• Donna Bird Bsc (Psych), MSc (ForenPsych), Research & Support Manager

January Blues – Embracing the Dopamine Rush the Positive Way

Updated: 5 days ago

We have all heard of the January Blues, many of us have experienced it but how do we overcome it? Let’s think about the process.


We’ve had a month or more of celebrations, time with family, time with friends. We may have consumed more alcohol… eaten more food. In fact, we may not have engaged in any of the above! Who would have thought the year 2020, we would see a global pandemic, live a year of lockdowns, have our precious time with family and friends taken away from us, to then be told our 5 days of Christmas is now only 1!


Hmm… anyway, January is upon us and here we are, feeling blue.


Now, we need to look at our behaviour and the ‘power of habits’. What we can break, what we can create, how we can change, and look to apply a positive mindset for the year ahead. Nobody said this was easy!


We need habits to survive – many are positive, many are negative. But we have to consider how we first formed that habit, that way, we can think about the way in which we can change it.


When we engage in new behaviours for the first time, we get that rush of dopamine, that massive feel-good rush, that’s exactly why we look to repeat that behaviour, eventually forming a habit. This is the part where we really have to focus, reflect on the habits which realistically are not of any benefit to us, which habits have we formed that are not positively serving us? Smoking? Over consumption of alcohol? Extra calories?


Stressed yet? Here’s the issue, when we’re stressed and cortisol levels are high, to put our brain back into equilibrium (which it always naturally wants to do), it then wants to release dopamine in order to reduce the cortisol! How are we going to release the dopamine? By engaging in those negative behaviours, those negative habits we have formed in order to experience that feel-good rush!


The Dopamine Reward System: Stress --> release of stress hormone (cortisol) --> seek equilibrium --> engage in negative behaviour/habit 🡪 Cortisol reduces --> Dopamine Rush


So, let’s look at the idea of ‘breaking’ a habit. One thing we know is that willpower, of course plays a part but shouldn’t we really be focusing on how we can ‘change’ a habit?

Now that’s a step-by-step process…


Step 1: Get to know your cues and triggers – time of day, a specific emotional state, an ashtray. Now look at how you can eliminate that trigger.


Step 2: Understand your stressors – if we’re constantly stressed, we’re constantly seeking that dopamine rush and therefore constantly engaging in negative behaviours. How do we curb that stress? Think of the simple things, exercising regularly, sleeping more, breathing exercises, meditation. All of these things can aid in reducing stress.


Step 3: Begin to replace bad habits with good habits – simply ‘stopping’ a habit is unrealistic, we need to recondition our brain into doing something else, making it an easier transition.


Step 4: Understanding why we are replacing a habit – let’s go deeper than ‘fatty bad foods can cause obesity’, think about the motivations to stop and the result you want… ‘I want a longer life with my partner’.


Step 5: Create new cues for positive behaviours – specific time of day for the gym? Allow our bodies to begin recognising the same cues for the positive behaviour in order to help build these new habits.


Step 6: Reward the action and embrace the dopamine rush – A long bubble bath at the end of your gym session, your favourite smoothie, whatever it may be, it will help strengthen the habit and in turn, push you to stick to it!


Okay, now we need to overcome those January blues…


Ponder those priorities for the year ahead, then set them. Don’t get overwhelmed and lost in those blues, consider what is important for you now. Remember there’s no right or wrong!


Be accountable, the actions you take will have a consequence. If we can learn to be accountable for our behaviour, we will become more aware of our actions. In turn, we learn to behave more in line with our integrity.


Don’t overwhelm yourself with goals! Keep changes small and remember this is not a quick process. Learn to understand your limitations, learn to say no!


Remember and rely on your strengths. Has your inner strength ever let you down? You’re here now right? Take that inner strength with you into this coming year and believe in it.


Maintain balance. Recover, take down time. It is allowed you know!


Dream big and don’t be afraid of failure. Consider whether your interpretation of failure is actually a lesson? An invaluable one.



Now we need to apply that positive mindset, we need to focus on our approach to life and the future ahead…


Our perception of life and how we perceive the world is so important in achieving happiness. Does the news get you down? Turn it off, block social media. Do something you love each day; you owe it to yourself! Communicate with loved ones often. Take time to rest, you deserve recovery. Avoid looking at the negatives and instead think about what you have or what you are grateful for. Write them down.


It’s imperative to become aware of how easy it is to get caught up in the negatives, don’t allow them to beat you! You’ve got this!



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