Actually, the idea of today being the most depressing day of the year is something that originated in 2005 when a travel brand sent out a press release aiming to get us all to book a holiday because January is so depressing. It’s widely considered pseudoscience - a nicer way of saying it’s hogwash. But it’s also a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy. The media will be full of Blue Monday stories of depression, debt and divorce after Christmas and reading the stories will make us feel a bit blue as well. We might even book a holiday, thus proving the person who wrote that press release in 2005 has well and truly earned their money.
Although Blue Monday is not a real phenomenon, it is true that at this time of year many of us do start to feel a bit fed up. With Christmas behind us, the gloomy days and dark evenings can seem so much less fun now the tinsel and fairy lights have been packed away. Many people find that their general mood is lower at this time of year. One article we read said that unless your birthday is in January, it’s “nothing but a 31-day chasm of despair.”
If you’re inclined to agree with that sentiment, here are our ten top tips to help you brighten up your Blue Monday, and indeed your whole winter.
1. Open the curtains!
It sounds so simple it couldn’t possibly make any difference, doesn’t it! The fact is that it’s often a lack of sunlight that can cause a lower mood at this time of year. When we wake up and go to bed in the dark, it can be tempting to just leave the curtains closed, even on the weekends. Every little helps though, and opening the curtains can allow whatever sunlight there is peeping through the clouds to get into our homes - and onto our skin. It won’t do much for our vitamin D levels - those of us living in the UK do really need a supplement through the winter to keep that going - but it will help to brighten your mood. Every little bit of sunlight counts, so as well as opening your curtains, try to get outside during daylight hours as much as possible.
2. Get your five-a-day
After the excesses of Christmas, many of us may well still be finishing of the remnants of that tin of Quality Street. It’s nice to have a little treat every now and then, but all that sugar and processed food can leave you feeling sluggish and generally rubbish. We’re not saying you should throw out the rest of your Christmas cake; what we are saying is that you could perhaps make it a tasty pudding after a nice hearty bowl of vegetable-rich stew. Filling up on fruits and vegetables can really help you to feel a bit better in the winter months.
3. Pay attention to scents
When it’s cold outside, we will naturally try to keep the heat in by keeping doors and windows closed. That’s great for your gas bill, but it often leaves rooms smelling stale and this can add to an already low mood. On a day when perhaps the weather is a little warmer, try throwing open the windows for an hour or so to let some fresh air in. In the meantime, an aromatherapy candle can be a great way to make your home smell more inviting. Our Be Happy candle would be the obvious choice for perking up your mood and making your home feel a little more fresh.
4. Go with the flow
We’re not suggesting that you should take up residence on the sofa under a blanket until May, but having a bit of down time at this time of year is natural. The seasons change in a natural rhythm, and at this time of year everything slows down a little. It’s perfectly normal to sleep a little more and to spend more time at home relaxing. Our moods can often change with the seasons, and often it’s the railing against our feelings, rather than accepting them, that can cause a problem for us. Mindfulness is all about accepting that - as the Buddhists say - this too shall pass. Our bad moods will pass, just as the good mood that came beforehand did. A low mood and feeling a bit more tired is often just part of the winter season and something that will lift as spring begins to peep through the clouds.
5. Visualise summer
Many of us will feel low during the winter with a lack of sunshine; it’s perfectly normal. What nobody seems to mention though is that your brain only really knows what you tell it. If you close your eyes and imagine you’re on an exotic beach with the sun beating down on your nicely tanned legs, your subconscious doesn’t know the difference. It sounds simplistic, and it is. You might feel pretty silly sitting with your eyes closed, but we guarantee if you try it, and really get into feeling the sun on your face and the sand in your toes - or whatever sort of summery setting makes you feel good - you will start to feel better. Just a few minutes of visualising each day can have a marked effect on your mood.
6. Do something different
In the summer months there are so many things going on outside of work. There are garden parties and events and long country walks on the weekend followed by lazy afternoons in pub gardens. In the winter, everyone knows most people would rather just stay home, so there are fewer things going on. The TV channels know this, and that’s why they save their best shows for winter evenings, when nobody in their right mind would be having a lazy stroll or an evening at a festival.
