January can be tough. The holidays and all their hustle and bustle are over, as is the break from work. Days are dark and short but feel never-ending, and if you live somewhere with a cold climate, you know that the winter chills of January are nothing to scoff at. Another COVID-19 variant has many people spending more time at home to stay safe, which only adds to the January ennui. In short, January feels like one eternal Sunday scary.

If you’re feeling drained and dreary this month, you’re definitely not alone — but you don’t have to keep feeling that way into February and beyond. These tips from wellness professionals and therapists can help you reframe the way you look at January and navigate the winter blues.

January weather may not be as palatable as May, but there are major wellness benefits to getting outside on the regular, so bundle up if you have to. “From improved memory, decreased stress and depression, increased attention and focus, and even increases in creativity, nature incubates positive changes in the human body, mind, and heart,” says Diana Concannon, PsyD, crisis response expert and dean of the California School of Forensic Studies at Alliant International University. “Individuals who spend time in nature also show decreased levels of cortisol, which is associated with elevated moods. Spending even brief moments outdoors, when safe to do so, offers a myriad of benefits including increasing our happiness,” she explains. Meet a friend for a walk, take your cardio routine outdoors, or reconnect with your childhood self and go sledding or ice-skating.

Plan activities and events to look forward to.

If you’re struggling with post-holiday letdown, fill your calendar with things that get you excited about what’s to come. “One of the beautiful things about the holiday season is that it gives us something to look forward to each day. That excitement is typically all the energy we need to pull us through slumps,” says Awstin Gregg, chief executive officer at Connections Wellness Group. “Plan some activities for yourself that give you something to look forward to throughout your week,” Gregg recommends. Of course, take COVID precautions seriously and be sure your plans are safe and responsible, whether you’re meeting a friend for dinner or doing a weekend staycation.

Get in touch with yourself via meditation.

Meditation and mindfulness can be extremely valuable tools to help you understand your reactions to stress and the ups and downs of daily life. “During meditation, you focus your attention and quiet the stream of jumbled thoughts that may be crowding your mind and causing stress,” says Brittany Hackman, yoga instructor at Bulldog Online. That doesn’t mean you have to sit quietly for 30 minutes and clear your mind entirely, though — you can connect with your inner self anywhere and everywhere.

“Focus on your breathing in mindful meditations, and when your mind wanders (and it will), you bring your thoughts back to your steady breath,” explains Hackman. She recommends trying on-the-go meditation while you’re out for a walk, using public transit, or waiting for an appointment, starting with belly breaths. “This conscious claiming, shifting of, and attention to breath is something you can do anytime, anywhere, to move into a more meditative state. You can even visualize taking in something positive with each breath.”

Fill up your plate with color.

Research has shown that eating lots of fruits and veggies can help lift your mood. “When you’re feeling down, a big salad is probably the last thing you think to bring you back up,” says farmer Lee Jones of The Chef’s Garden. But give it a shot. Jones recommends looking for fruits and veggies that are locally sourced, in-season, or grown at home for the most nutritional impact and flavor, but there’s nothing wrong with heating up a bag of steamed broccoli or hitting up Sweetgreen.

Practice good sleep hygiene.

Too much or too little sleep can have a major impact on how you feel day to day. “Consider sticking to a routine that provides you seven to nine hours of sleep per night,” Gregg advises. “The vital key is that this routine has you going to bed at the same time and waking up at the same time. This allows our circadian rhythm to have our backs as we journey through January.” Start a bedtime routine that works for you and stick to it — swap screens for a book, unwind with a slow yoga flow or some stretching, or take a bath in dim lighting to signal to your body that it’s time to sleep. Consider getting a sunrise alarm to wake up gently instead of a blaring siren sound and download a white noise app if you need help filtering squeaky floors or traffic outside. 

Order a light box and use it regularly.

If your winter blues aren’t going away, you may be dealing with seasonal affective disorder (SAD). “Evidence suggests that the primary cause of SAD appears to be a decrease in available sunlight,” says Dr. Priyanka, MD, a psychiatrist and medical director for Mindpath Health. For mild to moderate symptoms of SAD, Priyanka recommends taking vitamin D supplements (with your doctor’s guidance) and exercise, as well as light therapy with a SAD lamp. “This improves the individual’s chances of managing the symptoms better and keeps them functional and consistent throughout the rest of the year.” 

Remind yourself that January won’t last forever, and that brighter days are just around the corner. “Things usually start to look even better towards the end of January as spring is in the air,” Priyanka says.

Kara Nesvig

Contributor

Kara Nesvig grew up on a sugar beet farm in rural North Dakota and did her first professional interview with Steven Tyler at age 14. She has written for publications including Teen Vogue, Allure and Wit & Delight. She lives in an adorable 1920s house in St. Paul with her husband, their Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Dandelion and many, many pairs of shoes. Kara is a voracious reader, Britney Spears superfan and copywriter — in that order.

Follow Kara