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Navigate the 'January Blues' by building resilience that lasts

Navigate the 'January Blues' by building resilience that lasts


Ann Diment offers some tips to help navigate the post-holiday blues and collaborate with colleagues to build resilience that lasts beyond January

As the new year unfolds, you may find yourself grappling with the so-called "January Blues." This dip in mood and motivation can affect not only your own wellbeing, but also your professional performance. If your role involves managing the health, safety and wellbeing of others, it’s important that you address this, so you are feeling motivated and capable of showing up fully at work.

In this article, we will explore what causes the January Blues, delve into some of the key signs and symptoms, and offer some practical strategies for getting the support you need to get through the Winter months so you can build your own resilience toolkit to better support yourself and your colleagues.

What are the January Blues?

The January Blues, also known as the post-holiday slump, is a common experience, typically marked by feelings of lethargy, low energy, and low motivation, so you and your organisation need to be proactive in recognising and addressing these challenges together.

For professionals whose roles involve stress and high workloads, the impact can be particularly pronounced. The transition from the holiday season to hitting the treadmill again, meeting the demands of a new year can lead to you feeling overwhelmed, stressed or unable to cope.

It’s important to note that mental health challenges and low mood can happen any time of the year, and mental health campaigners dispel the popular myth that the third Monday in January is the most depressing day of the year. Depression is debilitating condition that can affect people on any day at any time of the year and it is estimated that one in six people will experience depressive illness during their lifetime. There is no credible evidence (or suggestion in this article) to suggest that one day, or month, can increase the risk of feeling depressed.

However, it’s recognised that when returning to work after the festive break, (which may not have been restful at all depending on your home circumstances), with the increased financial burden of festive spending and a longer gap until payday, increased energy and food bills, your mental load may increase.

If your job is stressful too, and you come back to a bulging inbox, this could tip you into feeling overwhelmed if you don’t recognise and take steps to release it in a healthy way. The pressure to meet targets and deadlines common in our fast-paced working culture doesn’t take into account the natural human instinct to slow down in the winter months, and this could also increase the risk of burnout.

There is sound evidence to support the idea that shorter days and longer darker nights in winter can affect your mood through the way the body responds to daylight. Levels of the sleep-regulating hormone melatonin are regulated by light entering the eye. Scientists believe that shorter daylight hours in the winter stimulate your body to produce higher levels of melatonin which helps your body get ready for sleep, causing increased feelings of lethargy.

In addition, the mood regulating hormone serotonin is also affected by how much sunlight you get. Some people seem to produce higher levels of melatonin and lower level of serotonin during winter, so this combination combined with life and work pressures in January could lead to your mood being affected. This is sometimes described as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), but it’s important to note that SAD is only diagnosed if your low mood/ depression has a clear seasonal pattern.

Identifying signs and symptoms

How would you know if you have the January Blues? It’s more than just feeling a bit tired or reluctant to come back to work after the holidays. The signs can be both mental (anxiety, low mood) and physical (headaches, loss of appetite, stomach complaints, digestive issues, lethargy, disrupted sleep patterns), so it’s important to be tuned into your body to catch them early and get the support you need.

You may experience increased stress responses and fatigue that seems to never go away, and could also experience a loss of interest in your work and other aspects of your social life and self-care.

The NHS identifies symptoms of low mood as feeling:

  • Sad

  • Anxious or panicky

  • More tired than usual or difficulty sleeping

  • Angry or frustrated

  • Low on confidence or self-esteem.


Low mood often gets better after a few days or weeks, helped by making some changes to your lifestyle or getting support from family, friends and colleagues. However, If you are experiencing any of these signs for longer than two weeks, or are in addition experiencing some or all of the feelings below, speak to your GP or a mental health professional, as you may be experiencing a depressive episode, and this will not clear with self-help alone:

  • Not getting any enjoyment out of life
  • Feeling hopeless
  • Not being able to concentrate on everyday things
  • Having suicidal thoughts or thoughts about harming yourself

Practical strategies for support

How can your team support each other if the January Blues start showing up and how can you build your own resilience toolkit? Creating a culture of support is critical in reducing the impact of the winter months on your wellbeing.

Here are some ideas to consider: 

  • Be Flexible: Allow flexible work schedules to accommodate individual needs, particularly for those with caring responsibilities as winter viruses and sickness bugs increase as schools and nurseries resume. 

  • Take your breaks: Encourage regular breaks where you can get up from your desk and get outside or talk to a colleague (on the phone if you work remotely) instead of emailing them.

  • Provide access to resources: for stress management and mental health support.

  • Teamwork: Team-building activities and social events can foster a sense of community, promoting emotional wellbeing, so maybe consider having that festive lunch in January, or hold a Samaritans ‘Brew Monday’ event to get people talking about mental health.

  • Get more light: Try to get outside as often as you can or sit by a window. 

  • Eat well: Low mood and feeling cold in winter can tempt you to eat more comfort foods which are higher in starches and sugars that affect your blood sugar levels and may be lacking in key nutrients to keep you well, so try and brighten your plate with more colourful vitamin-rich fruit and vegetables to boost your immune system.

  • Move more: Get active! Exercise can boost levels of mood-regulating serotonin, and if you get outside to exercise it could also provide a welcome change of scene, and some social connection if you exercise with friends or colleagues.


Building long-term resilience

By incorporating these strategies, you and your team will be better prepared to face the challenges that January may bring. However, it might also be a good time to reflect on how you could use these strategies in building longer-term resilience for a more sustained wellbeing support programme.

Treat individuals as ‘whole people’ and not just their job role, considering what they are dealing with outside of work. ‘Free fruit Fridays’ won’t help someone with family, health, housing or financial challenges - this could simply be addressed by having more ‘what matters’ conversations to get to know each other better.
Other strategies could include ongoing training and skills development, emotion coaching and mentoring, and an organisation-wide focus on more holistic wellbeing management and work-life balance. Reviewing stress risk assessments, training how to recognise stress triggers and respond differently to them, and examining how change is communicated and managed all create safe spaces for individuals to reach out when they are not feeling OK.
By fostering more resilience in you and your team, you will be far better placed to be able to navigate daily challenges with confidence and contribute to a safer and healthier working environment for all.
If you have been affected by any of the issues in this article here are some support resources:

Free listening services

These services offer confidential support from trained volunteers:

Further reading:

  1. What causes Seasonal Affective Disorder? Mind
  2. Busting the ‘Blue Monday’ Myth :
  3. How can I beat the January blues? Abi Rimmer, BMJ 2021;372:m4932 
  4. Samaritans ‘Brew Monday’ little tips leaflet 
Ann Diment


Ann Diment is a Creative Changemaker who empowers burned out professionals to become compassionate and resilient leaders through the power of creative wellbeing tools and mindful self-care coaching.
Ann has spent most of her adult life trying to understand why she was burning out, & how to prevent it happening again. As owner of Work Safe and Well, she campaigns, trains, and coaches on beating burnout and smashing stigma about mental health. She has published a best-selling book 'Turning the Tables on Burnout' to share her tips.

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