Emer McLysaght: January is a godforsaken month - here’s how to survive it

Thank God we have the anticipation of St Brigid’s bank holiday on February 6th to see us through this month

The pivot from festive indulgence to new year austerity is nothing short of neck breaking. No sooner have the ads across all media platforms stopped worrying you about not having enough squirty cream or pipes of Pringles or stacks of Celebration tubs, they’re poking you about cleanses and detoxes and shame.

There is nothing capitalism hasn’t commodified and the grim weeks that herald a fresh year have always been ripe for creating fear and unease over how bad we’ve been and what improvements must be made. New routines, new meal plans and new gear all promise to repair the devastation caused over the previous weeks and months. We promise ourselves that we will bound out of bed at 5am to do a half-hour of journaling, a quick 30-minute HIIT class (high-intensity interval training, if you don’t know) and an hour or so of skincare and face pummelling before heading into our first of many five-a-day meals that will punctuate the coming hours of deranged New Year New Me behaviour.

The problem lies in the reality that these kinds of extreme lifestyle changes are rarely sustainable. As soon as you’ve exchanged the imitation Dyson Airwrap (a Christmas present from your brother) for an imitation Nutribullet, you’re punched in the gut by the listlessness of jannui, the doom of janxiety or the apathy of janertia – most likely a combination of all three. The habit of staying up until at least 2am every night over Christmas is difficult to shake, so on your third morning of 5am journaling you’re simply staring at the blank page or maybe writing “this is a nice pen” 50 times as a lone bin truck trundles past outside.

By the fourth morning you’ve reset the alarm for 8.50am and sent an email to state you’ll be working from home today – the one Covid perk you’re gripping onto with all of your might. You feel constantly on the verge of an upper respiratory illness with a scratchy throat or semi-regular enormous sneezes threatening the blocked nose of doom. The sight of a rogue Roses tub containing three discarded Strawberry Dreams might be the thing to fray your very last nerve. You’re deeply aware of the deficits in your plastic lunchbox arsenal, and uneasy about your ability to store your vats of January Soup.


January Soup is orange, no matter what ingredients have gone into it. Carrots and butternut squash reign supreme, so much so that both the hand-held immersion blender that grinds the soup into a Ready Brek-like consistency and the Tupperware containers that transport the soup to overworked office microwaves are stained orange for the rest of their thousands of years on this earth. January Soup and its fraternal twin Breakfast Smoothie With Hidden Spinach are the stalwarts of that five-a-day moral panic that accompanies the return to the tasks left festering in inboxes back in the halcyon days of late December.

There has to be a way to avoid the jannui? There must be an antidote to the janxiety triggers that bombard us at the same time every year? Those with the means and the foresight combat these feelings by booking a holiday for late January, thus giving themselves something to look forward to and recreating the pre-Christmas anticipatory dopamine.

Anyone who’s managed to break free from diet culture may be strong enough to resist the purgatory of “being good” in relation to food and setting an arbitrary daily step count. Of course, getting out for a daily walk is a proven boost for flagging mental health. It’s one of the foundational activities for improving your mood. It just needn’t come with a 15km smartwatch target.

For this year’s St Brigid celebration I hope to feature zero prayers, limited cross-making and commitment to a full bank holiday Monday couch tracksuit

Other useful activities emerge when we drill down into the extreme whiplash of the January cleanse. Regular and nutritious food – three meals and three snacks every day. Maybe cook one new recipe a week and don’t limit it with restrictive calorie counts or sad, bland ingredients. Write down your thoughts, fears and goals, but not at 5am. Try a new hobby or learn a new skill. It doesn’t need to be rock climbing or mastering Japanese in a month. Jigsaws, crochet and immensely soothing diamond art are all accessible and low stakes.

At the very least we have the St Brigid’s Day bank holiday Monday to look forward to on February 6th. As a Kildare native, we took St Brigid’s Day pretty seriously in my Convent of Mercy secondary school. There was a retreat every February 1st which involved making crosses in the assembly hall, several rounds of praying, an extremely tangential talent show and possibly being allowed to wear tracksuit bottoms instead of our burgundy skirts.

For this year’s St Brigid celebration I hope to feature zero prayers, limited cross-making and commitment to a full bank holiday Monday couch tracksuit to celebrate getting through January and its seasonal woes. And look, we’ve already made it through the first week of the year. Many vats of soup have been made, many SAD lamps have been frantically ordered online and many bags of spinach have already turned to mush in the back of the fridge. Eat the three Strawberry Dreams. They’re actually not that bad.