May Sickness: A Japanese Phenomenon

May Sickness: A Japanese Phenomenon
Florian
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Every year, a good chunk of Japan’s population experiences a seasonal mood slump called May sickness. In this article, we look at the causes, symptoms, and prevention measures for this (mostly harmless) phenomenon.

What is May sickness?

“May sickness” (called 五月病ごがつびょう in Japanese) is an informal term for a Japan-specific type of post-vacation blues. Surveys indicate that it is experienced by around 1 in 4 people each year, usually right after Golden Week.

Although the term contains the kanji for “illness/disease” (やまい), May sickness is not a serious condition – it’s much closer to a temporary mood. Usually, the “symptoms” are very light and go away after a few days. Because of this, it’s not rare to see May sickness brought up casually/lightly in conversations between friends or coworkers.

Causes of May sickness

Everyone can relate to feeling a bit down about having to go back to work after a nice weekend or a holiday. But why May specifically? There are two main reasons.

Reason 1: Golden Week

Golden Week, running from April 29th to May 5th, is one of Japan’s three big holiday seasons. Technically, not all of the in-between days are holidays. But many people use some of their paid leave days to “bridge the gaps,” often resulting in 7 to 10 consecutive days off – quite long by Japanese standards. This is the main cause for why May sickness is a nationwide phenomenon. It doesn’t help that once Golden Week ends, there are no national holidays until July.

Reason 2: End of the honeymoon period

This one specifically applies to fresh university graduates. Most fresh graduates in Japan start working on April 1st. The time between the company entering date and the start of Golden Week can be somewhat of a “honeymoon period.” Everything is new and exciting, you’re happy that you have a stable job, and so on. But after Golden Week, the magic starts to wear off. Many young employees start to notice the not-so-optimal aspects of their companies and feel the monotony of the daily grind set in.

Symptoms and tendencies

Symptoms of May sickness include…

  • – Low motivation
  • – Concentration difficulties
  • – Headaches
  • – Tiredness
  • – Sleeping difficulties

Some people are said to be more susceptible than others, including…

  • – People with perfectionist tendencies
  • – People with a strong sense of responsibility
  • – People who have recently reached a big goal in their lives and have “burned out” as a result
  • – People who have recently experienced a big shift in their everyday environment (ex. new job, new city)

For most people, May sickness (just like other types of post-vacation blues) naturally wears off over the course of a few days. In some cases, however, it can lead to (or rather enhance) other, more serious mental health issues like depression or anxiety disorders.

How to overcome May sickness

Don’t worry, you won’t have to go to the doctor. If things don’t get better after a few weeks, you might want to consider seeking out professional help. But chances are some simple self-care will get you through the slump. Below, you can find some tips.

Establish a stable life rhythm

During holidays, it’s easy to deviate from your usual rhythm: Staying up all night and then sleeping until noon, skipping breakfast, having dinner real late… Allowing “holiday tendencies” like this to carry over into the regular working week is not very healthy long-term.

To make your body and mind more durable, establish habits and guidelines. Eat around the same times each day, avoid screens right before going to bed, decide on how much sleep you need, etc. (Personally, I’ve found it helpful to use a sleep cycle calculator to get out of bed easier.)

Secure pockets of free time

During Golden Week, many people start a new hobby or allow themselves to indulge in things they enjoy. Upon returning to work, the feeling of having those free-time activities taken away from you can be extremely demotivating. You might have to micro-manage a bit, but try to secure some time each day for whatever it is that you like: Reading a book, watching anime, chatting with your friends, or just relaxing at home.

Communicate with others

Japanese work environments tend to be more formal than their western/non-Japanese counterparts. Many foreigners have trouble establishing human connections or making friends with their coworkers. This can lead to a feeling of isolation and enhance the effects of May sickness. To prevent this, try to approach others and communicate with them. Talk about what you did during Golden Week, about recent news or events, or work.

Exercise

With a typical office job and depending on how much work there is to take care of, you spend 7-9 hours sitting in front of a computer each day. Some exercise helps to keep the juices flowing. You don’t have to go to a fitness studio or run like you’re preparing for a marathon. Just a bit of stretching, a lunchtime walk, or some light jogging after work can go a long way.

Take a day off

After May 5th, there are no national holidays for the rest of May and the entirety of June. To prevent the feeling of there being no end in sight, do yourself a favor and throw in one or two long weekends. Taking multiple vacation days in a row might be difficult, but the occasional day off here and there is perfectly fine. Just make sure to inform everyone that you work with (not just your boss) beforehand.

Conclusion

Even if you “catch” May sickness when living in Japan, chances are it’ll be gone before you know it. If you’re having trouble with getting back into the everyday rhythm, setting priorities and being conscious of how you use your time can help to get over the post-Golden Week blues.

Have you experienced May sickness yourself or have any tricks that you use to build motivation after a long holiday? Let us know in the comments!

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Florian

My love for ninjas and interest in Chinese characters (kanji) were what first made me come to Japan, as a high school student. Over ten years and many visits later, I’ve found a job here and have chosen it as my new home.