What is Blue Monday?

By Randi Mazzella

Deemed the most miserable day of the year (but not backed by science), Blue Monday is the third Monday in January. Read this if you feel let down when the excitement of the holidays are over.

For some people, the holiday season is a difficult time of year. When the holiday décor is put away and the last guest is gone, they feel a sense of relief and look forward to a return of their everyday routine.

But for others, the end of the holiday season is a huge letdown. For them, January is a long, depressing month—the weather (in many parts of the US) is cold, the days are short, and the calendar is empty. With so many weeks of winter still to come, the return to reality can feel, well, like utter tedium.

From Thanksgiving through New Year’s, there is so much going on. Between prepping, shopping and entertaining, it’s a busy time of year. But by mid-January, life has slowed down.

In 2005, Sky Travel, a British Travel Agency, coined the term Blue Monday in reference to the third Monday of January, which they deemed the most depressing day of the year. This year Blue Monday will be on January 16.

Mondays have always had a bad reputation as the toughest day of the week. People use terms like “Sunday Blues” or “Sunday Night Scaries” to describe that feeling when the weekend is over and you know the next day is Monday, the start of the long work or school week.

So if January is the most depressing month of the year and Mondays are the most depressing day of the year, Blue Monday makes sense (although there is no reputable scientific evidence to support the claim.)

Holiday Hangover

Feeling down when the holidays are over can happen whether you had a fantastic few weeks of celebrating or if the holidays didn’t meet your expectations. For people who enjoyed the holiday season, it’s understandable to feel blah.

Having spent time with family and friends, especially those that live far away, it may be sad to think about not seeing them again for a while. If you had time off and vacationed someplace fun and warm, it’s easy to understand the dread of returning to work.

It’s not just people who like the holiday season who feel down in January. Jessica Pressler, LCSW, author of the soon-to-be-released book Traitor Within, explains, “Having a disappointing holiday season can also negatively impact your mood. Even if you are glad the holidays are behind you, a bad experience with family or friends can linger long after the season ends.”

People may also be depressed in January f they overspent on gifts or entertaining and now face big bills. Or if they overindulged in rich food and alcohol and now don’t feel well or are upset that they have gained weight.

New Year’s Resolution Backfire

Another tradition that can adversely impact mood is making New Year’s resolutions. Nick Norman, MSW, LICSW of the Mindful Therapy Group, says, “People create these lists with the best intentions. They come up with a list of ways they want to improve themselves. It seems like a motivating practice.”

But by mid-January, it’s possible to be already disappointed in yourself. You may have joined a gym planning to go several times a week and only used it once. Or you may have committed to a “Dry January” with no alcohol but broke that pledge after a stressful week at work. Norman explains, “Tying a critical life change to a date on the calendar sets a person up for failure. Making a real change in diet or lifestyle is complicated and requires several factors, including willpower.”

Seasonal Depression Sets In

Many people find their mood impacted in January by the winter blues. Norman says, “The time from Halloween through New Year’s is hectic. People have a lot to do, and they have social commitments. Then January hits and it’s a big stretch of nothing. Cold weather and less daylight only makes the matter worse.

About 10 million Americans may experience Seasonal Depression or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a type of depression. According to NIH, “SAD occurs much more often in women than in men, and it is more common in those living farther north, where there are shorter daylight hours in the winter.”

Many signs of SAD are similar to those of major depression, such as losing interest in activities you once enjoyed, changes in sleeping and eating habits and lethargy. If you are experiencing these symptoms, it is essential to talk to someone and seek professional treatment.

Handling Blue Monday

So what can you do if you are experiencing the symptoms of Blue Monday?

  • Lean Into the Calm
    “There is a difference between being alone and being isolated,” explains Pressler. “It’s perfectly okay, even beneficial, to spend some time alone, especially in the winter.” Part of the issue may be about how a person views this time of year. Pressler says, “Reframing is an effective tool. Rather than seeing Monday in January as cold and boring, try viewing it more positively. After work, instead of going out, you can cook a pot of soup, cozy up with a good book, or binge a show you have been meaning to watch.”
  • Get Outside
    Yes, it’s cold out, but that doesn’t mean you can go outside. Physical movement, sunlight and fresh air are all great ways to improve your mood. Bundle up and go for a walk. Better yet, invite a friend to join you, and you get some socialization. Consider investing in a light box if you can’t get out during the day.
  • Embrace Self-Care
    It’s perfectly okay to experience a letdown after the holidays and a desire to hunker down. “Self-care and avoidance are two different things,” explains Norman. “Give yourself permission to slow down and take some ‘me time’ to connect with yourself.”
  • Find Balance
    While you don’t need to accept every invitation, having some in-person social interaction is good. Pressler says, “Ask yourself, ‘Am I choosing to spend the time alone or am I isolating and feeling disconnected from people in a negative way?’” Sometimes making a plan can be beneficial and force you out of a rut. You may think you prefer to stay in, but once out, you may be glad you made the effort. Norman says, “It is about finding balance, taking time for self-care and not over-committing but also pushing yourself to do things every so often.”
  • Get Creative with Socialization
    After the height of the pandemic, many people experienced ZOOM fatigue and didn’t want to socialize through a computer anymore. But in the winter months, connecting over ZOOM or through phone calls maybe a good way to stay in touch with friends and family without having to go out on a cold, dark evening.
  • Stay Healthy
    Exercise, eating well and getting a good night’s sleeping are all critical for your physical and mental health. You can still satisfy your craving for warm, comforting foods (turkey chili, vegetable soups) in the winter without over-indulging.
  • Practice Self-Compassion
    Rather than making a grand “resolution,” make a small, sustainable change toward your goal. For example, if you are upset about how much you spent over the holidays, try saving money by bringing lunch from home for the month of January instead of going out.
  • Focus on Martin Luther King Day
    In addition to Blue Monday, January 16 is also MLK day. If you have the day off from work or school to observe the holiday, consider finding a way to celebrate in a meaningful way, such as volunteering.
  • Seek Professional Help
    If you are experiencing symptoms of SAD or other mental health issues, contact a professional.

Finally, while it may seem like the winter is never ending, the reality is that the shortest day of the year is December 22. So while Blue Monday may seem like the coldest and darkest day, there is more daylight than there was a month ago. And each day after Blue Monday is a day closer to the lighter, brighter and warmer season of Spring.

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