I’ve never been a fan of January. After all the build up to Christmas (which seems to start earlier every year) the holiday period passes by in a flash, and before you know it, it’s all over. Then it’s back to work, the credit card bills land on the doormat and the weather’s still awful. I’m not painting a very optimistic picture am I? Well it seems like January is a downer for a lot of us because tomorrow is what’s known as “Blue Monday” – the most depressing day of the year.
The term “Blue Moday” was first used in 2005 and usually falls on the third Monday in January. It’s based on a formula that takes into account factors such as weather conditions, debt, the end of Christmas, failed New Year’s resolutions and low motivation levels. According to its creator, Chris Arnall, these all contribute to a mass depression culminating on Blue Monday.
It’s a familiar scenario: we eat, drink and spend with abandon in December, then try to repent in January. Just think of all the diet and fitness plans that are shoved down our throats at this time of year. It’s how the industry makes its money. It’s based on a starting point of shame and failure. That’s why I don’t do New Year’s resolutions. Just getting up in the morning and going to work seemed like a major triumph for me on January 2nd. There’s no doubt that January is a tough month. In the Northern hemisphere we’ve been deprived of sunlight for months and are only halfway through winter. So, if like me, you find January an endurance test I’ve got some tips on how to survive Blue Monday.
Being outside surrounded by nature can make you feel calmer and uplifted, even if it’s cold. Going for a brisk walk boosts the immune system, burns calories and improves brain function. If the sun is shining, even better, as you’ll get a much-needed hit of vitamin D. Looking at trees and wildlife is guaranteed to lift your mood. A 30 minute walk in your lunch break can ward off that afternoon slump and keep you alert for the rest of the day.
If there’s too much month left at the end of the money and you can’t afford a night out, get together with friends at home instead. Having fun doesn’t have to be expensive if everyone chips in with food and drink. Stick a funny film on or play board games – you might even want to make it a regular event with everyone taking it in turns to host.
Kindness releases feel-good hormones. When you do something nice for someone else, it makes you feel better too. That’s because it boosts serotonin, the neurotransmitter responsible for feelings of satisfaction and well-being. Helping others takes the focus off you and allows you to temporarily forget about the stresses of your own life. Doing voluntary work – either with people or animals – is guaranteed to make you feel calmer and less stressed. But if you don’t have the time to commit to volunteering, try a random act of kindness every day such as letting another driver out in a line of traffic or paying someone a (genuine) compliment; it will brighten up your day and theirs. It’s a win-win situation. You can find more ideas of random acts of kindness here.
Being sleep-deprived (generally taken to mean six hours or less a night) is linked to everything from weight gain to a weakened immune system. It is also likely to make you grumpy and less productive. While the odd late night won’t do you too much harm, long-term sleep deprivation can pose serious risks to your physical health, such as diabetes and heart disease. Avoid alcohol before bed and switch to decaffeinated drinks after 4pm. Remember that the blue light from smart phones and tablets disturbs sleep so try not to use them an hour before bed. Keeping your bedtime and waking times as consistent as possible will help establish good sleep habits too.
Exercising has been proven to reduce stress, boost self-esteem, ward off anxiety and depression as well as improve sleep. When you work out, your body releases chemicals called endorphins. These endorphins interact with the receptors in your brain that reduce your perception of pain. Endorphins also trigger a positive feeling in the body, similar to that of morphine. That post-workout feeling often referred to as a “runner’s high” can be accompanied by a positive and energizing outlook on life. If hitting the gym or pounding the pavements isn’t your thing you can find tons of workouts on YouTube that you can do in your living room.
The average person checks their phone 200 times a day – that’s once every six and a half minutes! Yes, I’m as guilty as the next person. It’s good to stay connected with friends and family but sometimes it feels like my phone is taking over my life. How did we ever cope without them? We use them for shopping, getting the news and weather, sat navs, cameras…our smartphones have become an integral part of modern life. Sure they have their uses, but sometimes life feels like a constant string of interruptions thanks to our obsession with technology.
It’s so easy to get sucked into the digital world at the expense of the real world. Do we need to see endless photos of other people’s amazing holidays when we’re stuck in rainy old England? No, not really. And all those click bait articles waste so much precious time. So set aside regular tech-free time. The world will still keep turning.
If looking at all those holiday photos on social media has given you the travel bug, start planning for a trip of your own. Having something to look forward to is important for me, even if it’s just a weekend away. Saving a little bit every month can soon build up and you can get some great last-minute deals if you’re not tied to school holidays (like us!). Of course, I enjoy the big holidays in the sun, but this year I also want to explore closer to home. One trip on my list is a weekend in Edinburgh – can you believe I’ve never been to Scotland? My niece lives there now, so I have no excuse not to go!
It’s all too easy to get down in the dumps at this time of year, but there are always things to be grateful for. While you can’t control the weather (and thankfully we don’t get extremes of weather here in the UK) you can control other aspects of your life. Seek out good company and be kind to yourself, as well as others. By the end of the month the evenings will be noticeably lighter, which makes a huge difference.
If you find yourself feeling blue tomorrow, or any other time, it might be a good idea to look at why and see what you can change. Even the man who coined the term “Blue Monday” says he never intended to make the day sound negative and was simply encouraging us to make positive changes. Remember that everything passes, even the January blues. And if they persist, go see your doctor. There’s no shame in seeking treatment for depression.