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The New Year Blahs

Holley Hyler is an IT consultant and published freelance writer living in New York.

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Have You Had This Feeling?

The New Year Blahs have been present for me for as long as I can remember. It starts setting in right after Christmas, once all the presents are unwrapped and put away and family has already traveled home. The break from work is nice, with two major holidays within a week of one another, but most of New Year's Eve for me is spent in partial dread and anxiety of a whole 365 days ahead of... what? More of the same? Cue existential dread music.

Feelings are not always meant to be trusted. Anxiety can cause our bodies to respond as though a bear is chasing us during a meeting, but of course this isn't true. If feelings like dread and anxiety are a regular occurrence, and if their severity renders one incapable of enjoying activities they normally would, then feelings can be valid messengers of something deeper.

If you generally enjoy the holidays, then the shift "back to reality" might compound any dread you feel around the new year. But then, perhaps it is time for a change. A career shift may upend our lives for a while, but it may be worth the year or two of hectic schedules if it leads to greater long-term stability. The same is true of any big life change. The gloom can still set in occasionally, but when we feel as though we have done something to address it and made even a slight improvement, it can make a big difference in terms of how we cope.

If you have experienced the New Year Blahs, then trust you aren't alone and you're not simply "being negative." (Our social media feeds may try to convince us otherwise.)

Unfortunately, with any case of the Blahs, it is not always easy to pinpoint what the feelings are related to, and sometimes they may not be to do with anything specific. In my case, the Blahs are partly situational, so I can speak from that perspective.

Burnout vs. Depression

Dreading Work

Since I brought up work, as it relates heavily to my own existential dread, I am sharing this video by Dr. Tracey Marks. She talks about how to recognize the difference between burnout and depression. If this sense of dread comes up for you regularly, you might wonder if you are depressed or if something else is going on. While I cannot answer that question for you, I can tell you that burnout is more common than you might think. It doesn't have to be an extreme (i.e. causing major illness or someone needing an extended period of rest after traveling for work 24/7 for months on end) case to be valid.

A lot of us have burnout. People you work with are probably burned out, though they may not be conscious of it or say anything about it. Some are very aware, but they don't talk about it or ask for help. They might feel guilty about taking breaks or feel as though no one else is capable of picking up their work if they need to step away from it for a while. The company culture may not be one that encourages people to create space from their jobs. As Marks addresses in her video, one's personality may not be a great fit for the job, so the stress feels doubly intolerable. I have seen all four of the above cases during my time as a consultant.

If the personality and job are not a match, then the Bora Bora vacation that Marks suggests may not cure the feeling of burnout. I have experienced this firsthand and resisted going back to school for years - until last June. The below School of Life video is a good one to watch if you feel on the fence about a career change.

Career Change Encouragement

A Pressure to Create

New Year Blahs may not always be related to a lack of meaning in some aspect of life. Maybe you have a great work and home life, and you have a healthy sense of separation between the two. Sometimes there is nothing to "fix," or we don't want to fix anything so much as know that these feelings are not abnormal. Hopefully this article has already assured you of that.

If there is not an underlying pressure to change something, then maybe there is a sense that it is time to create. The list of things that one could possibly create is very long indeed - create a song, a work of art, a book, a home, a garden, a business, etc. Once we answer that initial calling to create, it takes discipline to see the project through to its completion. That in itself can be daunting. The inability to continue with a project, in my own experience, has meant that I either should have gathered more information before embarking or it wasn't the right thing for me, but it was still good that I gave it a try. Otherwise, I wouldn't know that it was not my thing.

The above is assuming that one knows what they want to create. What about when you have no idea in which direction your creative compass is directing you? Allow yourself to indulge and delight in things that arouse your curiosity. Schedule a day where you can spend several hours:

  • watching period dramas
  • perusing the antique store for items from a time period you like
  • researching a specific topic at the library
  • observing people in a coffee shop or other public setting
  • researching your creative medium of choice on YouTube
  • looking up classes that cover the thing you like

The options can seem endless, and this might contribute to your Blahs, but it's worth it to invest time into whatever your soul is pulling you toward. Engaging in any of the above can help you forget, even momentarily, about your Blahs.

Conserve Your Energy

The last thing that I would suggest for a case of the Blahs would be to conserve your energy. I am not so much talking about resting, but that can be a part of it. Be conscious of where you direct your attention and emotions. Where can you reduce screen time so that you feel better and more restored? It may not always seem like you have a choice; you turn on the computer or television and the bad news and advertisements are bombarding you. Don't be afraid of seeing or hearing things that are unpleasant, but try to put them in better perspective and think more clearly about them before involving your emotions.

An energy drain that has come to my consciousness is that sometimes we make assumptions about what people are asking us based on how we feel about ourselves. For instance, the head of the training team at work feels as though their knowledge and organization skills are inadequate, but an outsider thinks they have done a stellar job. When the outsider asks a question about whether X is included in the training curriculum, the head trainer immediately gets frustrated and defensive about why it is not included. The outsider's intention was simply to gauge whether the material was available so as to assign a resource to develop it, if needed, while the head trainer assumed he was about to be berated for the lack.

Slowing down, taking a deep breath, and listening are common suggestions because they work for a variety of problems. Often our own feelings and projections are the energy drain. Pausing can help us become more aware of this.

Wishing you happiness and success in 2021 and beyond!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.