Between the end of the holidays, seasonal depression, and trying to meet goals for the new year, experts say January can be the most depressing month of the year.
The number of Americans who consider their mental health to be “excellent” or “good” is the lowest in more than two decades, according to a December 2022 poll by Gallup. The self-assessments showed 31% described their mental health as “excellent”, the lowest by three points.
“How do we take care of our mental health, is to make it a priority,” said Courtney Saunders, a licensed mental health counselor and regional clinic director with Thriveworks. “Three things that contribute to our mental health are the things that we feed our brain, the people that we interact with the most, and our environments.”
Resolutions for the new year, and the self-criticism that comes with them, can also play a role. But there are ways to make your 2023 goals more manageable.
“It’s like having a roadmap. So like, your end destination, you know exactly where that end destination is, but what are the mile markers to know you are on the way to that destination? How are you checking in with yourself to make sure, OK, we’re making progress on whatever this is,” Saunders said.
She said it’s also helpful to track that habit and mark things off for a sense of accomplishment, or to have an accountability partner.
Experts say it’s also important to be kind to yourself.
“If you are criticizing yourself, you are going to be activating the fight, flight or freeze because your body is saying, ‘Oh, we have to protect ourselves’,” said Saunders.
When this is constantly in motion, it can lead to depression.
“Number one, that voice that's telling you you’re not good enough, it’s not good, whatever the case may be, tell it to be quiet,” she said. “Depression is going to come from you judging and criticizing yourself versus celebrating yourself.”
Another way to help with your mental health is to exercise your brain regularly.
“Our brain is a muscle, just like our arms, just like our legs, and in order for it to be at its peak performance, we have to exercise it,” said Saunders.
Ways to work your brain include journaling, doing yoga, or doing other activities that bring you some level of comfort or peace.