For many of us, the start of the new year offers a clean slate to our grueling year-end vacation schedule, providing us with an opportunity to reset and make decisions.
But striving to achieve such lofty goals can go against our natural instincts as humans, says Brianda Diaz de Leon, a licensed social worker with Thriveworks, a Dallas-based mental health company.
The winter season, which brings with it colder weather and less daylight, is taking its toll on many. The need to achieve more in January, combined with the effects of the holiday season, is forcing people to struggle with their mental well-being, she says.
“We are still animals, and in a way (winter) is the time for us when we hibernate, so we experience more tiredness and fatigue,” Diaz de Leon said.
Here’s what else makes this time of year difficult for people and ways to deal with growing anxiety.
While January presents a new set of challenges, mental health starts to take a turn for the worse towards the end of the year, Diaz de Leon said. More people were stressed during the holiday season in 2022 than last time, in part due to rising inflation, according to an American Psychiatric Association survey.
“Sometimes our capitalist society and the demands of our capitalist holiday season don’t quite fit with just being human,” Diaz de Leon said. A recent poll by APA found that the recession, gun violence and the Russian-Ukrainian war also contributed to Americans’ anxiety in 2022.
During the holiday season, people also have unpleasant conversations with family members they haven’t seen in a while, she said. Those who suffer from anxiety are more likely to feel residual shame from these exchanges, which can continue into January.
“We’re kind of in a place where there’s a shift in consciousness and maybe even political identity, so it definitely came to a head during the holidays,” she said.
This year, Diaz de León said she noticed higher levels of work- and pandemic-related burnout among her patients. News of the XBB variant in December 2022 raised concerns among some customers as they enter the third year of the global pandemic.
“Most of my clients have a very hard time,” she said. “We remain hopeful, but it’s harder for them to bounce back than before.”
Many workers also take paid leave to celebrate the end of the year. According to Diaz de León, returning to the office is accompanied by a “PTO syndrome” and adjustment to the stressors of everyday life.
“Once January rolls around, the holiday season is over,” she said. “Many of us now have to deal with the consequences of our financial decisions.”
Unrealistic New Year’s resolutions can also contribute to feelings of failure and depression, and can peak around mid-January.
“In the middle of the month, we realize that our New Year resolution is probably out of reach and a lot of us are kind of going crazy,” she said. “So on top of the stress we were already experiencing, there’s a lot of guilt and shame added to it.”
Seasonal affective disorder, a recurring seasonal depression that typically peaks in the fall and winter, may also play a role in January’s mental health decline. According to Psychology Today, SAD affects about 10 million people in the United States, and women are diagnosed more frequently.
Diaz de León recommends that people take care of themselves, including staying hydrated, eating nutritious foods, getting enough sleep, and engaging in some form of physical activity.
“By taking care of myself, I mean literally taking care of ourselves in the most basic sense, such as making sure that we are actually eating enough and that our food is rich in the nutrients and calories we need, especially in daily life. . winter months,” she said.
For people who work from home and lead a sedentary lifestyle, it’s important to move throughout the day, even if it’s a walk or a five-minute stretch.
And when it comes to goals for the new year, she advises people to break down their goals into months or quarters so they can better meet their expectations.
“If your goal is to open your office by the end of 2023, maybe we can break it down into quarterly goals so we can better track what’s going on,” Diaz de Leon said.
If you are struggling with winter blues or any other mental illness, help is available. If you are in a crisis, seek help immediately and call 911 or the Suicide Prevention Hotline at 988. For a free anonymous consultation, you can also send a crisis text message by texting SIGNS to 741741.