How I get through my January Malaise

February 4, 2015

I sent my second college age daughter back to school last Sunday and I’m feeling SAD; you? Every year around this time, after the holiday fun and festivities, the extra boost of love and warmth from being surrounded by friends and family has ended, I feel down. I know it is a pretty common feeling, but some years I find January to be just a lost month. I have low energy; I just can’t seem to find my way back to my rhythm and routine. All I really feel like doing is sitting with my cat, a cup of tea, and a good novel as I watch the lovely snow quietly cover up the trees in my backyard. If I’m lucky, maybe the cardinals will come to add a dash of vivid color to my otherwise black and white world. It sounds so bleak, but it really isn’t. It’s just that time of year when I am missing all the hustle and bustle that used to characterize my life with three young children at home. Is there anything to be done?

I believe I have discovered a few things that I can do that helps me put it all in perspective. First. I remember that I go through this every year. Some years it is less bothersome than others, but this time of year always finds my friends and me asking one another, “So how are you handling the January blues this year? Heading someplace warm? Cleaning out those closets or maybe the attic? Planning a little self care?” While all of these are great options if you can get some time to pursue them, there’s one thing that helps me more than anything else: I remember that it’s not all about me. My college age daughters are doing exactly what they ought to be doing, namely, learning how to navigate their own lives and pursue their dreams. And right now that is just not about me. Would I want it any other way? Would I be happier watching my daughters return to school in a wash of tears and fears? I don’t think so. I try to summon up a little gratitude that they are successfully finding their way– struggling yes, but that’s all part of the process.

So every year when this time rolls around again, I acknowledge that I’m sad. I do things to perk myself up and to take extra good care of myself. I go to the movies with friends; I make comfort foods for dinner; I try not to miss my yoga classes. And if I’m feeling particularly brave, I spend some time thinking about what I want my life to be about now that my days of defining myself by my children are nearly over. Because although we never thought much about it when we had children, this is what it means to be a parent. We have to let go and get out of the way so our children can learn how to lead their own lives. And the best way to do that is to show them how great our second (or third) act can be.


Ms. Rinehart strives to help individuals, couples and families undergoing life transitions: those struggling with issues of identity, marriage, parenting, promotion, aging, retirement, and loss. Her goal is to empower clients to find increased meaning and purpose in their lives by helping them make sense of their past, strengthen their meaningful relationships, and improve their ability to make life choices that promote health and happiness. Ms. Rinehart is an adjunct professor at The College of New Jersey where she teaches Introduction to Marriage, Couple, and Family Counseling and Therapy.