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How to Beat the January Blues – Personally, Professionally, and Helping your Colleagues

Amie Parnaby
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Beating the January Blues

Christmas is officially over. All the family togetherness, “joy to the world”, “goodwill to all men”, and “the most wonderful time of the year” are over. All the twinkling lights that bring joy to the shortest days and longest nights have been put away for another eleven months. Is it any wonder people seem to suffer the January blues? But you know what? There are ways to help you get through the blue times, and January doesn’t have to be sad.

Understandably, people start to feel the blues around now. We’ve had a week of being happy that we don’t have to hoover or sweep all the shedding pine needles, dust all the Christmas decorations, and then realise that it’s a long time until it starts warming up. The nights are still long, and the weather is still cold and wet. There is little wonder that the third Monday of January has been dubbed “Blue Monday.”

What is Blue Monday?

Although it was first coined in 2005 by Sky Travel as a way to sell more holidays in the January period, and the scientific equation that was supposed to prove it has since been debunked, there is plenty of reason for people to feel dull and “blue” in mid-January. And while there is no real science behind it, the January blues can significantly impact your business, staff productivity, and overall morale.

While you can use Blue Monday to tempt new clients with a pick-me-up or help, it’s also an excellent time to sort your own blues and help your colleagues through theirs.

Symptoms of the January Blues

If you start feeling like something is “off”, you might feel the January blues, or others around you are feeling it and passing the vibe to you. Whether it’s either or both options, it’s good to know what to look for to help mitigate it.

Broadly speaking, here is a short and typical list of symptoms of the January (or just plain Winter) Blues:

  • Struggling to concentrate
  • Lack of motivation
  • Irritation
  • Persistent tiredness or exhaustion
  • Feeling lonely or isolated
  • Lack of interest in usual activities 
  • Needing much more or less sleep than usual
  • Withdrawal from friends and family 
  • Overindulging and over-dependence on substances like alcohol, other drugs  
  • Unhealthy diet 
  • Decision paralysis

It’s crucial to be kind at this time of year because what might be a simple case of the January blues could be something a little more serious. Coming down heavily on staff (or even yourself) when mental health is potentially in the gutter will not help anyone.

However, while it’s good to keep an eye out for potential problems, the best way forward is to keep yourself and your people out of the doldrums. Be proactive and see if you can weather the January blues without so much as a frown to mar your brow.

Beating Back those January Blues

Do you think you might be suffering from the January Blues? If you aren’t feeling your usual self and you’ve recognised some (or all) of the symptom listed above in your demeanour, you should try to take some action to help you get through the rest of the season.

Accept that it is perfectly normal

Did you know there are genetic links to early human ancestors that we are supposed to slow down in winter? There is some evidence to suggest that those who conserved energy and rested through the cold and dark months were more able to take advantage of increased food and warmer weather to continue the species. There’s something to think about. It’s perfectly normal and natural to slow down in winter, even without all the superficial holidays, work schedules, and economics.

Get a good dose of daylight

getting outside in the cold and wet might not sound like fun. However, being outdoors in the sunlight can make you feel better and give you more energy. Natural light exposure increases serotonin levels in the brain, which is associated with improved mood – and helps you produce the Vitamin D needed for your immune system.

Get active

You’ve heard that one of the best ways to improve well-being and mood is to get some exercise. A brisk walk with friends can be a great way to get some fresh air and release endorphins which will make you feel better.

Eat better

What we put in our bodies can significantly affect our mood. When you’re feeling down, you’re more likely to eat rubbish (comfort food), eating either too much or too little. A varied, balanced diet can work wonders to improve your mood.

Feel Rested

Poor sleep can have a negative impact on your mental health and lead to you feeling irritable, anxious and worried. Adopting a regular sleep/wake routine will help you to get more and better quality sleep.

Going to bed at the same time every night and waking up at the same time every morning can help stabilise your internal rhythms, allowing you to wake up feeling refreshed and energised instead of dragging throughout the day.

Confront your concerns

Identifying the sources of your anxiety and sadness can be the first step to confronting and resolving them. There is nothing wrong with requesting some assistance with your mental health. Speak to your friends and family about how you are feeling, or simply find someone with whom you can offload. If you don’t want to talk about things with your nearest and dearest, several organisations provide a helpful ear when needed.