Spending every day doing the same thing can be positively mind numbing though, and we can end up feeling that we’re stuck in a rut of our own creation. The old saying is true: a change is as good as a rest. Find something out of the ordinary to do over the weekend and see how much it can lift your mood. Although there aren’t as many things going on, your local National Trust place will probably still be open, or you could go for a walk on a local nature reserve or in some woods. If it really comes to it, you could just walk a different way to the shops or take a stroll around your surrounding streets.
A change from your everyday routine jolts the brain out of its comfort zone, and gets your blood flowing. It doesn’t have to be a walk outdoors if the weather is awful; is your local museum open? Perhaps there is a coffee morning in your local community centre. Take a look at social media or Google to find things going on in your local area.
7. Be grateful
Gratitude is a big deal these days; you can buy gratitude journals and even join online subscriptions for gratitude reminders direct to your email inbox. Unlike Blue Monday though, this clever marketing ploy does stand up to science. Numerous studies have shown that practicing gratitude can help us to feel more positive and uplifted. Try it right now: take out a piece of paper and list three things for which you are grateful. You don’t need to buy a gratitude journal; you could commit to listing three great things about your day in your diary, or even on your social media. Forcing your mind to find positivity in your day can actually train your brain to habitually look for the positive side of every situation. Feeling gratitude reminds us of all the reasons we have to be happy, and can go a long way to staving off those January blues.
8. Be sociable
As we mentioned in #6 above, at this time of year there is not much going on. It can be really easy to become quite unsociable without really meaning to, speaking only to our work colleagues and spouses for days at a time. Try to find ways to be more sociable; you could meet a friend for coffee over your lunch break or strike up a conversation with someone in a queue. If that’s not possible, try to have meaningful interactions with friends and family on social media. Rather than hitting “like” and scrolling on past, try to leave a comment where you can and invite interaction. Human beings are designed to interact with each other and often when we are able to connect with each other it can do wonders for both parties.
9. Help someone else
Helping others can produce an instant mood boost - as well as making the other person feel pretty good too. This can be as simple as holding a door for someone or putting some money in a charity collection box; it doesn’t have to be time consuming or difficult. The act of being kind to someone else can leave you feeling good about yourself. Another great way to do this is to challenge yourself to send a text or email to a different person each day, either helping them with something (where you are able to offer advice or support) or complimenting them.
For example, you might send a message to a friend saying you really enjoyed spending time with them at Christmas or you really admire the way they’ve been dealing with a personal situation. This is something that takes only a couple of minutes, and can easily be squeezed into time on a train platform or in the queue at a coffee shop. It will invite conversation, but even if they only reply with a simple “thanks” you’ll still get that feeling of having brightened someone else’s day
10. Learn some relaxation techniques
Relaxing can really help to make you feel better about life in general. You don’t need to book in a two-hour massage to feel the benefits though; learning to meditate or perform daily rituals in a mindful way can be very beneficial. Just five minutes of quiet meditation can help to boost your mood, and a daily practice can help to bolster against future stress. If you don’t know where to start, just find a quiet spot to sit with your eyes closed and watch your breath for a few minutes. If you find your mind wandering, you may want to just say to yourself, “I am breathing in… I am breathing out…” as you breathe.
There is a difference between feeling a bit low with a case of the January blues - which is normal for this time of year - and having depression or another mental health problem. Depression is characterised by feelings of low self worth and persistent negative thoughts, and if you’re experiencing these or your low mood persists into the spring time you should consider a visit to your GP. That said, even if you are suffering with depression you may find that these tips can help to make you feel a little better.
Blue Monday is not real, but feeling a bit blue during January is; hopefully we’ve provided you with ten ways you can improve your mood for today and into the future. If you’ve any other ideas or tips to share, do please leave a comment either here or on our social media channels. We’d love to hear from you!