January is 31 days long — just like six other months on the calendar. But unlike sunny July or busy December, for many people the first month of the year always feels like it lasts an eternity. On social media and in pop culture, January has unofficially been christened the longest month of the year, and coming together to denigrate it can feel like one of the few joys to come out of the post-holiday season slump.
It’s true — there have been other months that have felt like they’d never end. Take March 2020, at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, for example, when many of us felt like we’d lived several lifetimes by the time the 31st rolled around. Our perception of time plays a part, but why has hating on the month of January in particular become such a deliciously miserable annual tradition? Here’s what experts say.
Why does January feel so long?
Psychologists say there’s a myriad of reasons why January can seem to drag.
Post-holiday letdown. Chloe Carmichael, a clinical psychologist and author of Nervous Energy: Harness the Power of Your Anxiety, tells Yahoo Life there can be a literal letdown of happiness chemicals coming off of the holiday season. “We're getting gifts, or we're giving gifts and watching other people experiencing the magic of the holiday that we're creating for people, and that just floods us with dopamine, and it feels really good,” Carmichael explains. “So [after the holidays], there can be a sense of depletion of those chemicals. … It can almost feel like someone pulled the emotional rug out from underneath us, [and it's] a contrast coming off the high of the holidays.”
Colder, darker days. Along with January comes the peak of winter’s worst weather for much of the U.S. and some of the darkest days of the year. This can exacerbate seasonal affective disorder and cause many people to hide away in their homes, making January less conducive to the “impromptu, spontaneous social gatherings” that can give people a happiness fix, Carmichael says.
Confronting holiday debt. This is also the time of year when a lot of people may be wincing at their post-holiday bank accounts — and realizing they need to tighten their belts. “A lot of people may have overspent, so that can put a toll on our sense of well-being,” Carmichael says.
Returning to routines. Clinical psychologist Pauline Wallin tells Yahoo Life that if you weren’t a fan of your routine before the holidays, returning to that daily grind after some time off can be difficult and make the days feel longer. Carmichael points out that not only can it be tricky to go back to your usual exercise routine after a holiday break, you may also be feeling the effects of losing out on those happiness-inducing endorphins that you normally would have reaped from the workout you’ve been neglecting.
New year, new pressures. “For some people, there can be a sense of pressure regarding awareness of the passage of time, since January is the start of a new year,” Carmichael says. “They might feel a lot of pressure as they look back at what they did or did not accomplish last year and feel pressure about the year going ahead.”
Focusing on the tough stuff. Wallin says all those unpleasant aspects of January can in turn affect how we perceive time. “There are a lot of factors that affect our perception of time, but in general, when we're in discomfort or pain, or bored or anxious, we are paying more attention to our discomfort and how long it lasts,” she says.
Here’s what you can do about it
Fortunately, there are some steps you can take to make January move at a slightly less glacial pace.
Plan some fun activities. Wallin says a lot of people make resolutions and plans that they feel obligated to do in January, but you should also endeavor to do “something new and different” that you actually enjoy, like taking a fun class or reviving a hobby or interest you may have let fall by the wayside. Carmichael also suggests kicking off 2024 with a quick escape. “It doesn't even have to be anything superfancy — even just going to an Airbnb a couple of hours' drive away in a quiet nature spot,” she says. “Just knowing that you have that time to just kind of settle, reflect and rejuvenate can really help people.”
Make your healthy start to the new year more enjoyable. “Consider a little bit of a splurge on healthy jump-starts to the new year, like maybe a package of personal training lessons or massages or some meditation or cooking classes,” Carmichael says. “That can help to convert that sense of pressure over a new year into a sense of opportunity and fresh start.”
Get some extra sleep. “You might be a little bit burned out from all the holiday activities, or even on a mental and emotional level we can just end up a little bit frazzled,” Carmichael says. “During sleep, it's almost like the brain is defragmenting a hard drive. The brain actually really does organize itself. So it can be very healthy to give yourself a little bit of almost like a hibernation period after that big flurry of activity.”
Remember that there is indeed an end in sight. And if these tips aren’t getting you anywhere, consider speaking with a professional to see if something else is going on.
“There are a few people who will be in such a funk that it will border on depression, and if you really can't get out of your winter blues, it may be depression or seasonal affective disorder,” Wallin says. “If just doing the few things that are supposed to help don't help, then there may be something deeper, and I recommend consulting a professional.”