Where I live in Northern California, January shows up with fog, rain and cold. We’re lucky not to have to deal with winter storms of ice and snow or negative temperatures, but it isn’t warm and balmy, either. Here and there we might catch a sunny day, usually with a biting chilly wind—not the best weather for being outside, but still more livening than fog or a thick layer of clouds. The holidays are over, but winter has only just begun, with springtime still months away and summer a far-off glimmer in the distance.
This is the time of year when I often experience a low. I’m in it before I really understand what’s happening. And then I see friends and family going through something similar, reminding me that I’m not alone in this.
It helps to remember that it isn’t unusual to feel an emotional lull in January. Finances can be tight because of holiday spending, outdoor activities limited, and social plans suddenly dwindling—which in my case doesn’t help counter my tendency to curl up under thick blankets in my softest, most forgiving pants. From being invited to an almost overwhelming number of holiday gatherings with a long list of presents to buy and wrap and travel plans to make, suddenly nothing seems to be happening.
Of course we can make new plans, start new projects and think about trips we want to take in the coming year (even if we can’t afford them yet), but it’s not the same when you feel a little down. It’s more work, and harder work, to get excited about things, and even though the payoff would be bigger, knowing that doesn’t seem to increase my motivation. Anything extra, even the fun of organizing and anticipating a trip or a party or an outing, feels like too much to take on.
As with most funks, the very things that would probably make us feel better are the same things we feel most like avoiding.
So that’s where we are. Kind of stuck.
Stuck between the bright rush of the holidays, however stressful, and the bright warmth and energy of spring. Wedged oddly in a place where we feel sort of bleh and lousy because we have nothing to look forward to, and feel too bleh and lousy to start actively planning things to look forward to.
Dampened by the weather, weighed down by internal baggage (not to mention all the celebratory food and drink I consumed in December), I don’t feel inclined to start a new writing project, book my summer travels or commit to more than a sporadic evening out in the coming weeks.
There’s nothing wrong with feeling this way. We don’t need to feel lousy about feeling lousy and make the whole thing worse by rampant self-judgment and even more intense cycles of sloth, shoulds and guilt—but we also don’t need to aggressively push ourselves out of it.
We’re feeling this way for a reason. It’s the fallow of the year, and while it isn’t something we’re required to enjoy, we also don’t have to reject it. We can find a way through it that allows us to have the experience it but not wallow in it.
After I’ve acknowledged that this is happening, and that it’s OK that it’s happening, what helps during these doldrums is just to give myself a little more room. I consciously try to loosen my expectations and open my mind.
I allow myself more space to feel vulnerable and weird and loose-endish, if I need it. It isn’t comfortable to feel those things, but not allowing the space to feel them doesn’t help, either. I allow for more time in my sweats on the couch—especially if I’ve managed to jump on the treadmill for a walk or quick jog first, but even if I haven’t. More room to imagine what might be next, without having to do one damn thing about it. More quiet to call in what I want, even if I’m not ready for it to arrive.
I don’t make long lists of every chore I want to do or everything I want to accomplish this year. Not unless I feel inspired to do that, which, let’s face it, I probably won’t. I spent 10 minutes looking at flight and hotel deals the other day, was quickly overwhelmed and immediately closed the browser. There’s time to decide later on. I’ve thought about my next book, even scribbled a few notes for it—and that’s it. When I’m ready to start writing, I will.
Our emotions, minds and bodies have cycles for a reason. We need the fallow, subdued, empty times, whatever season they happen to fall in, in order to have the creative, exciting, dynamic times when we stuff our calendars and achieve goals right and left. It also makes so much sense that a lot of us would experience an emotional down after the holidays, which can be such an emotional high, or just heightened emotionally, or both.
Added to that are also the physical repercussions of a lack of vitamin D, a nasty flu season and the possibility of winter-onset seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which can hit hard in these darker, colder months.
So let’s give ourselves a little more room. Prioritize the basic things we need to care for ourselves like drink water and walk and sleep and eat well, and not worry about anything too ambitious over that—not unless it feels good. Ignore the pressure of resolutions and instead set authentic intentions. Allow ourselves space to dream, to journal, to call in, to go to the movies, to binge watch Stranger Things again, to doze over a book. Feed ourselves good things, mind and body: healthy food and funny shows and compelling stories, and avoid junk as much as we can.
And if we need a little moderate junk here and there, an Its It or “The Bachelor” or a glass of wine? That’s OK, too. I feel better when I indulge myself right along with jogging and cooking vegetables, and it keeps me from swerving into any exhausting extremes.
If we can acknowledge and honor this letdown feeling, we can use it as a time of finding our balance again, of consciously slowing down, becoming more mindful of ourselves, and looking forward to what the year can bring. We don’t have to rush through the low, or judge ourselves for our desire to hide, or worry over our lack of plans to look forward to. We can let ourselves be in it and see what it can offer us.
It starts with giving ourselves a lot of extra compassion, reaching out to people we trust (who are probably feeling the same, if we only knew it), and taking the extra space we need to re-align with what bring us joy, fulfillment and gratitude.
And, if nothing else, remembering that spring will be here soon.