New Year’s is an odd ritual.
We celebrate the passing of one year and the start of a new, quite often involving too much alcohol and too much food. Some of us start the New Year exactly the same way we promised ourselves we wouldn’t at the start of the year before.
But once the last firework has gone bang and the last toast made we turn our attention to the potential of the coming year and hope for new relationships, new jobs, better pay, holidays, marriages, births and all the other exciting things life can bring.
For some, however, January and the coming year isn’t a source of hope but despair.
For many people this new start can feel at best like more of the same, at worst a crushing weight.
The term ‘January Blues’ gets thrown around as casually as the term ‘depressed’. It gets said without little or any thought to the meaning behind it. For most its reference to the come down after a Holiday Season full of presents and the aforementioned too much alcohol and too much food.
The turning the morning alarm back on can be the worst bit.
For others, however, it’s feeling a very real anxiety about returning to work, especially if their company wasn’t closed over the holidays. We all dread a full inbox but if you suffer from anxiety this can be enough to enduce a panic attack or even physical symptoms.
The unintentional pressure from family and friends to ‘make this year your year’ can also prompt anxiety or depression. When daily tasks are a struggle, making dramatic life changes can feel like a mountain to climb and the possibility of failure can be too much to bear.
Outwardly, those living with these challenges can seem grumpy, pessimistic or – you guessed it – just suffering from the January Blues, but the reality is very different.
Whilst most people may be on a post Christmas lull, those vulnerable to low mood and depression are just trying to survive the day. Especially as January is when the weather really starts to turn and Spring with it’s lighter evenings seems too far into the future.
So what can you do to support friends and colleagues who struggle with these issues?
The most important piece of advice if you know someone who is experiencing, or appears to be, low mood is to resist the urge to pass judgement. Dealing with depression or anxiety is a deeply personal and at times lonely battle.
A person’s recovery is very individual. For many people recovery doesn’t mean recovery in the same we may recover from a physical illness but about being in control of their life whilst living with a mental health problem.
Knowing that they have supportive people around them makes those battles winnable. Those who won’t roll their eyes if they need 15 minutes away from their desk or the flexibility to work from home at short notice.
When you feel only good for hiding from the world, coming into work is a real achievement.
We have all had times in our life and when things have felt pretty dark with no sign of light on the horizon. Whether it’s money troubles, problems at work, problems at home or whatever. What gets us through those difficult times is the kindness of others.
Whilst being in trouble with the bank isn’t the same as feeling worthless, you can relate to how that person may feel. Taking time to empathise with that person breaks down those walls and helps to prevent isolation.
We’re all capable of it. The staggering amounts of money raised for Comic Relief and Children In Need consistently demonstrate our capacity to care about other people.
Thanks to the stigma attached to mental health issues, those dealing with them aren’t always going to broadcast the fact, but if you do know someone is struggling, mental health issues or not, take the time to ask if they’re okay.
Advocate for them to their line manager. Be their friend.
If you see someone struggling help them get the support they need internally. The last thing you want is to see a valued colleague’s performance deteriorate to the point of leaving (or being let go) because you confused interfering with helping.
So next time you see someone in your place of work who looks like they’re down or about ready to burst into tears, don’t write it off as the January Blues, stop and ask them how they are. You might just make their year.