How to Withstand January (and the Rest of a Miserable Winter)

winter-snowJanuary, I’ve heard said, is the most depressing month of the year.

(For many, February isn’t much better.  And this January in particular brings its own unique brand of wretchedness for many.)

This despite the fact that, with the holiday season and hence the longest night now in the past, not only is a new year upon us but so too are the daylight hours progressively getting longer.

January is often the harshest month of the year weather-wise, at least in the northern hemisphere.

Cold temperatures, biting winds, grey skies, torrential rain (if you live in Vancouver), and driving snow (again, if you live in Vancouver, at least this year) often plague you seemingly without end.

It’s also the month where the full extent of your holiday indulgence can come back to haunt you.

Weight gain, ruined budgets, your house filled with crap you bought on Boxing Day that you really didn’t need.

Plus with Christmas being less a time of rest and relaxation than stuffing oneself with everything in sight and spending time with everyone and anyone you know and love, you’re probably tired as hell in addition.

On top of that, you’re back to your day-to-day slog in January, the weather and darkness of which makes the usual seem feel that much more difficult.  So too does the expectation that your time off left you rejuvenated and ready get back at her.

Plus, is it really staying lighter longer?  It damn well doesn’t look that way to me.

Overcoming winter’s worst

In many places, the span from the end of New Year’s until the start of Easter season three to four months later is the longest haul of the year without any sort of statutory holiday. (This is the reason some Canadian provinces – but not all of them – created a new holiday in February.)

January is often a time of new beginnings – a time to either establish new good habits and practices or else soldier on with what’s been working well all along, now entering year number X.

But is can be hard to do this with all of the abovementioned conspiring to bring you down.  I thus offer the following recommendations to help you hang only until spring:

1) Get enough sleep

Many people experience disruptions to their sleeping patterns in January.  If you work business hours, the later daylight in the morning can make it difficult to wake up early.

Earlier darkness in the evening can also make you tired at times you’re not able to go to sleep.

As well, the overall gloominess of the season may cause you to stay up later than you should watching TV, web surfing, or doing whatever it takes to combat the feeling of living in total darkness.

The only way to compensate for a lack of quality sleep is to try to get more of it.  Going to bed half an hour or so earlier can help.

So too can maintaining a consistent sleeping schedule (even on weekends) and avoiding all the negative sleep hygiene habits we hear so much about (no electronics in bed, avoiding naps, having a pre-bedtime routine, etc.)

2) Create mood lighting

With all the later and earlier hours of daylight and darkness in the exact opposite order we want them, our use of artificial light increases.

This might be my own personal wintertime dysfunction, but I can’t stand harsh, overly bright light, no matter how dark it is outside.

My dining room overhead light, with the original fixture and the lampshade I added

My dining room overhead light, with the original fixture and the lampshade I added

When I moved into my current apartment, the overhead light fixture in the dining room was just a cone-shaped shade from which the bare light bulb hung directly above my head.  It felt like being in a police interrogation.

The only bare light source I can stand is a candle flame.  When it comes to LED or halogen lighting, I have to keep it on a dim setting, although in truth, I rarely use my halogen lamp.

If you find yourself bothered by the glare of the lighting in your house, some nice paper lantern style lampshades or lamps made from coloured glass can help soften things up.  This is turn might make you calmer and also aid in the transition from wakefulness to sleep.

3) Establish a routine

Often during winter, because of the darkness and cold and resulting tiredness and cabin fever and overall feeling of blah, life just feels more difficult to navigate.

This can make it harder to manage your various obligations, as well as weather life’s unexpected storms (sometimes quite literally) that arise.

Routine can help with tasks that regularly recur.  The beauty of a routine is that once you’re established it, you no longer have to think about what needs doing when.  You just do it.

Laundry on Monday, sweep the floors on Thursday, call Mom on Sunday. This way, even though you already feel like you’re autopiloting through life, you’re still getting shit done.

What’s more, since you’re not wasting brain power on trivial things, you’ll have more of it in reserve for when you really need to think your way out of a situation.

4) Dress warmly for the cold

No, being cold doesn’t actually cause colds.

