little bit. For me, cooking does not come naturally. My twin sister is a gourmet chef but I struggle boiling water. So this January’s goal is to make at least two meals from the new cookbook.

5. Make a list of lessons learned.

I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions—because I always break them, which makes me feel more pathetic than before I made them. But I like to remember a few things that I learned in the past year. This year, more than any other lesson, I learned that I know my body—each cell in my brain, heart, and lungs–better than any doctor, and I am the authority on my health. I am the one who knows that as soon as I eat a cracker, I will get death thoughts. I know once sugar enters my system, I will despair and think the worst of people. A caramel frappuccino, once absorbed into my blood stream, convinces me that there is nothing to live for. I know that I have more energy and feel better when I take Nature-Throid, not a synthetic medication for my underactive thyroid, even though I couldn’t find an endocrinologist who would prescribe it for me.

Originally published on Sanity Break at Everyday Health.

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5 thoughts on “5 Ways to Survive January — the Most Depressing Month of the Year

  1. No Choice is really entirely wrong. Some Choices are more right than others. Reboot for the New Year, Keep the Bright Light on and you are on Your Way!

  2. Hello, all. I’m currently cleaning out one area of the house (# 2) because I’m sure my home/apartment honestly would qualify for one of those “Hoarding: Buried Alive” shows!

    Getting rid of clutter is a wonderful activity for Kentucky winters. It’s usually not freezing outside but the sun doesn’t appear for 2-4 days at a time. I do a new “area” almost every week. Sometimes I get the clutter out of one corner and other times, I might only do one drawer or shelf. Last weekend (Jan. 2-3), I swept the bathroom floor and ONLY the bathroom which is about 6 feet X 4-1/2 feet! I also took off some “Give Away” stuff I had collected through the week (I live about a mile from Goodwill) and washed 2-3 sinks full of dirty dishes (or is that sink fulls?).

    Doing this makes me feel A LOT better about myself and my home!! I usually feel a little better about the world full of people outside, too. I actually started before Christmas and I hope to keep it up until my 2 bedroom, 1 bath apartment doesn’t have too much JUNK for a 5 bedroom, 2 bath House with an Attic (or basement)!

  3. Love the “Yuck Day” and “Yuck month”. Some may actually insert the letter “F” in place of “Y” (if you know what I mean.)
    I love the five resolutions even though you don’t make New Year resolutions. I get it.
    We miss you on your support facebook page but underatand the strain of managing over 4,000 people. People who are all over the board mentally and physically. I imagine it can be like hurding cats.
    All-the-best to you in 2016.
    Stay Strong;Stay Alive

  4. Therese, I so love this post. Now I understand what happens to me around this time of year.

    I also like both the Yuck and the “F” replacement too.

    I’ve been totally rocking #1 for a couple of months withdrawing from certain activities, people, blogs, etc. that trigger me at the present time. I don’t think it’s gone over well with some (as I was once always considered “the dependable one”), but I’ve realized my sanity and my making sure I don’t take myself out are much more important. Perhaps I may return to some of the things I’ve left behind. Perhaps not. The difference now is that I have FINALLY allowed myself to be the maker of that choice. If others think (and some have) I’m being mean, self-centered, irresponsible, hiding and a whole host of whatever else – well then they can…think such things all they want. (I was initially going to say something a bit more sassy…)

    Anywayz, I’m slowly getting around to #2 and plan on checking into #s 3, 4 & 5, but especially #3. In the meantime, I’m currently working out those things that triggered me in the first place. It’s been a very humbling and heart-opening experience, to say the least. Self-compassion has been a constant companion on the journey.

    All the best to everyone always and a very Happy New Year to all of us! We deserve it!!!

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