Blue Monday: Get Out of The Comfort Zone & Beat the January Blues

This Monday 15th January marks ‘Blue Monday’ – often referred to as the most depressing day of the year! For many this is the time of year when we’re broke, struggling with New Year’s resolutions, and fed up with the cold weather which makes us feel low in mood, energy, and morale. Lee Hawker-Lecesne MBPsS, Clinical Director at The Cabin, Asia’s premier rehabilitation center with over 50 years of clinical expertise, provides invaluable advice to help get you back on track!

Signs & Symptoms of January Blues

  • Sitting in your comfort zone
  • Low mood and sadness
  • Anxiety and feelings of depression
  • Low libido
  • Lack of motivation

The Comfort Zone

There is a definite payoff in trying to do something difficult every single day. Everyone has a comfort zone, and we like being in it whether it be going to school or a job where we do what is required of us to get by, but not necessarily more than that. It means taking the path of least resistance. Life becomes a predictable routine, with no real challenges and we find ourselves stagnating. Whilst our comfort zone is indeed comfortable, it also has one big downside. People who are stuck here for too long do not just stagnate; they often regress backward. When you are doing the same things, the same way, over and over, the comfort zone itself begins to shrink. The things that you were comfortable with last year, may become less comfortable this year. When a muscle is not used for a long period, it atrophies and gets smaller because there is no reason for it to stay big. The same happens when we do not challenge ourselves. We become less capable of handling the obstacles that life throws at us. This is the first reason why this Blue Monday, you should try to do something difficult every day going forward. None of us want to stagnate, and we do not want the things that we are comfortable with now, to become uncomfortable in the future.

Push Yourself into the Growth Zone

When we push ourselves and do something a little more challenging for us, we leave the comfort zone and enter the growth zone. This is where we struggle, but this is exactly where all real progress is made. To improve and see progress, you must leave your comfort zone and increase the challenge. That might mean increasing the weights on your lifts in the gym or reading something new and trying to recall that information without help. Doing anything worthwhile requires you to go through this because the things that have the biggest payoff always feel difficult in the moment. Only by entering the growth zone and pushing yourself, are you able to reap those positive long-term benefits. When you get a positive feedback loop going in one area, it tends to slowly spread to other areas. Whenever you can this month, do something outside your comfort zone, even if it’s just by a little, it kickstarts this positive feedback loop. And just like falling dominos, success fuels further success. Think about the comfort zone as a place of temporary refuge, but not a permanent residence.

Exercising to feel better.

Lifestyle modifications such as increased physical fitness can assume great importance in individuals battling mental health issues helping to improve their mental fitness. An essential component of lifestyle modification is exercise. Look to improve your physical fitness through aerobic exercise such as jogging,

swimming, cycling, walking, and somatic movement (meditation and mindfulness).

Fitness improves mental health; exercise-induced increases in blood circulation to the brain influence the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and, thus, the physiologic reactivity to stress. This physiologic influence is mediated by the communication of the HPA axis with several regions of the brain, including the limbic system, which controls motivation and mood; the amygdala, which generates fear in response to stress; and the hippocampus, which plays an important part in memory formation as well as in mood and motivation. The health benefits of regular exercise include the following: improved sleep, stress relief, improvement in mood, increased energy and stamina, and reduced tiredness that can increase mental alertness.

Eating well to stay mentally healthy.

There is a wealth of knowledge about what nutrients the body and brain need for healthy functioning, and by comparing foods to see which contain these specific nutrients, we can understand what foods are likely to boost mood. Keep in mind that while certain foods may not individually change mood, as part of an overall dietary plan they can be effective in boosting your emotional state. Focus on foods that support healthy brain functioning and mood elevation. Some mood-boosting options include:

  • Brazil Nuts: Rich in selenium, essential for a healthy brain.
  • Oily Fish: A source of Omega-3 fatty acids, believed to prevent depression.
  • Oats: Low glycemic index for stable energy release and selenium content.
  • Bananas: Packed with vitamins A, B6, and C, potassium, and tryptophan for energy.
  • Lentils: Protein-rich and a complex carbohydrate for stable energy.
  • Chicken and Turkey: Increase tryptophan, supporting serotonin production.
  • Spinach: A B-vitamin powerhouse linked to a healthy mood.

Cutting back on alcohol consumption

Even when alcohol is consumed in moderation, it wreaks havoc on our mind and body over time and over the holiday season, many of us will have overindulged. Alcohol can contribute to stress, anxiety, and depression and now is a great time to look at your drinking habits and make positive changes. Detoxing from alcohol even just for a period can drastically improve your life – and the results are instantaneous. Use this time to reassess your relationship with alcohol. Lee comments: “Even moderate alcohol consumption can have lasting effects on both the mind and body. Cutting down on alcohol intake aids in weight loss lowers blood pressure, and contributes to overall well-being. The holiday season often sees us overindulging, leading to increased stress, anxiety, and depression. Taking a temporary break from alcohol, or even participating in initiatives like Dry January, can yield immediate improvements, including enhanced brain function, clearer skin, and a reduced risk of various cancers”.

Treat Yourself

Winter may seem as though it will never end, so beat the winter blues by doing something special. After all, looking forward to something can help anyone stay motivated. Think about something that can turn a frown upside down. Perhaps it’s a day at the spa, a weekend vacation, or a special event. In fact, by planning something exciting, a person’s mood can be completely reversed. It allows for anticipation and excitement up until the very day; afterward, it can provide happiness and relaxation for weeks or even months.