It’s more than just a cracking New Order song—‘blue Monday’ is apparently the most depressing day of the year. What are the origins and effects of this allegedly bleak January day—and what can you do to make it a little more tolerable?
What is Blue Monday?
In 2004, a psychologist – Dr Cliff Arnall – developed a formula which, he claimed, took on board various factors to calculate the bleakest, most depressing, least cheerful day of the year. It takes in weather conditions, debt level, motivation, action, and time since Christmas, among other things, and spits out a number at the end.
This equation alleges that the most melancholic day of the year falls on the third Monday in January (or the second, or even the Monday of the last week of January, depending on which press release you believe.) This year, it probably falls on January 20th.
Is Blue Monday real?
Short answer? No. Long answer? Well, maybe.
Given that 24% of women and 13% of men in England are diagnosed with depression in their lifetime, and that January is a long, dark month, it’s not exactly difficult to imagine that depression spikes. Especially when the credit card bills from a hedonistic Christmas come rolling in, and New Year’s resolutions start to crumble.
Research conducted by iReach Insights found that 56% of people in Ireland believe that January is the most depressing month, and that 51% of people under the age of 34 feel low and deflated following Christmas.
However, there’s a strong case against the existence of Blue Monday. Even Dr Cliff Arnall himself has regrets, telling the Independent in 2018 that it was “never his intention to make the day sound negative”. And the fact that the concept was first bandied about by Sky Travel in a clear marketing exercise should invite some cynicism. Even Arnall’s later retraction was in partnership with a couple of holiday firms.
But while it’s easy to be dismissive based on the evidence, it’s a good idea to step back and look at the facts:
– January is cold
– It’s also bleak
– It comes directly after a positive, happy holiday
So while Blue Monday might not be real in the strictest, marketable sense, the time of year is certainly more likely to be a factor in mental ill health. Stress, money worries and seasonal affective disorder are all very real, and may mean people are more vulnerable during January.
How do I beat back Blue Monday?
Now that we’ve established that yes, January can be a bit difficult, it’s time to work out how to make it a little easier—both for yourself, and for people in your care. All of these tips are valuable advice for the whole winter—you don’t need to wait for January 20th to start making a difference.
Get more sunlight—Natural light helps stabilise serotonin and triggers endorphins, both mood-boosting hormones. Try to get outside as much as you can during the day to give your wellbeing a positive boost.
Of course, the UK isn’t exactly blessed with blazing winter sunshine (at time of writing, I can see 8/8 cloud cover and greyness from horizon to horizon.) SAD lamps are a brilliant and effective way to get some sun. They’re a godsend for people with seasonal affective disorder, and you might find them beneficial, even if you’re not diagnosed. Give them a try.
Diet and exercise—it’s tempting to exclusively eat comfort foods when it’s cold—and an extra layer of fat brought about by two plates of dumplings a day will warm you up. But a better idea is eating well, sticking to a good diet that keeps you alert and energetic—and exercising.
Even just a brisk walk every day helps release endorphins, and fights off the sluggishness of midwinter.
Be sociable—the biggest mistake people can make is to shut themselves off from the rest of the world until February. The need to hibernate may be financially motivated, but being sociable doesn’t have to cost money. You could host game and movie nights for your friends, or set up a Discord channel for collaborative conversation.
Set achievable targets—don’t set yourself up for a fall. If you’ve made sweeping New Year’s resolutions that look like they’re going to blow away in the hurricane of Blue Monday, step back a bit and re-evaluate. Think of something else to work toward. Something that’ll give you a sense of achievement and reward.
Advice for employers
So you’re feeling a little more equipped to tackle the most miserable time of the year—is everyone else at your workplace? Here are some tips for pulling everyone else out of the mire:
Brew Monday—an initiative by the Samaritans, this is aimed at getting people talking to one another about the ups and downs of life over a lovely cup of tea. It doesn’t even need to be on a Blue Monday—any Monday in January or February will do.
The aim of Brew Monday is to get employees talking about mental health and in turn, support each other through any emotional hardship they may be experience during the turn of the New Year. Organising this at work will bring your people closer together.
Recognise good work—staff can often feel demotivated—especially if they’re feeling overworked and their achievements are going unnoticed. It’s important that employers recognise a good job when they see it.
If you’re aware that some of your staff are consistently doing a good job but you haven’t told them yet, January is the perfect time—the pick-me-up won’t go amiss at all.
Encourage regular breaks—make sure your employees feel comfortable taking breaks to keep moods lifted. During the dark winter months employees rarely see the sun, so it’s a great idea to encourage them to get outside and enjoy the little bit of sunshine that is available. Think about providing or subsidising SAD lamps, for the people who are really suffering.
Overall, you should tailor your wellbeing strategy to your people throughout the year. And while members of your workforce may seem especially resilient and bounce back in the New Year, it’s vital that you make sure people know that you care—whether Blue Monday is real or not (it isn’t.).
About the Author:
David Price is CEO of Health Assured, the UK & Ireland’s most trusted health and wellbeing network and a part of the Peninsula Group. Before joining Peninsula, David spent several years as senior manager at a training provider that helped launch over 78,000 UK businesses. He also worked for the Department for Work and Pensions, and is a long-standing member of the UK Employee Assistance Professionals Association (EAPA) and the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD). He also often speaks to the media on mental health issues, with his views featured on Sky News, BBC and in the Financial Times.