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Beat the January blues: 9 tips for an easier return to work

Even if you love your job, returning to work after time away for Christmas can be difficult for lots of reasons. With January often cited as the nation's least favourite month, we look at how we can beat the seasonal blues and have a happier start to the year.

Woman wrapped up warmly while walking outside

1. Make an appointment with your inbox

As tempting as it may be to click the 'all unread' and 'delete' buttons in quick succession, try to resist. Last year may seem like, well, last year - but 2019 emails and tasks sadly didn't disappear in a puff of glittery smoke on the dawn of New Year's Day. Set aside a morning and make your first task of the year to tackle that pile-up of correspondence. You don't have to take action on every email as you go, but you can use them to build a to-do list. This way you'll know what you need to do, and you can stop worrying that something terrible happened while you were away.

2. Tackle quick tasks first

If you're feeling overwhelmed by all the work 2019-you selfishly left for 2020-you, try the classic productivity technique of wiping out all smaller tasks first. They may not be the most important or pressing, but ticking more items off your list will make you feel like you're getting more done (physically ticking off your list can be satisfying too) and you never know, the momentum might carry you all the way through the bigger tasks too.

3. Have some work from home time

Going back to the office after Christmas can feel a bit like ripping off a plaster, especially if you spent the bulk of your holiday lounging on the sofa in your pyjamas with nothing more pressing to do than decide whether or not to have another turkey sandwich. Suddenly you've got to get up in the dark, cold, early hours of the morning, wear something reasonably public-facing and actually get in a car/train/bus to sit in an office full of other people all day. The transition can be difficult.

If home working is permitted in your organisation, make use of it in January to ease yourself back into the swing of things. Try one day in the office (to have all the necessary meetings and catch up with colleagues) but follow it with a day at home where you can focus and reminisce fondly about all those hours you used to spend on the sofa without a care in the world.

4. Eat well and exercise - but in moderation

Lots of people report feeling particularly down in the dumps in January, and this may be in part down to the copious amounts of food and drink consumed over the holidays. Excessive sugar consumption has been linked to depression, anxiety and problems with learning and memory.

Whether you make New Year resolutions or not, making a concerted effort to be healthier can never be a bad thing. Exercise stimulates endorphins, our happy hormones, so a short jog, brisk walk, or gym session before work can make you feel more confident and positive about the day ahead.

However, don't dive nose first into the latest fad diet; research shows most provide only short-term gains. If you've got treats left over from Christmas, finish them. Don't feel you have to throw them all out just because it's a new month. Have realistic expectations about yourself and don't make January any worse than it has to be by depriving yourself of the foods you love.

5. Make time for yourself

You might be keen to make 2020 the year you finally achieve whatever it is you've set out to achieve - but don't burn yourself out in the first month. By all means put your energy into your work, but not all of it. Save some for yourself and the people you love. Whether it's taking time out for a walk every day, reading a book, or having a leisurely bath. Science shows that our brains are actually more active in periods of down-time. It's in these quiet moments that we're able to think more creatively. So if you're stuck on something at work, stepping away from it may be more productive than putting in the extra hours.

6. Tidy up your desk and review your set-up

Returning to work after the holidays can be even worse if your desk is a mess, or your set-up is uncomfortable. If you had an active holiday, maybe going for long leisurely walks and just generally getting out and about whenever you fancied it, suddenly finding yourself relegated to a desk indoors can be hard on your mind and your body.

Take the opportunity to review your set-up - our infographic cheat sheet shows you best practice for setting up your workstation equipment.

You can also book a DSE assessment - our experts will show you how to reposition your equipment for better posture and increased comfort.

7. Make something to look forward to

In 2007 US researchers found that anticipation triggers greater happiness than retrospection. In other words, people enjoy looking forward to things more than they enjoy looking back on things that have already happened.

If Christmas was a happy time for you, the immediate aftermath might feel like an anticlimax. No more tinsel, no more feasting and festivities. To rekindle the joy of anticipation, book in something fun for January. Having something to feel excited about will help you stay positive, so things that might otherwise have stressed you out at work will slip right by you.

8. Keep the good things in mind

We hear a lot about the importance of staying positive, but it's not always something that can be switched on and off at will. There are however pragmatic steps you can take to feel more positive throughout January, including:

  • Changing your language - listen to yourself speaking. Do you tend to use negative words and phrases? Make a conscious effort to sound positive. The language we use can change how we feel.
  • Write down three things you're grateful for every day. Sometimes we're aware of the good things in our life but we let the negative things get all the attention. By taking time to actually focus on the good stuff, we give it more importance.
  • Go outside more - spending time in the great outdoors is linked with reduced anxiety and improved mood. If you're feeling overwhelmed by all the things you've got to catch up on in life, head outside for a walk in nature and take in the beauty of your surroundings. Sometimes all it takes is a shift in perspective to feel better.

9. Be nice to yourself

Don't start the year thinking of all the things you haven't achieved yet. We tend to set high standards for ourselves in January - making unattainable New Year resolutions and then feeling guilty when we inevitably break them a few weeks later. Don't judge yourself according to arbitrary time markers. A new year is just a new day, like any other day. Change can take time. Be nice to yourself. Remind yourself of the things you have achieved, even if these things don't seem to compare favourably to the people around you, or to your own expectations.

Is work stressing you out? Download our infographic detailing 10 ways to help combat work-related stress. Have you considered whether you're in the right role, with the right organisation? According to HR Magazine, January is the most popular month for quitting jobs.

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