Is today *really* the most depressing day of the year?
© Provided by National magazine company ltd (Hearst UK)It's not unusual to be feeling a little glum at this time of year. The festivities are over, you're back at work, the weather is bleak and pay day still seems a long way away. These factors contribute to what is annually dubbed as 'the most depressing day of the year' or 'Blue Monday'.
Dr Laura Hyman, who researches the sociology of happiness at the University of Portsmouth explains: "Every year, one Monday in January (usually the third in the month) is given the label 'Blue Monday' in popular western discourse to describe what - for many people - is the most depressing day of the year."
But how did it begin?
Blue Monday is calculated using a series of factors in a mathematical formula. These include: weather, debt, the amount of time since Christmas, the time we're most likely to have given up on new year's resolutions, low motivational levels, and the desire for change.
But if we're honest: it's not a very scientific method. Blue Monday was actually thought up by a PR company back in 2005 – January 24 was awarded the title then. It's not surprising, then, that Blue Monday has its critics.
Psychiatrist Dr Max Pemberton is one of them and believes Blue Monday is pseudoscience that does more harm than good.
"Blue Monday is based on a series of calculations adding together stressful or negative events. The equation itself has been disproved various times and the author of the original idea has been discredited. It's popular and comes up every year because it's a good marketing peg for holiday companies etc. Sure, there's an argument that it gets people talking about mental health, but, does it really? It's actually about feeling low (a normal feeling) rather than depression (an actual mental illness) anyway. But the biggest issue is it dresses up marketing as proper science and undermines actual research methods."
Why do people think it's a load of rubbish?
Some experts also think the day is dangerously misleading because those who suffer with genuine mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression, know that their symptoms aren't dictated by the date. And Blue Monday implies that depression is just when you're 'feeling a bit down' because Christmas is over and is therefore something that doesn't need to be taken seriously. Of course, depression itself is a debilitating mental illness which requires real support.
Stephen Buckley, head of information at Mind, the mental health charity says:
"Blue Monday contributes to damaging misconceptions about depression and trivialises an illness that can be life threatening. There is no credible evidence to suggest that one day in particular can increase the risk of people feeling depressed. 1 in 6 people will experience depression during their life. It can be extremely debilitating with common symptoms including inability to sleep, seeing no point in the future, feeling disconnected from other people and experiencing suicidal thoughts."
GP Dr Ellie Cannon concurs. Plus, if we're told it's the most depressing day of the year, aren't we more likely to think negatively and make ourselves feel worse?
"I don't think describing the third Monday in January as depressing is useful at all – it does belittle genuine health problems but it also becomes a self fulfilling prophecy!"
© Provided by National magazine company ltd (Hearst UK)But is there something in it?
Dr Hyman says that experiencing the winter blues early in the year is, for many people, very real indeed.
"At this time of year, many factors which we as Brits commonly associate with unhappiness are experienced – for instance, bad weather, and a lack of money (especially those who were paid early in December but have not yet received their January pay packet)."
She also explain that Monday really is typically seen as the least happy of the five weekdays. And that if you've given up on your new year's resolutions already, this can play a part in your unhappiness.
"New Year's Resolutions are promises or challenges that we make or set for ourselves in order to improve ourselves in some way. Advertising and media in British society strongly encourage people to engage in such self-improvement as we are presented with a plethora of invitations to eat more healthily, join a gym and get active, give up smoking or find love online. However, many people find that such practices often conflict with other demands of modern life such as work, childcare and financial constraints."
And while it might not have much evidence behind it, Dr Hyman believes acknowledging Blue Monday could be a good thing in a way.
"I think it is a good thing that we acknowledge Blue Monday. I think that there is a great societal pressure to be happy - or at least, to come across as happy. Blue Monday is a reminder that it is OK and also normal to be unhappy sometimes. Being unhappy is a normal part of human emotional experience in the same way as being happy is!"
We also asked psychologist Felix Economakis his thoughts on Blue Monday and whether the critics are right about it trivialising mental health conditions. He says: "I don't think it de-legitimises mental health issues as far as I can see. There is research to show that statistically more people die on a Monday morning. And a Blue Monday might have something to it in the same way that once the cosy, festive Xmas time has come on gone, now we have a long winter ahead with the next holiday some 3 months away. People can be a bit down when they return from their summer holiday in July-Sept but they tend to return to a pretty nice time of the year. Last year there was plenty of sunshine still and so this mitigated against returning to work. Not so in January."
If you do feel down today
If you're feeling more miserable than usual at the time of year, CBT therapist Anna Albright suggests these tips for boosting your mood in dreary January.
1. Wear bright colours
"You may have temporarily lost the sun, but dressing as if you're in mourning is unlikely to lift your mood. Overdose on bright colours and you'll encourage your mood to follow suit."
2. Avoid negative statements
"Telling ourselves and each other how dismal the weather is over and over will definitely not make the sun come out. However, it will almost certainly help keep your mood low. "
3. Embrace whatever daylight there is
"Let's not forget that there is daylight in the winter – there's just less of it and we have to work harder to find it."
4. Spend as much time outside as you can
"My recommendation is that you kick-start your day and experience natural light within two hours of getting up. Furthermore, any exercise you do outside will give you the additional benefit of improving fitness as well as producing endorphins… another aid in the battle against the winter blues."
Comfort Foods for the ‘Saddest Day of the Year’
[7 Heart-Gladdening Comfort Foods for the ‘Saddest Day of the Year’:
Today is Monday.
It’s the third Monday in January. It’s cold outside, and I have a cold.
I’ve already reneged on my New Year’s resolutions. No, I didn’t floss this morning and I definitely did not make it to the gym.
I feel great about myself. My pants feel great, too; I like them this tight.
Someone sneezed on me and didn’t apologize.
The bathroom was out of toilet paper.
I miss my dog… I wonder what he’s doing right now.
I bit my tongue.
I wish I were back on vacation.
It’s so dark outside. I never see the sun anymore.
My phone died.
I don’t care if Blue Monday is a pseudoscientific hoax invented as an advertising stunt by a travel company, today is depressing and I need some comfort food to make me feel better.