By Dr. Allison Neibes-Davis
The holidays have come and gone, and if you’re like many people, the glow of all the vacation time, festive get-togethers, and snuggles by the fire are fading fast. January is here, and while it can often bring about hopefulness for the New Year, it can also bring about some serious struggles. From feeling blah and lethargic, to feeling depressed and deflated, people experience this time of year with all sorts of difficulty. Combine that with the winter weather that many of us across the country experience (hello Chicago; I’m looking at you), January and February can be tough months. Thankfully, there are tons of scientifically backed ways to deal with these difficult feelings, and I’m here to share a few of my favorites!
1. Get Grateful
Gratitude is one of the biggest contributors to happiness, and psychologists are starting to uncover all sorts of goodness about gratitude. As humans, our brains are wired to focus on the negative. It’s a protective mechanism gone awry, one that many of us have gotten pretty good at. Gratitude isn’t about pretending that our days are all sunshine and roses; rather, gratitude is about recognizing the pleasant, the meaningful, and the sweet surprises that pop up throughout the day. Gratitude involves training our brains to notice the positives, no matter how small they may be. A steaming cup of coffee, five extra minutes of peace before the kids come barreling downstairs, hitting green lights all the way to an appointment, or getting your foot in the door with an exciting client. Challenge yourself to name three new things to be grateful for each day, meaning no repeats. If you stick with this exercise, every day for at least three weeks, you’ll be amazed at how your outlook on life starts to shift.
2. Get Moving
If you immediately let out a groan, hang with me. Research is pretty consistent about the mental and emotional impact of exercise, but this doesn’t have to mean spending hours in the gym or being glued to the treadmill. Just focus on moving for 20 minutes or so. Take the dog on a longer than normal walk, try a Zumba class with a friend, bike to the local library, or throw the football with your kids. If you’re like me, exercise is the last thing you feel like doing when you’re down, yet it’s one of the most proven methods for boosting your mood. Don’t wait until you feel like exercising; just get moving!
3. Get Serious About Fun
It’s important to schedule something fun into your calendar. Take notice that I didn’t say “do something fun,” but rather, schedule something fun. Research has shown that anticipating and looking forward to something often increases the positive experience of actually doing the fun thing. By scheduling the activity or event, you’re giving yourself the anticipation of the experience plus the experience. The activity or event doesn’t have to be expensive or outrageous; it simply needs to be something you will enjoy. Schedule a coffee date with a friend, plan a game night with your neighbors, or mark down dinner at your favorite restaurant. Put it on the calendar at least two or three weeks in advance, and enjoy both the anticipation and the experience.
4. Get Mindful
I talk a lot about mindfulness on my site, and if you aren’t practicing mindfulness on a daily basis, I highly encourage you to poke around my site to learn more. In a nutshell, mindfulness involves focusing your attention on the present moment. Not what happened yesterday, not what you have to do later this afternoon, but what is happening right now, in this very moment. We spend a great deal of time trying to keep negative feelings out of our life, yet by denying our experience, we limit our ability to tend to our pain. Mindfulness has all sorts of benefits, and it’s a great way to get on a path toward increased happiness. Want help getting started with mindfulness? Check out the Headspace app, and take advantage of their free 10-day training program. It’s pretty awesome.
5. Get Out of Your Routine
We can sometimes get into a rut, doing the same routine over and over, particularly during the winter months, when the spontaneity of summer seems far away. Find a small way to change your routine and/or scenery. Instead of eating dinner at the table, grab a blanket and make it a picnic in the living room. Make your weekly meeting with your employee a walking meeting this week, or ditch your Friday night takeout for a make your own pizza night at home. No matter how small or silly it seems, shake things up! Remember, we don’t always have a choice what life (or winter) throws our way, but we absolutely have a choice in how we respond. So why not respond in a way that maximizes your mental and emotional health? Small, consistent changes lead to big and meaningful results!
This article originally appeared in the January Issue of our monthly magazine alongside articles from other great guest contributors and Kelsey, such as How to Find Your Calling, plus behind the scenes details from each January episode. To get the magazine subscribe here, issues are FREE but they expire each month so sign up today and download as soon they're available or you'll miss out! Subscribe
Dr. Allison is a licensed clinical psychologist in the Chicago area, working with adults, couples, and teenagers, helping them lead healthier and more fulfilling lives. She speaks and provides trainings and workshops all across the country for people looking to simplify psychology to help them address life’s complicated questions. Her favorite buzzwords include mindfulness, balance, intentionality, authenticity, and vulnerability, and her goal is to help people incorporate these buzzwords into their daily lives. College football, Harry Potter, and leopard print are a few of her favorite things. Learn more from her at DrAllisonAnswers.com.