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Well, we have opened the new calendar, turned the page in our planner – the new year is officially here. If you are like me, there is a mixed bag of feelings about this. I’m grateful to say good-bye to the hub-bub of the holidays and for life to go back to ‘normal’ (whatever that is?!). But, with that said, there’s a sadness to the beautiful ornaments getting tucked away until next year. The dark days feel longer without the glow of the Christmas lights adorning each house on our block, and for many people, the financial crush of the credit card bills is overwhelming. January Blues come in all different flavours. Today, we are talking both money and mental health, with some tips for how to beat the blues and head into Spring feeling rested and rejuvenated for the year ahead!
January Blues – what is it?
When we are in the trenches of winter, the daylight hours are few, and the weather does not typically invite a lot of outside playtime, many of us experience a type of depression called Seasonal Affective Disorder. This depression may be linked to a reduced amount of serotonin in our brains, stemming from that reduction in sunlight. To make matters worse, this is the week that those credit card bills and bank statements from Christmas show their ugly heads – and if you weren’t intentional with your holiday spending, you might be avoiding that stack of envelopes like the plague.
In recent years, companies have started referencing Blue Monday – the third Monday in January – as the most depressing day of the year. The combination of the limited daylight, paired with the rise of debt payments and the fall of Christmas, potential discouragement stemming from failed resolutions all line-up in a perfect storm come mid-January and leave many people feeling unmotivated and overwhelmed.
This concept was initially launched as a marketing ploy for a travel company to encourage dreamy beach vacations as a way to beat the January Blues. While there is no science to back up the notion of Blue Monday, I can see how it has caught on.
If you are experiencing a lack of motivation, unrelenting exhaustion, or general sadness – know that you are not alone. Up to 18 % of Canadians experience a mild to moderate form of Seasonal Affective Disorder in their lifetime*.
Bills, Bills, Bills
Unfortunately, beyond the physical and psychological crunch that this time of year often holds, mid-January is also when the December bills roll in.
SO – if you turned to credit cards last month, your dream Christmas may now be transforming into a financial nightmare.
I have 100% been guilty of this. I want to create the most magical holiday memories for my family, and without any extra cash, my dear friends at Visa and Mastercard were happy to make that happen. More than happy – that’s how they make their money.
The trouble is in what we do next.
We avoid the problem.
If you don’t open the statement, it’s not a problem, right? Wrong. I am sure I am not alone when I tell you that there was a time when the stack of unopened mail (bills, bank statements, etc.) was knee-deep in my bedroom. Talk about avoidance!
I would pay some of the balance, don’t get me wrong. But I didn’t want to see the details, so I just didn’t open the envelopes. I was avoiding acknowledging and owning the situation.
Instead try… facing it head-on.
Open the bills when they come in. Figure out how much you owe, even if the amount makes you uncomfortable. Use the discomfort to push you towards a new plan for a debt-free life!
Yes, the credit card company is happy for you to rack up a couple of thousand dollars and then pay a teeny-tiny amount each month. So we pay the minimum and tell ourselves we’ll pay it off next month.
But then next month rolls around, and we still only have to pay a teeny-tiny amount, and so the cycle continues.
Paying the minimum payments on your cards is easy. But – say this out loud – we do hard things!
Instead try… making a plan to pay off the whole balance.
Yes, you may not have extra money to pay off the whole balance this month. If you did, you probably would have paid cash for the purchases last month.
Fear not, you can make a plan to start paying down those balances so that next January you are able to breathe easy when the bills arrive.
Check out the best way to get out of debt to create your plan.
We break our promises.
I am using the term ‘we’ here because I have made all of these mistakes myself. And I know that I am not alone.
How many months have gone by where you pull out that plastic card to pay for things that you cannot afford, with the promise of paying it off next month.
But then next month rolls around and hello?! There are way more fun things to spend money on, and paying back money you have already spent is not fun or glamourous.
So, we break the promise. We make the minimum payment and keep living life with instant-gratification in our pockets. Maybe we even fall victim to the Blue Monday travel ads and book the sunny vacation that will “fix everything”.
The problem is, when you are in the habit of breaking promises to yourself, you are no longer trustworthy. This habit tends to perpetuate bad behaviour, whether it’s the second glass of wine, the skipped workout, or the growing credit card balance.
Instead try… keeping your promises.
Ask yourself – if a friend broke promises to you the way you break them to yourself, would you continue to hang around them? If the answer is no, then you need to rethink how you are treating yourself.
When you make a promise to yourself, treat it as though you have made a promise to your best friend. Do not let yourself down by going back on your word.
Learn how to stop breaking promises to yourself here.
Tips for a joy-filled January
Time for a fresh start
I am not a proponent of the ‘new year, new you’ mantra. You don’t need to be a new you; you are already awesome. But what if you could be better?
We all have areas where we can stand to improve – whether that is communication, health, money, house-keeping, fitness.
So with that said, you can choose to make this year the year you shape up your finances. The discomfort that the balance on those cards brings is not permanent. You do NOT have to feel like this forever. Make a plan (and a budget), and by next year at this time, you will be able to breath easy(er).
I’m not saying you’ll be able to fix all of your financial issues in a year. BUT, you can start making steps, today, to having a more peaceful tomorrow.
Remember this feeling – start saving now.
If you follow along regularly at Reach, you are probably sick and tired of hearing me harp about saving for Christmas.
“It is January. Leave me alone.”
But – the best way to avoid the January Money Blues next year is to start saving now.
Let me say it again: Start. Saving. Now.
Putting a little bit away each month will have you set up to not use those credit cards next December. To not dread the statements in January. To not feel the stress, anxiety, depression that come with debt-fueled holidays.
So when you are building your January budget (no, it is not too late), add in a line for Christmas savings. And then tuck something, anything away. Your dollar amount is different than mine because our financial stories are different.
Ideally, though, take a look at what you spent this year, reflect on whether you spent more than you needed to (a common mistake that we ALL make), and set a reasonable budget for next Christmas. Then divide that number by twelve (the number of months between now and then) and start saving that much each month.
Beat the Blues
With all this said, if you are like me and you didn’t rack up any debt during the holidays, and yet January is still a challenge, here are some tips from a fellow Seasonal-Affective-Sufferer that might help you get through the season more easily.
(The medical information on this site is provided as an information resource only, and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes. Your relationship with your doctor is the best way to manage mental health concerns.)
A gentle reminder
The good news is, the darkness is temporary. We are already past the shortest day of the year, which means every single day, we get a few more minutes of sunshine.
Making a focused goal to go outside during daylight hours can help relieve some of the yucky feelings that come around this time of year. Fresh air and sunlight do wonders. Since there isn’t a lot of sunlight to enjoy, you may have to be intentional about going for a ten-minute lunchtime walk or standing on the deck for five minutes after work before the sun goes down.
In the past few years, I have become very aware of my biological inclination to hibernate at this time of year. Warm blankets, candles, reading by the fireplace –this is my happy place. Embrace the darkness by making things extra cozy at home.
I am a champion for embracing mindfulness all year long. But this might be when you need it most. Start the day with a meditation practice, write in a gratitude journal, or check out this article by Rachael Kable about winter mindfulness exercises.
The most important part of beating the January Blues is being aware of what is happening. Whether it is the credit card bills or the lack of sunshine, take note of how you are feeling. Give yourself grace – this time of year is hard on lots of people, and you are certainly not the only one who overspent last month. The good news is, this is a new month with new possibilities. You’ve got this.
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