This so-called awareness day could be doing more harm than good. Here, Stylist’s Lauren Geall argues why it’s time to shake off the concept of Blue Monday.
The third Monday of January has arrived – the day we’ve come to know as ‘Blue Monday’. Supposedly the most depressing day of the year, the concept of Blue Monday was first introduced as part of a PR stunt by travel company Sky Travel, which said it had devised an equation with the help of UK-based psychologist Cliff Arnall that revealed the most depressing day of the year.
The science behind this claim was, as you might expect, questionable. Over the 18 years since the concept was first introduced, numerous scientists and psychologists have denounced the Blue Monday formula, with the neuroscientist Dean Burnett describing it as “unscientific”, “pseudoscientific” and “uber-pseudoscientific”. Even Cliff Arnall himself has since said the Blue Monday concept is “meaningless” and that we should all “refute” it.
But despite this, the reign of Blue Monday continues. As someone who writes about mental health on the regular, I know this all too well; from mid-December, my inbox is flooded with experts and brands offering advice and promotions to help people get through everything that Blue Monday throws at them. It’s relentless.
The problem, however, isn’t simply that Blue Monday isn’t real – it’s that it could be making things worse. It’s entirely normal to find January challenging, and I’m all for opening up conversations surrounding depression and other mental health issues, but by setting aside one day as ‘the most depressing day of the year’, Blue Monday not only trivialises the struggle many people face all year round, but it also has the power to make us all feel worse.
“While there is not a shred of scientific evidence to support the concept of Blue Monday, the longer the myth exists and persists in popular culture, the more it feels true,” explains chartered psychologist Catherine Hallissey.
“This is due in part to confirmation bias, where we search for evidence to support a belief. In this way, we are more likely to notice difficulties on this day to support the idea of Blue Monday, which can, in turn, make us feel more low.”
People who are already feeling low – whether that’s because of the weather, financial strain or personal issues – are also more likely to be affected, adds Kate Oliver, a chartered psychologist and author of Rise And Shine.
“Our brains tend to latch onto the messages that match or confirm the things we are already thinking and feeling, so people who are already feeling gloomy are more likely to be impacted negatively by the messaging around Blue Monday,” she says.
In this way, the relentless messaging around Blue Monday could actually be making us feel lower than we might otherwise – a kind of self-fulling prophecy, of sorts.
Combined with the damage that Blue Monday does when it comes to the public perception of depression – and that, as Hannah Lattimer of Samaritans wrote for The Independent, it can cause people in need of help to dismiss their feelings as ‘normal’ or feel like other people are ‘worse off’ than them – it’s clear that the concept has passed its sell-by date.
Conversations about mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression may be changing, but there’s still a lot of work to be done to tackle stereotypes and support those who are struggling – and ditching the myth of Blue Monday should be on that to-do list.
How to cope with low mood during January
The concept of Blue Monday may be problematic, but a lot of people do find that this time of year can take its toll on their mental health.
If you’ve felt low for an extended period of time – or have found that your mood is affecting your ability to function on a day-to-day basis – then it’s important to seek professional help from your GP or another mental health professional.
There are also things you can do to help yourself if you’ve just been feeling a bit rubbish. Keep reading to check out three really easy things you can do to get started.
Chase the sunshine
If you tend to be affected by seasonal affective disorder, then getting outside and into the sunlight – ideally before midday – is an easy way to help yourself feel a little bit better.
“There is a vast body of evidence about the mental health benefits of getting moving and of getting outdoors (whatever the weather),” Oliver explains.
Look after yourself
When we’re feeling low, it’s easy to forget how good looking after ourselves can make us feel – so Hallissey recommends starting with the basics.
“I recommend you ignore the hype around Blue Monday and instead focus on the big three: getting better sleep, moving your body more and connecting with other people,” she says.
“While these activities do not radically change your life circumstances, they can make it a little easier to cope with everyday stress.”
Think about your ‘mental diet’
The things we think about, see and hear on a daily basis can influence how we feel emotionally – so taking care to feed your mind the things it needs to feel good is a great way to give yourself a boost.
“Rather than doomscrolling on your phone or checking the news when you first wake up, do something that makes you feel good,” Oliver recommends.
“Maybe put on a favourite song and have a little dance to it, watch something funny that makes you laugh or eat something delicious. Try to carve out at least 10 minutes to do something that brings you joy each day.”
She continues: “As you start to access happy emotions like pleasure, joy and laughter, because of how our brains work, this will help to trigger other happy memories and feelings. In this way, you will set up a positive chain reaction and find your mood lifting.”
If you or someone you know is struggling with their mental health, you can find support and resources on the mental health charity Mind’s website and NHS Every Mind Matters or access the NHS’ list of mental health helplines and services.
If you are struggling with your mental health, you can also ask your GP for a referral to NHS Talking Therapies, or you can self-refer.
For confidential support, you can also call the Samaritans in the UK on 116 123 or email [email protected]. In a crisis, call 999.
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