Read for pleasure

Reading isn’t everyone’s ideal relaxation pursuit. For some people, reading is too close to studying for their liking. However, reading for pleasure is a great way to take your mind off how you’re feeling. If you are usually a biography, or science buff, deviate into some escapist sci-fi, fantasy or even the often ridiculed chick-lit. If you have a local library or book service, you could find some interesting reading on self-help for mental health books, which provide helpful information and support for managing common mental health conditions.

Be kind to yourself

Many people set unrealistic New Year resolutions and then feel a sense of deflation and failure when they can’t keep them. Remember to slow down and make some time for yourself.

Be tech smart and switch off

Constant connection to technology can negatively impact your mood, not least because you can always be in contact with your work life or be inundated with news snippets. Switching phones and tablets off at least 1.5 hours before bedtime allows you to relax, feel less anxious, and get a good night’s sleep.

Yes, even night mode on your phone isn’t good for you, and likewise for reading on a tablet. Try an e-ink or an actual “tree” book.

Learn something new

Do something new. It doesn’t matter what it is as long as it stimulates you. Start that course you’ve been meaning to do. Take on a new role. Fix up a car. Learn to play an instrument. Set a goal. Learning new things can be fun, make you feel good, and build confidence. The critical thing to remember is to do something for YOU, not something you need to do for someone or thing else.

Supporting Colleagues and Mitigating Productivity Effects

Even if you aren’t feeling the stress of the January Blues, have you noticed your colleagues starting to struggle with any of the aforementioned symptoms? Be wary of referring to a slump in colleagues’ behaviour as the “January Blues” because some people do suffer from Seasonal Affected Disorder or SAD (appropriate, isn’t it?), or even depression and anxiety that’s otherwise kept in check throughout the rest of the year. Trivialising someone’s lived experience can be very detrimental to their mental health.

Show commitment to mental health 

It’s crucial for employees to feel able to discuss mental health concerns with their manager or HR. If you can, encourage conversations about mental well-being, and promote an open and accepting culture. Perhaps at the end of each team meeting, people can chat through any well-being issues.

Enlist “Mental Health Champions”

Even with the most open culture you can imagine, not everyone will feel comfortable airing their mental well-being issues. Having people trained who act as mental health first-aiders is virtually as crucial as having a person who can deliver physical first aid in the organisation who is trained to support colleagues and to promote mental health awareness could help to break down any stigmas around mental health.

Train managers to identify indicators

Great leaders already know how to read the mood and morale of their team and have a pretty good read on mental health issues. But not every manager is a born leader with innate people management skills. All managers should have the training to identify symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression and have the ability to manage them. Often employees feel uncomfortable speaking about mental health, but those trained to recognise the signs can gently encourage conversations if they have concerns about an employee.

Use technology

Invest in absence management software to spot the early signs someone is suffering. This software tracks all absences, such as sick and holiday leave, and enables employers to understand behaviour better. Not taking all their annual leave could be a sign something is wrong, as can taking a lot of time off sick.

Do return-to-work interviews

Absence management software prompts return-to-work interviews when people are off sick. However, do not frame your return-to-work interviews as a way to admonish staff for their absence. This is not the point. The point is to give someone a safe space to discuss any issues and for managers to spot any red flags or areas of concern. These should be vital for picking up early signs something is wrong.

Communicate what support is available

If you have support, make sure everyone knows about it. Even though many large companies have access to mental health services, it’s not often that employees fully understand what’s available. Even if you don’t have access to these services with your business, ensuring your employees know where they can access outside help is a good idea. Charities and state-funded health services are ideal for first-line support.

Demonstrate an excellent work-life balance

Companies should lead from the top and encourage a good work-life balance. People spend a lot of time at work, so encourage regular breaks during the day, team days out or Friday drinks and breaks for coffee, and take all their annual leave.

There will always be times when people need to work late or extra hours, but don’t make this a habit. Where possible, allow some flexibility for early finishes or even every fourth Friday off if they have had a hectic period.

Concluding Thoughts

January Blues, Winter Blues, and SAD all carry the stigma of mental health, even though the symptoms and signs can be all too physical. While mental health is a year-round issue, it can be significantly more acute in wintertime. It’s not something you can ignore, and it is considerably better to work with your employees than try to eliminate the problem from your business.

Putting some of these procedures in place won’t eliminate mental health and sickness from your business. However, you can mitigate their effects on your business by helping make your company an open culture, ready to support and work with your employees. Particularly through difficult times.

Winter doesn’t last for life, but your staff might. Look after them, and let them help your business.

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