"The world is on fire," said Asia Wong, clinical social worker and director of counseling and health services at Loyola University in New Orleans. "Why are you trying to lose 20 pounds?"
"Everywhere you turn it is stressful"
Last year Rebecca Fletcher, a teacher in Wirral, England, said she went without alcohol for the whole month of January.
After indulging in Prosecco over the holidays, she decided to repeat that success.
Ms. Fletcher, 49, said she gave up after two weeks.
"I'm sorry, dry January. It just doesn't work," she said on Twitter, posting a photo of a glass of Pinot Grigio. "It's not you. It's me."
Ms. Fletcher said her attempt to sober up for a month was foiled by the spike in Covid-19 cases, which led the government to order a full lockdown and created confusion in schools where teachers and students are constantly in the limbo of when they could return to the classroom. And political instability in the United States didn't help, she said.
"It just feels like you are turning everywhere, it's stressful," Ms. Fletcher said. "Not to mention it's England, of course, and it has rained heavily for three days."
You shouldn't be too hard on yourself, say the experts.
Sarah Wakeman, an addiction medicine specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, said the all-or-nothing approach to substance discontinuation could make people feel ashamed or disappointed.
"This is an unprecedented time," she said. "We all have to allow ourselves a little grace."
And while a promise to stay sober for a month can be a great way for a person to assess why they are drinking and what they like or dislike about drinking, there are downsides to cutting off alcohol completely for a set period of time .
This approach "might make some people drink heavier once they start drinking again," said Dr. Wakeman. "For example, someone may feel reassured that they have been able to stop drinking and have less to watch out for the rest of the year."
No, there is no point in making resolutions
Nathian Shae Rodriguez, a professor of journalism and media studies at San Diego State University, made two promises to himself in December: say "no" more often and answer emails faster.
"I'm a first-generation Mexican-American professor who is strange in itself, and that in and of itself involves a lot of invisible work that people don't recognize," he said.
Students seek his advice and faculty members often ask him to speak at lectures on gay and immigrant rights or ask him to join committees, Professor Rodriguez said.
The vows he made for 2021 felt like a simple and necessary time gift to himself.
"I was in the swing of things for the first few days," said Professor Rodriguez, 39. He politely declined various requests to sit on committees and write letters of recommendation from students he did not know well.
Then came January 6th and the siege of the Capitol. The students were scared and confused and searched for him on social media wherever he was active. Professor Rodriguez said gay students from conservative families particularly felt unrelated.
"They needed confirmation that everything was going to be fine," he said. Saying no felt impossible.
An effective way to come up with a solution is to remember that you have 11 months left to meet your goals, said Ms. Wong, the social worker.
"This is a good time to take stock," she said. "This is a good time to think and say," If I could change things, what would I change? "
Then she added, "Commit to this as a year-round plan."
Be honest: January is a bad month to change habits
Humans are hardwired to deal with stress through flight and reward, said Judy Grisel, a professor of psychology at Bucknell University and a behavioral neuroscientist.
Ideally, this escape should be through movement, such as running or walking.
But often, especially in late January in the northern hemisphere, when the days are still short and even warmer regions are cold and bleak, fleeing means having a drink, sitting in front of the TV or taking a smartphone and mindlessly scrolling through social media .
People believe that if they just have to exercise, they can break out of bad habits, she said.
Movement, she said, "is an untapped resource."
Dr. Grisel described a friend who quit smoking by running around the block every time he craved a cigarette. It's harder to take this advice when it's freezing outside, she admitted.
"I think that's part of the January problem," said Dr. Grisel. "It's so dark and cold that we don't want to move. This is a very difficult time, probably the most difficult time to change."
So the movement we choose can be very small: play a guitar or call a friend, she said.
"My favorite thing to do is pick up trash," said Dr. Grisel. “I just grabbed a plastic bag and went to the side of the road to pick up trash. It helps that I move and can see the change on the street. "
And we have good news. The days for this half of the world are getting longer, the sun is setting later, and a geologist has found a rock formation that looks like Cookie Monster. Things are looking up.