Photo: Flickr/Sander van der Wel
Empty bank accounts, vomiting bugs, failed detoxes: the post-holiday comedown is a condition well known to marriage counsellors. But there may be a reason to cheer up.How many of you arrived bleary-eyed at the office yesterday morning, sat at your desk for the first time in two weeks – and realised you’d forgotten your computer password? Go on, hands up.
Did you stumble through the day on a stream of caffeine, desperately wishing you were anywhere but at work – preferably munching Quality Street in front of the TV?
And, when the day finally ended, did you collapse on to your sofa feeling like you’d been hit by a bus, inhale your dinner and tuck yourself into bed by 9pm? Thought so.
Like me, you have a serious dose of the New Year blues.
January, even at its best, has few redeeming features. It is a month known for empty bank accounts, tight waistbands, winter vomiting bugs, failed detox regimes and cravings for things we’re trying to give up.
Christmas is over and everyone is now back at work, feeling down and dreading the cold, wintry days looming ahead.
According to new research by the website Illicitencounters.com, morale is so low that it’s turning us into a nation of cheaters: it predicted that more people would start extramarital affairs yesterday than on any other day of the year.
This time last week, it was a bright, crisp New Year’s Day. Feeling optimistic about the months ahead, two-thirds of us made at least one resolution: to eat less, to drink less, to get fit. Yet, according to a survey by researchers at the University of Bristol, 88 per cent of us will soon break them. Half of us already have.
Then there are those who compound the misery by attempting a dry January – giving up alcohol for the whole month – and are either struggling with abstinence or regretting falling off the wagon. Is it any wonder we’re feeling so glum?
But the slow ebb into 2013 seems worse than ever. “Because of the dates on which Christmas has fallen, most people – other than retailers – had 10 to 12 days off work,” explains Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology and health at Lancaster University.
“They’re coming back this week to massive in-boxes, filled with two weeks’ worth of unread emails. On top of that they’re going to work in the dark and coming home in the dark, and they’re coping with heavy demands from managers who are facing a year with fewer staff because of the redundancies made last year.”
Prof Cooper has even come up with a name for this week’s gloominess: acute post-bank holiday depression syndrome. “Trying to crank yourself up for work after a holiday – especially one where you’ve been enjoying time with your family, not really doing anything – is difficult,” he says. “It seemed that people were working really hard in the weeks leading up to Christmas, and they really did need a break. So it’s no surprise that we feel miserable when that break comes to an end.”
There’s another reason why so many of us feel despondent this year in particular. Let’s face it: 2012 was a great year for Britain. There was the soggy, spectacular brilliance of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee; the golden glory of the Olympics and Paralympics; and a royal pregnancy to top it all off.
How do you follow that? So far, my brand new Filofax (bought in a fit of optimism on New Year’s Day) is completely blank. Not only do I have no social plans, no holidays and not even a medical appointment, but there are no grand occasions to write in it, no reasons to celebrate 2013.
Worse, it’s shaping up to be a pretty uncertain year for Britain. The recession trudges on, now well into its sixth year of job losses, rising prices and falling bank balances. Politics is equally unstable – the Coalition’s shaky entente continues, with no prospect of an election for another 12 months. Psychotherapist Paula Hall says these sorts of issues exacerbate the January blues.
“Lots of people are anxious about their jobs going into this year,” she explains. “We spend Christmas thinking of the short term and ignoring the consequences – stuffing ourselves with mince pies and shopping in the January sales when we can’t afford to. Then reality kicks in.”
More calls are made to the Samaritans about financial worries in January than at other times of the year, explains Rachel Kirby-Rider, executive director of fundraising at the charity. “Often they are things that people haven’t addressed, or didn’t want to address, before Christmas. They become very relevant when the credit card bills come in.” She adds that callers tend to sound more desperate now than during the rest of the year. “A lot of people feel things should be better in the new year – and when they’re not, they start to worry.”
But it’s not just big issues that worsen our mood: some causes are closer to home. Counselling organisation Relate receives a spike in calls in January, mostly from couples struggling to hold together relationships that they patched up over the festive season. “Christmas is a real distraction – you’re so busy that you forget all your problems,” explains Christine Northam, a counsellor with Relate. “By January we have low energy and we’re tired; consequently, a lot of couples who were having problems at the end of last year tend to break up.”
60-five per cent of relationships end in January, according to a recent survey, with more partners arguing this month than during any other. With short days and miserable weather, we spend an average of 20 per cent more time cooped up indoors than we do in the summer – resulting in irritability and short tempers. “More and more people are having difficulties in their relationships, and, sadly, conducting an affair can often be cheaper than getting a divorce,” explains Hall.
Unfortunately, the worst isn’t over. In 2005, Cliff Arnall, a tutor at the Centre for Lifelong Learning, affiliated with Cardiff University, came up with a formula for working out the most depressing day of the year, involving the weather, debt, time passed since Christmas and general motivational levels.
While this week might seem like a worthy contender, this year’s official “Blue Monday” falls on January 21. The science might be dubious, but for those of us already feeling disheartened it’s yet another blow to hear that things won’t look up for another two weeks.
So what can we do to get through the blues? Most important, urges Northam, is to make plans for the coming months. “Organise something you can look forward to,” she says. “Be creative: watch a movie; listen to music; go for a run. The sun might not be shining – and the lack of sunlight is one factor that’s making us feel sad – but get outside and swing yourself about a bit. It’ll make you feel so much better.”
Prof Cooper says acting positively is the way forward. “Dress brightly – even for work. Everything’s so gloomy and dull outside that it’ll make people happy to see someone wearing bright colours. And, if you’re in an office, talk to your colleagues. Smile and be upbeat. At this time of year, we don’t need any more negativity.”
As for looking ahead in 2013, well, it might not be such a bad year after all. We may not have another Olympics, but there are world-class athletics events taking place across Britain – from Glasgow to Birmingham, Sheffield to London. In place of the Jubilee, there’s a bouncing royal baby on the way. It’s the bicentenary of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice; the 150th anniversary of the London Underground; 50 years since the first woman went into space. “You never know,” says Northam, “this year might even be better than last.”
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