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The myth of ‘Blue Monday’

As soon as the Christmas decorations have come down, the media starts to warn us about the arrival of Blue Monday, supposedly the most ‘depressing’ day of the year. Falling on the third Monday in January – this year it’s the 17th – it’s not hard to understand why people believe that they’ll wake up that day feeling particularly low. But feeling blue on Blue Monday is not inevitable!

Did you know that the idea was created in 2005 by a holiday company, as part of a PR campaign? They worked out the date using a not-very-scientific formula, based on a combination of factors that can make us feel down. It’s a Monday, for a start…and the weather is wintry and the days short. The post-Christmas anti-climax has well and truly set in, we might already have broken our new year’s resolutions, and money will be tight for many after the festive splurge. This year we may also find ourselves socialising less than we’d like to, making us susceptible to feelings of isolation.

It can be a tricky time for us all. For someone with depression, or who experiences seasonal affective disorder (SAD), it can make their symptoms worse.

If your spirits are flagging, the best remedy is to take action to protect yourself against the things that might trigger a low mood. This might be tough if you’d really rather hibernate, but by taking control you’re likely to feel more motivated and energetic.

Combat the January slump by making plans. It’s important to give yourself something to look forward to. Make a list of all the things you can do, or feel comfortable doing, given the current situation, and the people you’d like to do them with. These could include going to see a film, heading out into the country for a walk, or having lunch with a friend who makes you laugh. Then book them in your diary! Keep the commitment, no matter how you’re feeling.

Get out into the daylight, even if it’s only for a few minutes. Spring can seem a long way off, and many of us are still leaving for work and returning home in the dark. Notice how the first green shoots of snowdrops, crocuses and daffodils are already starting to push their way up from the soil.

Reflect on what you’d like to achieve or change in the year ahead. If there’s something new you want to do or try – taking up a new hobby or learning a new skill, for example – make a start! It’s tempting to think ‘I’ll wait until I’ve got a bit more energy’, but if you make the leap now, starting slowly and gradually building up your efforts, you can beat the lethargy and begin the year with a sense of achievement.

Aim to be present. Focus on the activity you’re doing and the people you’re with. Always looking months down the line and imagining what they might hold can be overwhelming and lead to worry. Make an effort to notice the small details around you when you do go out, particularly in the natural world.

Keep a gratitude diary. At the end of each day, write down three good things that have happened or that you’ve heard about. This could be absolutely anything – from finishing a piece of work, to making a perfect boiled egg!

Watch out for negative thoughts and predictions. Often when we’re down or anxious our thoughts are skewed negatively, and this can turn into a vicious cycle that makes us feel worse. Our thoughts, behaviours and emotions are connected – so if we think, for example, ‘Blue Monday is going to be miserable for me’, this may influence our feelings and our behaviours, which in turn can lead to more negative thoughts.

Please do seek support if the ‘winter blues’ is making you feel especially down or depressed. You can talk to your GP about what help is available, or you could try online CBT, which is very effective at treating depression – you can find out more about that here.

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