The third Monday in January has been dubbed Blue Monday as the cold weather, dark days, credit card bill arrivals, and the wait for the next holiday appear to take a toll on people’s mental health.
While some people may feel this is just a myth or a made-up concept, cynical of the headlines and sales pushes that coincide with it, for others it’s very real as the long winter seems to stretch out before them with no positives in sight.
Meanwhile, it's also spawned a range of related initiatives, such as The Samaritans' Brew Monday, encouraging people to have a cuppa, a chat and raise funds for the charity.
Blue Monday: myth or reality?
Sally Brown, a BACP-registered therapeutic coach, says she does see a peak in enquiries around the third and fourth week of January.
“It’s a challenging time of the year,” she says.
“For many of us, by January 21, the ‘new year, new you’ enthusiasm is waning, and the optimism for the year ahead has been worn down by the prospect of more weeks of cold, dark days
“Our instincts are often to retreat indoors and avoid social interaction, but in doing so, we risk further lowering our mood.
“By January, we may also be feeling the effects of lack of sunlight and vitamin D on our energy levels and mood. All of these elements can undermine our resilience, which can also exacerbate existing stress, anxiety or dissatisfaction with life. Low mood can trigger ruminating and overthinking which puts us at risk of depression.”
Jessica Mitchell, a BACP counsellor and psychotherapist, adds: “Clients do express, at times, of course, this sense that the 'start' of the week is difficult, anxiety provoking, and there are mountains to climb until the end of the week.
“Of course, this goes way back too. School starts on Monday, perhaps we saw our parents starting work on Monday and maybe they were anxious or sad about this too.”
But she adds: "I wouldn't like to say Blue Monday absolutely exists for everyone.
"I personally think Sunday often bluer than Monday - as it is the anticipation that is more difficult."
If you are struggling today – what can you do about it?
“It’s important to be self-compassionate rather than self-critical at this time of year. You’re not the only one feeling this way and there are lots of understandable reasons for feeling low and demotivated in January,” adds Sally.
What can I do right now?
Don’t forget about self-care, say both our counsellors. It’s really important to sleep, get fresh air, a bit of exercise and eat well.
“Being kind to yourself also means asking, what do I need to take care of myself right now?” says Sally.
“That can mean getting outdoors every day during daylight hours, ideally going for walk somewhere green for a dose of eco-therapy. It’s also a good idea to also keep alcohol to a minimum until your mood improves, and prioritise sleep. “
Remember what you are grateful for
Sally recommends using gratitude exercises to help improve your mood.
She says: “Gratitude exercises, such as writing down five things you’re grateful for in your life, and the part you played in making them happen, can help give you perspective. Tell someone how you are feeling - sometimes, just putting your feelings into words can help. If you don’t feel you can open up to friends or family, and your low mood persists, consider contacting a therapist.”
Make small changes
“Small changes can make a big difference - I think sometimes people feel they need to make radical changes to their lives and they don't realise that small changes can really give them a different perspective,” says Jessica.
“Prioritising something other than work, having a special meal, stopping for lunch if you usually just munch sandwich at your desk, getting out and seeing others if you are alone all week - whatever it is that is a 'nice' change can really have an impact on changing your mindset.”
Don’t worry about perfection
There’s a myth of having more than 100% to give, says Jessica.
“I see people regularly doing this, putting themselves under huge pressure to do everything on their lists - and, none of us have more than our one self to give. We can't work to be perfect in our job, relationships etc - we just have to be good enough and take the pressure off.”
Wait for the low mood to pass
Both Jessica and Sally agree that sometimes it’s about acknowledging these feelings and then waiting for them to pass.
“It’s hard to bear difficult feelings sometimes. We want them to go away. But sometimes we can't - maybe sometimes we just need to acknowledge that we are finding Monday hard - and bear it,” adds Jessica.
Sally says: "Sometimes, we need to accept times of low mood and energy, and simply wait for them to pass. Try making space for your feelings, sitting with them rather than trying to resist them."