Dr Samatha Beckett explains the truth behind Blue Monday and how we can all find more of a balance for our wellbeing.
Since its creation 20 years ago, the truth about Blue Monday has been revealed; it was nothing more than a marketing campaign dreamt up by a travel company to sell more holidays in a typically slow sales month. The psychologist who did the calculations was paid to put his name to the idea and has since publicly refuted the Blue Monday theory.
Blue Monday is no more depressing than any other cold, wet, and dark Monday in January or any other month. However, most people will experience a dip in mood over winter months, feel a bit more tired than usual, or perhaps gain a little weight, similar to hibernating animals. For some, the symptoms are even more extreme and challenging to cope with, often referred to as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
If you struggle with your mood or stress levels on any wintery Monday, ‘Blue’ included, here are some ideas to help you find more balance in your well-being.
Seek out the sun
A contributing factor to lower mood and energy over the winter months is the significantly reduced sunlight we experience. With the sun not rising until later in the morning and setting early into the evening, our bodies are naturally programmed to feel tired and lethargic in the darkness, causing us to do less and stay home. Try to seek out the sun by getting outside during the sunlight hours; going for a walk at lunchtime or even sitting near a window helps so that you can soak in as much energising sunlight as possible.
One small thing each day
When we feel low and lethargic, getting anything done can feel like a challenge. We often make the mistake of setting ourselves big goals or long lists of tasks in the new year, but this will usually feel overwhelming, leading us to do nothing. Try breaking your goals down into smaller steps and do one small thing at a time, only moving on to the next step once the last one is completed. For example, if you want to sort out all the junk in the garage, do one shelf each day instead of trying to do it all at once. No matter the task’s size, a sense of achievement each day can boost our mood and motivation to keep going the next day.
Sleep and wake routine
It’s tempting with dark, cold mornings to stay curled up in bed for those ‘5 more minutes’; however, oversleeping can cause difficulties such as low mood and depression to become even worse.
If you’re already feeling unmotivated and then spend another 2 hours in bed, it becomes easy to get stuck in the trap of thinking, ‘I’ve wasted the day now anyway’. Ensure you go to bed over the darker evenings and mornings and wake up at the same time as the rest of the year, or at least within 1 hour of your usual time, to avoid oversleeping and feeling worse.
During the day, ensure you have a positive routine. Get up in the morning and get washed and dressed, even if you aren’t going outside because this will give you a little boost to start the day. Ensure you have something planned each day, like a small task (see above!) and something to get your body moving. Regular gentle exercise is better than none, so consider how to do something small each day, even if it’s a 10-minute walk or some at-home stretching or yoga. Exercising outside is even better to catch some of those precious sun rays!
‘New year, new me’; is a phrase often heard in January to make us push ourselves to be ‘better’ people. While there’s nothing wrong with setting goals (if you keep them realistic!) and moving towards positive change, we often get into the habit of punishing or criticising ourselves when we fall short of the mark. Instead, try to offer yourself some self-compassion by remembering that you are just a human being, none of us are perfect, we all make mistakes or fail sometimes, and that’s ok. Consider that it is normal for all humans to feel a bit lower in mood, less energised, and even to put on a little weight over the winter months. The next time you criticize yourself for your humanness, ask yourself, ‘Would I say this to someone I care deeply about?’ if the answer is no, ask yourself, ‘What would I say instead?’ The last step is to speak to yourself as you would to your loved one, giving yourself the kind, caring, sometimes ‘tough love’ but always compassionate advice you would give to someone you care about deeply.
Reach out for support
It is easy to feel isolated in the winter months as we desire to stay at home and out of the bad weather, or if we’re struggling financially, meeting up for a coffee can seem like a stretch. However, It is essential to remain connected with others and reach out for support when needed. You can connect with others with little effort or cost, such as a phone call or video chat, a walk around the park, or find a local interest club or class and learn something new together. Sometimes, a chat with a friend or family member is enough, but if you are struggling with feeling low, reach out to your GP or mental health support services. The sooner you reach out, the quicker you can feel better again.
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