It’s all in your head

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The holiday season is over. For many, that simple statement of fact can cause real, debilitating feelings of depression. A survey conducted in 2015 reveals that in fact 64% of people experience feelings of depression after the holiday season is over. That means it’s not just a common problem, but something of a norm. There are more people who get depressed after Christmas than those who don’t. 

Psychologists are quick to theorize why we feel the way we do after the holidays. Things such as increased alcohol consumption and high calorie intake – both of which are associated with increased depression – are often blamed since these activities are staples of the holiday season. A more obvious explanation is that something exciting which we had been building up to for a long time has come and gone, and we are now back to the daily grind.

Like most people, I love the holidays. It’s not just Christmas Day or New Years Eve, it’s the entire month-long season of generosity, good cheer, family gatherings, and magical traditions that makes me excited for the month of December every single year. It’s not about a particular day or particular celebrations so much as it is about the whole atmosphere of the season. It feels warm. Adults become kids again. It feels like the whole world is coming together to be merry all at once. 

It’s no wonder why January hits so hard. For many, finances are less than ideal after a month of buying gifts and hosting gatherings. Those who had time off are thrust back into the world of long work weeks and weekends that feel too short. Perhaps the worst part is that we are at the longest possible point away from returning to the magic of the Christmas season. And all those New Years resolutions – I’m already upset and I agreed to EXERCISE? The horror!

A commentary on the glum nature of the month of January would be unfair without some advice on what to do about it. I am a Mental Health Counsellor by training, but I only dabble in the field. When it comes to common mental health issues, I often think about the ages-old saying, “it’s all in your head”. If you want to upset someone experiencing mental illness, tell them it’s all in their head. They will positively flip out at the perceived suggestion that they are making it all up. The problem, however, is that mental illness is indeed, in your head. You wouldn’t suggest to someone that their depression originates in their foot any more than you would tell a person with a broken leg that some eye drops should make them feel better. I am reminded of the final film in the Harry Potter series, in which Harry and the previously deceased Dumbledore find themselves chatting in a glowing white setting reminiscent of London’s King’s Cross railway station. Toward the end of their conversation, Harry asks Dumbledore if what is happening is real, or is only happening inside his own head. Dumbledore answers, “Of course it’s all happening inside your head, Harry, but why should that mean it’s not real?” Words to live by when it comes to mental illness.

So what can you do to get the January blues out of your head and out of your heart? Firstly, it would be irresponsible of me not to backtrack on my joke about the horrors of exercise. Exercise is actually one of the best natural treatments for depression symptoms. It doesn’t even need to be vigorous. I myself have started walking to the post office to get the mail, rather than grabbing it on the way driving to or from home. I particularly enjoy walking at night – highly recommended if you know the proper safety protocols and feel safe doing so. It’s calm and a great way to clear you head. 

Another great thing to do is to look for new things to look forward to. Perhaps you have a family gathering planned in a few weeks time, or a vacation planned in the spring. If nothing that exciting is planned, try looking for a new TV series or a few good movies to look forward to watching. My wife and I have shows that we like to watch before bed. Having such things to look forward to during the workday is very uplifting. 

Despite depressed feelings, people also sometimes get renewed energy in the new year. The holiday season is relaxing, enjoyable, and filled with cheer and generosity, but it is not always productive. Work performance can get lax, as can things such as house rules and routines. A new year can mean new beginnings. Tackling things you have been putting off can be a great way to lift your spirits. Productivity brings many positive feelings. An example of this could be finding new, more efficient ways to do chores so that you have more time for yourself during the week. Another example could be hammering out specific days where the whole family is expected to eat dinner together at the table and catch up on life, if you have fallen into the habit of having meals in front of the TV. 

Above all, don’t forget about self-care. Some people get into such a rut of sadness that they actually forget what they enjoy. Take a few minutes and figure it out. Ask yourself what you enjoy, what preparation you need to make your self-care activities happen, and what days and times you can dedicate to self-care on a regular basis. These could be things like taking a bubble bath, searching online for new music to listen to, or taking up a hobby such as puzzles or woodworking. 

As I write these last few words, I realize that one thing that is sure to brighten my January is continuing to connect with readers and help provide a voice in the community. Maybe reading the newspaper with a good cup of coffee can be one of your self-care activities – it certainly is one of mine. No one knows what 2023 will bring in terms of news and events in North Dundas, but I look forward to finding out together. Happy New Year!

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