Navigating the New Year Blues

Man sitting at work desk experiencing the new year blues

The return to work struggle

Is returning to work after your Christmas break a bit of a struggle? You’re not alone! During our break, we become accustomed to letting our minds wander as we engage in relaxing and pleasurable activities. Returning to work means focus, concentration, and often waking up earlier. Shifting our minds from a relaxed state, back into work mode may take a little time. While this happens, it’s common to feel a little flat, tired or even unmotivated. People generally find these feelings start to fade as they get back into the routine of being back at work. 

Recognise when it may be something more

For others, they may notice that feeling low and tired persists beyond the start of the year. If you continue to experience these feelings, it may be more than just the normal struggle we feel when coming back to work after a break. Below are some common reasons that people may continue to find the start of a new work year challenging.

  • Feeling dissatisfied with their current career – it is common for people to reflect on their careers at the start and end of the year. For some people, returning to work after a break may be a reminder about how unhappy they are in their careers. The contrast between how they felt whilst on holidays and how they feel being back at work may highlight how unhappy they are in their role.
  • Burnout – those experiencing burnout towards the end of the year often expect to feel refreshed when returning to work from a break. They may notice they don’t feel recharged following the break, or the effects of taking a break are short-lived. It is common for people experiencing burnout to notice a resurgence of those feelings when returning after a break.
  • Depression – the Christmas break, may provide a sense of relief for people experiencing depression. The time off can provide effective cover to withdraw from things they were finding challenging. Returning to normal routines following a break may force them to re-engage with the things they were finding challenging. On the other hand, those with depression may also find that their symptoms worsen over the break. The forced routine and structure provided by work can act as a protective factor helping to minimise the effects of depression. For some, the lack of structure and routine over the holidays may lead to a worsening of symptoms.

What to do if you continue to struggle

If you continue to struggle being back at work, below are some strategies which may be helpful:

  • Be kind to yourself – give yourself permission to scale back on personal or professional commitments where possible. This may help to provide space to figure out what’s happening. Setting and sticking to professional boundaries at work, may help to provide some additional space while you focus on returning to good mental health.
  • Try to notice and name the underlying emotion – ask yourself, am I feeling overwhelmed or anxious? Am I experiencing  a deep sense of sadness or anger? Do I feel a general sense of dissatisfaction? Being able to identify the underlying emotions may help to provide some insight into what’s going on for you.
  • Talk with your manager – many workplaces are able to provide short term support for employees experiencing mental health challenges. They may temporarily change your hours or work commitments, or provide free counselling through an Employee Assistance Program (EAP).
  • Develop a plan – being clear on the path forward may help to provide a sense of relief. Ask yourself, who can help me with this problem? Do I have any skills or resources I can use to help manage how I’m feeling? What’s worked in the past? Are there activities like exercise or mindfulness I would like to restart? Being clear on these questions and others, will help when developing your plan.
  • Set small goals – it can be easy to feel overwhelmed when we’re experiencing things like depression or burnout. Whilst in these states, it is common for people to set goals which are beyond what they are able to achieve. Striving to do too much all at once when we’re already feeling burnt out or depressed may lead to feeling overwhelmed. Setting small and manageable goals may be a helpful way to minimise feeling overwhelmed.
  • Get support – talking with your partner, a trusted friend or family member may be a helpful way to ease the burden. For some, seeking support from a professional may be needed to help navigate their way back to positive mental health.

If you need support from a Psychologist or a Coach, don’t hesitate to reach out.


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