In the northern hemisphere the third Monday of January has become known as Blue Monday, the most depressing day of the year. But is there such a thing as the most depressing day of the year and where has this idea come from?
Simply put, there is no science which indicates that Blue Monday a real thing. In fact, the notion that external causes such as the number of days since Christmas are a cause for depression can be harmful to those who suffer from clinical depression, as simply booking a vacation to paradise cannot solve their problems.
Unlike Blue Monday, the winter blues are real and are clinically known as seasonal affective disorder, or SAD. The winter blues are a form of depression that people experience most often during fall and winter months when there is less sunlight. January and February tend to be the most difficult months for people with SAD in the northern hemisphere, which is sometimes referred to as the January blues. The arrival of spring can be a true relieve for them, a literal breath of fresh air.
SAD has been linked to a biochemical imbalance in the brain prompted by fewer daylight hours and less sunlight in winter. Your biological clock is affected by the change of the seasons, for some it can cause them to be out of sync with their regular schedule.
Common signs of SAD include fatigue, no matter how much you sleep, weight gain, often due to overeating and carbohydrate cravings, and other more typical signs of depression such as feelings of sadness, a loss interest in activities, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, trouble concentrating or making decisions and thoughts of death or suicide.
Luckily there are ways to combat the winter blues. As it is linked to daylight and sunlight, the easiest way to start taking action against SAD is to focus on light exposure. If natural sunlight isn't an option, you can look into buying a light box. Spending at least 20 minutes a day either in sunlight or in front of a lightbox can help to reduce the symptoms of SAD.
What is really important is to talk to your doctor, as SAD can be a manageable with the right diagnosis and treatment. Aside from light therapy, treatment can involve antidepressants and talk therapy, while holistic options include exercising regularly, eating well, getting enough sleep and staying connected with family and friends.
Now that we have established that Blue Monday is not actually real we can ask: where did it come from? Blue Monday started in 2005 as a PR stunt from a now-defunct UK TV channel, Sky Travel. They had psychologist Cliff Arnall create a formula to calculate the most miserable day of the year. The formula considered factors including the weather and was created to find out when people would book holidays, assuming that people are more likely to book a trip when they are feeling down.
Blue Monday 2021 might feel more depressing than Blue Monday's in the past years as many people are currently either in lockdown or quarantine but it is no more depressing than the Monday before it.
If you are struggling with SAD know that help is available. Talk to someone about how you feel, the people who care about you won't mind listening to you.