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

January 24th 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 in many places 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.

Here's why this week is Yuck Week for me:

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 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 I feel I should do is be an administrator for the support group 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 boundary skills and fewer 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 — a corner of real estate in my son’s bedroom (I do pay him rent) — and went through the seven legal pads 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 toward 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 Grain Brain Cookbook, as we are trying to eliminate sugar and flour from our diets. I thumbed through it and was a tad intimidated by 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 you're 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 bloodstream, convinces me that there is nothing to live for. I know that I have more energy and feel better when I take a nonsynthetic medication for my underactive thyroid, Nature-Throid, even though I couldn’t find an endocrinologist who would prescribe it for me.

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