The psychology behind why January feels like the longest month of the year… despite having the same number of days as six others
It’s a running joke on social media that January seems to last far longer than its 31 calendar days, with people joking it’s by far the longest month of the year – despite having the same number of days as six other months.
Now psychologists provide an explanation for why the first month of the year seems to last much longer than the rest.
Clinical psychologists Chloe Carmichael and Pauline Wallin blame five reasons why January seems to drag on: the post-holiday blues; cold and dark days; financial concerns; the return to everyday routines; and the pressure of the new year, new beginning attitude.
Carmichael said there can be a decline in the body’s hormones responsible for mood and happiness after the socializing, festive spirit and gift-giving of the holiday season subsides.
She said: ‘We get gifts, or we give gifts and watch other people experience the magic of the holidays that we create for people, and that just floods us with dopamine, and it feels really good.
“So (after the holidays), there can be a sense of exhaustion from those chemicals… It can almost feel like someone has pulled the emotional rug out from under us, (and it’s) a contrast that comes from the height of the come off vacation.”
Wallin said the unpleasant aspects of January can affect how people perceive time: ‘There are many factors that affect our perception of time, but in general, when we are in discomfort or pain, or bored or anxious, we pay more attention to our discomfort and how long it lasts’
Dopamine is a hormone that acts on areas of the brain responsible for pleasure, satisfaction and motivation. It also affects mood, sleep, memory, learning and concentration.
During the ‘magic’ of the holiday season, people’s dopamine levels can rise as they spend more time with loved ones, eat delicious food and receive gifts. However, when levels drop in January, it can lead to fatigue, mood swings and depression.
Dopamine may also play a role in the ‘winter blues’, or the more severe type of depression when days get shorter, seasonal affective disorder (SAD). SAD is a type of depression associated with changes in the seasons.
People who experience it often have an onset and end of symptoms around the same time each year.
Like clinical depression, it can be treated with medication and therapy.
SAD usually peaks in the winter as daylight hours decrease and cold weather pushes people more indoors. These dark and icy days are another reason why January seems so long.
Carmichael tell Yahoo Life these conditions make January less conducive to ‘impromptu spontaneous social gatherings’ that get people out of the house and socializing with loved ones, which can leave people feeling lonely and isolated and as if the days drag on.
Before January arrives, November and December are filled with holiday parties, dinners with friends and checking off your holiday gift shopping list.
It’s estimated that Americans spend about $1,000 on the holidays, including $700 on gifts, $230 on items like holiday decorations and foods and about $120 on miscellaneous holiday purchases — and the amount people spend has increased every year.
So while shopping at holiday markets and dining at Christmas-themed restaurants may sound fun, the bill you get in January will be a shocking return to reality.
Carmichael said: ‘A lot of people may have overspent, so that can put a toll on our sense of well-being.’
The reality check that accompanies a credit card bill after the holidays also brings with it a return to everyday routines.
The holiday season brings exciting out-of-town visitors, family outings, winter break and time off from work, as well as a more packed social calendar.
But once the glow of Christmas lights fades, so do social obligations.
Now most people are returning to their 9 to 5 jobs, Monday through Friday, and have everyday obligations like doctor’s appointments and household chores.
Wallin told Yahoo Life that getting back into a routine, especially for people who were unhappy with theirs before January, will make the days feel longer and stretch out the month.
And Carmichael said getting back into a fitness routine you may have abandoned during the festivities can be extra challenging in the new year, since you’ve missed out on the feel-good hormones produced when you sweat.
Finally, the New Year’s resolution you vowed to follow over the next 12 months can actually have a negative effect on your physical and mental health, which can affect how stretched out January feels.
The ‘New Year, New Me’ attitude and the realization that a whole year is behind them puts extra pressure on people, while some may feel very conscious of the passage of time.
Carmichael said: ‘For some people there can be a sense of pressure in relation to awareness of the passage of time as January marks the start of a new year.
“They might feel a lot of pressure when they look back at what they did or didn’t achieve last year and feel pressured about the year ahead.”
Wallin said all these unpleasant aspects of January can affect how people perceive time: “There are many factors that affect our perception of time, but in general, when we are in discomfort or pain, or bored or anxious, we are more pay attention to our discomfort and how long it lasts.’
To combat this, the psychologists offered several tips, including making sure you get enough sleep since you might be burned out from all the holiday activities, to make a healthy start to the new year more appealing by investing in fitness classes, meditation or cooking classes, and planning fun activities with friends and family that expose you to new experiences.