Trigger Warning: Mental Health, Fatphobia/Body Image
January has always been a month I’ve struggled with, it’s reliably been a month associated with depressive downswings for me. Talking with my friends (many of whom also live with mental health problems), this seems to be a common experience. As this is taking up a lot of my time and energy at the moment, I thought I’d write a bit about why I think this is an issue:
- Darkness – Especially for people living with Seasonal Affective Disorder, a lack of sunlight in your day (for anyone reading this in other countries, a January in Northern England is best described as “grey”) can have a detrimental effect on sleep patterns and mental health. For me this can be a self-reinforcing cycle, when I’m depressed I struggle to get up and go outside, leading to even less exposure to sunlight.
- Holiday period – The holiday period can be incredibly draining, regardless of how it went. If you have a good relationship with the people you spend the holiday period it can be very deflating to go back to ordinary life after a week of celebrating. If you have a bad relationship with them it can be an incredibly stressful and upsetting period which you then have to deal with. If you don’t have people to spend the holidays with it can be hard to deal with the relentless focus on family in the media in December. As an introvert I tend to leave the holiday period with my energy reserves drained, meaning I struggle to maintain the practices I need to keep myself functioning normally.
- Exam Stress – Not one for me this year, but most of my friends still in university have to go through January exams and deadlines. This has always been horrendously stressful for me, as well as undermining positive mental health practices.
- Money – Between presents, eating, and travel the holiday period tends to be fucking expensive. Especially for people on limited incomes this can be a huge issue.
- Resolutions – I respect that New Years Resolutions can be a helpful tool for some people. However a lot of people don’t set achievable goals, which can then become a weight on their minds.
- Food, Drink, and Exercise – Projects like Veganuary (a terrible name xD) or Dry January may come from a good place, but they can also result in a lot of guilt for people who can’t (or don’t want) to take part. More harmful is the post-holiday diet and exercise boom, because this is firmly based on body-shaming and fatphobia. Open any newspaper in early January and prepare to be bombarded with articles about how your eating over Christmas was BAD and WRONG. Articles telling you that YOU MUST EXERCISE, and LOSE THOSE CHRISTMAS POUNDS. To address this on a personal level, I’m fat. In the past I have struggled massively with my body image and my relationship with food. I am in a better place with this now, but these messages can still be really fucking harmful.
I don’t have a magical solution to offer here, it’s something I definitely struggled with this year. All I have to say is be kind to yourself, look out for the people you care about who may be going through this, and don’t give up. Remember that these feelings will pass and you are not alone. And know that it is not weak to ask for help when you need it. If you are struggling then it is completely appropriate to reach out for love and support from your friends or family. And if you are in crisis, contact the appropriate health services. No matter how you feel you are not alone, together we can get through this.