Me at the Hôtel de Glace, Quebec City, 2008

Me at the Hôtel de Glace (the Glass Hotel), Quebec City, 2008

That being said, whether you’re one of those people who likes cooler temperatures or not (I’m definitely not), the feeling of being cold – of frozen fingers, ears, toes, and wind that seemingly goes straight through you –can still effect you negatively.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.  Invest in some good gloves and winter boots.  Forget about your faux hawk or artfully messy ponytail and put a hat one.   Actually do up your jacket.

As they say in Newfoundland (and countless other places I’m sure), there’s no such thing as bad weather, just wrong clothing.

5) Focus on progress

January, of course, is often when New Year’s resolutions are foremost on people’s minds.

So too is it the time when people often begin to fall short on these goals.

Part of this has to do with the practice of focusing more on what you haven’t achieved rather than what you have thus far, however small.

This failure to acknowledge progress in turn can lead to a failure to make additional progress, which before you know it results in the dissolution of the goal altogether.

In achieving a goal, particularly a large, long-term one, remember that progress often amasses very slowly.  The distance to your goal’s completion can take a long time to show itself to be shrinking.

Because of this, reminders and rewards for your success to date – the process of looking forward over your shoulder – are of utmost importance.

A/N: These tips are meant to assist in overcoming relatively minor winter blahs.  If ever you find yourself in a truly depressive state to the point that your quality of life is seriously affected, please seek help from a qualified mental health professional.

What tips do you have for making it through January and the rest of the winter?  Let me know in the comments.

(Images: J.G. Noelle)

8 thoughts on “How to Withstand January (and the Rest of a Miserable Winter)

  1. Some of the wretchedness will continue a long time. For that, limit you involvement: pick an area you are willing to volunteer some of your time for – and let other people handle the other areas.

    It’s a time to be more activist as well as more active (learn to ski – it’s relly a lot of fun!).

    But you don’t want to add further burnout.

    Focus! You can’t do everything, but you CAN do something. And should. I can’t believe how many people in the US and worldwide marched for me!


    • Being active is definitely a good addition to the list. I actually do know how to ski, having learned somewhat by accident on the fly. Literally: I didn’t realize that the green-blue-black run classification system didn’t denote a uniform level of difficulty across different locations. That is to say that a blue run back in the relatively flat east wasn’t the same as one at Western Canada’s most challenging mountains! Live and learn. Thankfully, I did indeed live.

      And yes, I think we’re all going to have to become more activist, in whatever ways we can manage.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Wait…but…aren’t your people enjoying these “above seasonal” temperatures?

    Sorry. I couldn’t resist. Here it’s been way warmer than usual but so dark and gloomy for the last week straight that everyone I know is starting to lose their minds. I’m working on cultivation a new-and-improved daily routine to combat my winter induced sluggishness.


    • Seeing as I just wiped out on my bike on some black ice the other day, I wouldn’t call our temperatures quite so above seasonal at the moment (even Halifax is warmer than us at the moment; Toronto too, it would seem).

      But I hear you about the sluggishness. I’m not getting nearly enough sleep these days: the god-forsaken darkness of the early morning, the fluctuating overnight temperatures associated with electric heat (I’m too hot! No, I’m too cold! Is this thing even on?). How is your new routine working out? Any additional advice you can slide my way?


  3. Vitamin D. That’s how some members of my family get through January. Lack of sunlight in the right spectrum can truly effect you on a biological level and leave you chemically depressed. Other than that, I plan projects and make sure I socialize, even if its hard. I also make sure to spend time encouraging others. It makes me feel better too! Double plus ^_^


    • Vitamin D deficiency is a real problem in both Northern Canada and the west coast, where I am – the former because it snows too much and latter because it rains too much, leaving us under a soggy blanket of perpetual grey. It’s further a problem for dark-skinned people of colour. I once read that for every 30 minutes of sun exposure a white person needs for vitamin D production, a dark-skinned person needs three hours.

      Projects are definitely important, as are the plans associated with them, especially if they are broken down into nice, bite-sized steps that feel manageable in one’s winter-affected state.

      And that’s sweet of you to make a point to encourage others. I’m sure your family and friends appreciate that. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • My husband is dark, so I really make sure he takes his Vitamin D. Even if I have to chase him down!! It’s in our wedding vows. When he moved north, he didn’t know why it was harder till I told him these things because my father had SAD. I lived in the Seattle area for years. Love that soggy gray winter, actually, because of all the green that goes with, but it’s also hard on everyone, some much more than others. Wishing you the best in February!

        Liked by 1 person

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