There are a few things I can always rely on in life: death, taxes, my sister not returning the clothes she borrows, autumn anxiety, and a February funk in the middle of winter gloom.
Even though a count of its days says differently, February feels like the longest month of the year every year. And if I don’t do anything about it, I’m expecting the same this year.
It’s not hard to understand why I feel this way. Living in Chicago, by February I’ve already endured months of sub-freezing temperatures, snow, and a general greyness that won’t go away. Everyone is sneezing and coughing, and I’ve been wearing the same winter coat as my uniform for months. The holidays are over, spring is supposed to be coming, but it’s still dark outside when I leave the office at 5 p.m. These things combined leave me lacking motivation and drive. If I let them sink in, I’m left feeling disconnected and despondent.
But just as I’ve learned to not let the “Sunday Scaries” ruin the weekend, I’ve decided not to let the “February Funk” get me down this year. Here are five ways experts say you can fight it.
1. Exercise regularly
We know exercise helps prevent and improve a number of health problems — high blood pressure, diabetes and arthritis, for example. But research on the link between depression, anxiety, and exercise shows that the psychological and physical benefits of exercise can also help improve mood and reduce anxiety.
The key is making it a habit. Once exercise becomes a part of your life, you notice that you have a lot more energy than you used to and are by far less easily fatigued.
2. Try new things
Day-to-day, routines are good. They give us a sense of discipline, which allows us to commit to lengthy projects and finish them by deadline. They also give us a sense of calm and order.
But routines can also make us feel stuck. That’s why breaking up your schedule with something new can have a great impact on your happiness. When you try new things, you put your brain into new situations that force it to think in unique ways. This stimulates creativity, which eventually rubs off in other areas of your life.
3. Set small goals
Setting goals when you’re down can feel nearly impossible — a far cry from feeling ambitious. But setting small, attainable goals is critical to making sure you don’t lose motivation.
And make sure those goals have a timeline. Making a list of things you want to achieve is great, but if you don’t put a timeframe around them then they’ll be put off until tomorrow and will never get started. Think about using the SMART Goals framework to break up tasks into manageable parts.
4. Express gratitude
Researcher Robert Emmons has conducted a number of studies on the link between gratitude and wellbeing. His research has found that gratitude reduces toxic emotions such as envy, frustration and regret, and increases positive emotions such as happiness and contentment.
5. Listen to music
You likely have a few tunes that you know lighten your spirits. Now’s the time to crank them up. On their music and mental health page, the American Music Therapy Association lists over a dozen studies supporting the benefits of music therapy for persons with depression and anxiety.
There’s a science behind formal music therapy, but putting your headphones in and pressing play on your favorite Spotify playlist can help, too. The mix of melody, harmony, and rhythm stimulate the senses and promote calmness by slowing down breath, heart, rate and other bodily functions.
If you’re overwhelmed by a funk, help is available
The February funk makes sense: we’re coming down from our holiday highs, and summer, while the light at the end of the tunnel, can’t even be seen yet. Everyone has their own perfect recipe for a February funk, but that doesn’t mean you should let it mess with your mind, or leave you feeling lost or cloudy.
Being more aware of your thoughts and behaviors can help prevent you from descending into the funk and being swallowed by it. Even if you feel powerless right now, there are steps you can take and people that can help you move forward.
If you need a little help or guidance along the way, it’s OK to ask for it. There are a variety of factors that can contribute to your overall health and wellbeing, and a therapist can help you process why you’re feeling stuck or unhappy.
This article first appeared on Talkspace.