Facing the facts of the ‘most depressing day of the year’ as so-called Blue Monday approaches

Picture by Ben Goode.
Picture by Ben Goode.

Over the coming days prepare to have it drilled into you that the “most depressing day of the year” is on the horizon – but should we really battening down the emotional hatches?

The very concept of Blue Monday, which this year falls on January 18, riles up scientists and media commentators as being a blatant falsehood and nothing more than pseudoscience.

But it is difficult to argue that the start of a new year is often a bit of a come-down. The weather is terrible, the highs of Christmas are replaced by the lows of credit card bills and the days still seem way too short.

It’s easy to dismiss the random labelling of Blue Monday, based on the claim there is an equation that takes into account variables including things like ‘weather’ and ‘time since Christmas’ that are believed to negatively influence mood. It is not based on any significant research.

The idea of Blue Monday is, however, something that is pounced upon by charities and health organisations to spread key messages about mental health – it may be a questionable concept but it does at least have some worthy by-products.

For example seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a depressive illness thought to be triggered by a lack of sunlight in winter that affects the body’s hormones, affects around two million people in the UK.

Dr John Nehaul, consultant psychiatrist at Spire Leeds Hospital, believes it is easy to hit an emotional slump in January and feels giving yourself things to look forward to can help stave off negative thoughts.

“It’s important to remember that when things feel bad there are always opportunities,” he said. “We just need to keep an open mind to see them. So the January blues could be used to make positive changes.”

Research at the University of Exeter’s Mood Disorders Centre (MDC) has yielded evidence-based advice for those who are feeling glum in the new year.

Dr Ed Watkins, director of the MDC, said: “There is good evidence that being more active, physically and mentally, connecting with other people, getting absorbed in interesting activities, becoming more concrete and specific in your thinking – by asking how – rather than thinking about meanings and implications – asking why – all help people to feel better.”

Nevertheless if January does seem to have an adverse impact on your mood, it is immensely important to recognise the difference between feeling down and more serious issues like depression.

Symptoms of depression include fatigue, apathy, disturbed sleep or becoming withdrawn.

For those experiencing more constant issues, more than a mere bout of winter blues, you should visit your GP.

Top tips to boost your mood in 2016

- Consider the achievements of the previous year – build on the past for the year ahead.

- Set ambitious (but achievable) targets to work towards.

- View the new year as a time to shine and a fresh opportunity.

- Eat well and exercise more after indulging over the festive period.

- Be patient and know that you are moving towards where you want to be.

- Always have something to look forward to – book a break or tickets to see a band.