Janu-Worry: Expert advice on how to combat the new year blues

File image.

File image.

Published Jan 8, 2023


Johannesburg – Whether you enjoyed the festive season or not, January can be a challenging time for many people from all walks of life.

This phenomenon is so common that it is even termed “Janu-Worry”, a time following the hype of the holidays and a return to normal life.

And while the beginning of this year is seemingly more positive than the previous two when the devastating Covid-19 pandemic was raging, mental health experts warn that the after effects of the novel coronavirus, as well as mounting financial pressure facing scores of South Africans, are causes of concern.

The SA Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag) explained that much of “Janu-Worry” comes from change and expectation following a period of enjoyment and rest.

“Some people worry about the uncertainty of an entire new year, while others worry about change in their environment, relationships and in the economy, for example,” the organisation explained.

“All this worrying can lead to a lot of stress and anxiety. This is as the new year may also see new responsibilities such as a new job, new relationships, or even taking your child to school for the first time.”

Janu-Worry can be a trying time. File image.

Sadag call centre manager Tracy Feinstein told The Saturday Star this week that the devastation from the lockdown and the pandemic continued to be felt.

“Much of this includes financial struggles which continue globally, including in South Africa where there are high rates of unemployment and poverty. It is so important for those who are battling to reach out for help.”

Meanwhile, Parkhurst couples therapist Michael Kallenbach added that January was always a busy and difficult month for therapists.

He believes that the festive season is often to blame as it is not always a happy time for all.

“Many are forced to spend time with people they usually don't see during the year. This could bring up many issues with families and marriages and even though the holidays are meant to be a happy time, this is not always the case for everyone.”

Another reason why January is a difficult month for many, Kallenbach said, was because the expectations of getting things started on a positive note following an often stressful and chaotic holiday season.

“January is a busy time with people coming back from holiday and having to go back to work, school, the gym and to resume their daily lives and they struggle with all this rush.”

Kallenbach added that just because it was a new year, the problems from previous ones don't simply disappear.

“January coming along doesn't mean the problems, particularly during the last two years from the pandemic, have gone away.”

These sentiments were shared by Feinstein. He added that many were prone to a mental health setback during January when the reality of resuming normal life hit following the holiday season.

“When you had a break or holiday, a digital detox, or even just a break from a work environment, the reality of going back to normal and returning to work, paying bills and facing the challenges that you might have taken a break from during the festive can prove to be a huge challenge.”

But despite this, Feinstein also believes the dawn of a new year to be an opportunity for much welcomed change.

Physical activity, like yoga, can reduce depression. l SUPPLIED

“January is a reminder of the opportunity to try things differently and choose to not see it as a setback but as a new opportunity to do something different, to make new choices and to take control of your mental health.”

She also suggested making mental health a continuous focus and to set realistic goals for the new year.

“Goal setting in January should be unique and tailored for each person and should be realistically achievable in their own environments.”

She warned that goal setting which is not managed or supported by a level of structure can have a negative impact on an individual if it is not achieved.

Meanwhile, mental health ailments has in recent years garnered increasing awareness from the World Health Organisation (WHO).

It defines mental wellness as “a state of well-being in which an individual realises his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his or her community”.

The global health organisation has offered the following advice for dealing with the January Blues:

1. Talk to someone you trust

The WHO believes that talking to someone you trust – whether a friend, a family member, or a colleague – can help. “You may feel better if you are able to openly share what you are going through with someone who cares about you,” it said.

2. Look after your physical health

Taking care of your physical health helps improve your mental health and well-being, the WHO said. They suggested being active for at least 30 minutes daily, as well as eating a balanced and healthy diet and getting enough sleep.

3. Do activities that you enjoy

Try to continue doing the activities that you find meaningful and enjoyable, such as cooking for yourself or your loved ones, playing with your pet, walking in the park, reading a book, or watching a film or TV series.

“Having a regular routine with activities that make you feel happy will help you maintain good mental health,” the WHO said.

4. Steer away from harmful substances

The WHO warned against using harmful substances such as drugs, alcohol and tobacco to cope with what you’re feeling. “Though these may seem to help you feel better in the short term, they can make you feel worse in the long run.”

“These substances are also dangerous and can put you and those around you at risk of diseases or injuries.”

5. Take two minutes to focus on the world around you

The WHO suggested freeing yourself of constantly swirling thoughts by reconnecting yourself with where you are at this moment in time. “Simply take three slow deep breaths, feel your feet grounded on the floor and ask yourself:

What are five things I can see?

What are four things I can hear?

What can I smell?

What does it feel like to touch my knees or something else I can reach? How does it feel underneath my fingers?

6. Seek professional help

If you feel like you cannot cope with the stress that you are facing, seek professional help by calling your local mental health helpline or getting in touch with your counsellor or doctor, the WHO said. “Remember you are not alone, and there are things you can do to support your emotional wellbeing.”

The Saturday Star