"Blue Monday" can be a depressing time of the year for those of us in the northern hemisphere: shorter days, Vitamin D-less sunshine, holiday euphoria replaced by credit card and weight gain realities.
You're not alone in feeling glum, but it doesn't have to be so bad. We've gathered 18 research-backed helpful and easy tips to beat Blue Monday and bring a smile to your face.
Some of these may seem obvious, but we bet you'll be surprised and that you'll learn a thing or two.
Blue Monday is a name coined for what is claimed to be the most depressing day of the year, usually the third Monday of January.
Created by psychologist Cliff Arnall, the Blue Monday formula appeared to be a sophisticated calculation comprising weather conditions, debt level, time since Christmas, time since failing new year's resolutions, low motivational levels and feeling a need to take action.
However, there is no provable science behind the Blue Monday calculation to determine the saddest day of the year. "Blue Monday" was actually part of a marketing campaign by a British travel company to boost ticket sales to warm destinations.
There is no evidence that there is a single "saddest day of the year." In fact, the creator of the Blue Monday formula admitted that it was never his intention to make Blue Monday sound negative, but rather to encourage people to view January as an opportunity for new beginnings and change.
Nonetheless, it is perfectly normal to feel not your usual self and to get the blues, particularly during the winter, which is why we've compiled a list of tips to help combat those sad blues.As noted by author and Psychology Today contributor Toni Bernhard J.D., "the blues" is to be distinguished from a heavy or dark mood that goes unchanged for weeks at a time. The latter could be a sign of clinical depression in which case you should seriously consider seeking the advice of a counsellor.)
Technically, Blue Monday 2019 is calculated as January 21, 2019. However, for our purposes we're using "Blue Monday" as shorthand for winter sadness.
If occasionally you feel a little down (as opposed to unabating sadness mentioned above which may be a sign of clinical depression), keep in mind that moods are unpredictable and as changeable as the weather, and are part of the ebb and flow of life. As noted by Toni Bernhard:
The blues settle in and then they blow away, just like the weather pattern of the moment.
By recognizing that shifting moods are impermanent - arising in the mind, staying for a visit then going on their way - you can calmly ride out the dip.
Most, if not all of us experience chronic, low-level stress on an ongoing basis that makes our stress-reacting sympathetic nervous system (i.e. "fight or flight" response) constantly activated. This activation fills us with cortisol and adrenaline: helpful in small doses, but not good when constantly generated.
The solution? Fire up the parasympathetic nervous system by turning on the vagus nerve through deep breathing. Not only does this reduce anxiety, lower blood pressure, reduce inflammation and increase your alpha brain waves, it also helps prevent your stress response from acting up in the first place.
Improving your mood through deep breathing is free, simple, and doing it purposefully for as little as two minutes a day can produce a ton of benefits. Breathe in for four counts, hold for seven counts, breathe out for eight.
Another easy tip to kick the Blue Monday blues to the curb is to smile, even when you don't feel like smiling.
The brain may be powerful, but it's easily tricked. Smiling, even when you're faking it, sparks a chemical reaction in the brain that releases the feel-good hormones of dopamine (happiness) and seratonin (reduced stress).
More remarkably, smiling can help build your immunity. ENT-otolaryngogolist (say that five times fast) Dr. Murray Gossan observes:
"Just the physical act of smiling can make a difference in building your immunity. When you smile, the brain sees the muscle [activity] and assumes that humour is happening.”
A study conducted by researchers at Cardiff University supports this. They discovered that patients who had received Botox injections to prevent frowning were significantly less depressed, anxious and irritable than the control group.
It's no secret that exercise generates endorphins, and come January marketing channels are overrun with fitness-related promotions.
Yes, you can go to five spin classes a day (not recommended). But you might be surprised how little relative effort is needed to snap out of a slump.
Did you know that walking is one of the best exercises you can do? According to Harvard Health Publishing, not only can walking help with weight management, but it can lower blood pressure and the risk of disease (such as diabetes and heart disease), improve memory and age-related memory loss resistance, and lift your mood.
Guess what other exercise also improves mental health and provides a mood boost?
Swedish researchers discovered that the positive effects of dancing in some of their subjects lasted up to eight months after the dance classes ended.
Think your two left feet should stop you from dancing? No. One. Cares. Get over it.
Researchers at the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital discovered that the experience of listening to music releases dopamine, a brain neurotransmitter responsible for tangible pleasures. In other words, listening to music generates happiness.
In fact, the researchers identified five songs in particular that consistently created dopamine in subjects. The final one is a surprise!
For more on the research around the effects of music on the brain, see this article by Jacob Berkowitz.
To relieve the sadness of Blue Monday, try changing your environment. Even better, go outside. Best - get thee to a forest.
You already know that getting more sleep is essential for good health, and good health = better mood. You probably know that things like minimizing technology use at night, taking a hot bath or shower, and drinking chamomile tea have be shown to invite sleep more easily.
But did you know that gentle leg exercises like leg lifts and squats before bed can help? According to sleep.org,
While exercising right before bed can sometimes keep you awake, gentle leg exercises are unlikely to negatively affect your sleep. Moves like leg lifts and squats help bring flood flow down to your legs; interestingly, this can have a soothing effect and make it easier to drift off.
Light therapy is frequently used as a non-pharmaceutical treatment for winter blues and sleep disorders.
It works by exposing you to bright light that mimics natural outdoor light. It's thought to ease SAD (seasonal affective disorder) by positively affecting brain chemicals linked to mood and sleep (there we go again, tricking the brain.)
If you choose to do light therapy at home with your own lightbox, makes sure you find one that emits as little UV light as possible.
Alternatively, you may be able to find publicly-accessible light therapy solutions in your city.
Toronto's Museum of Contemporary Art has a Light Therapy room (drinks are allowed, so bring a towel and mix up a Blue Monday Drink and you're good to go (just kidding.)) Members can book the room for a one-hour private session for up to 10 visitors.
Vitamin D, the "sunshine vitamin", is thought by many to have miraculous effects on the body, including improving symptoms of seasonal depression; however, the evidence is not yet conclusive. Moreover, some people put themselves at risk by overdoing Vitamin D consumption in search of better health as reported by Harvard Health Publishing.
Perhaps a better approach is to focus on eating "happy" foods, foods that provide your body with a cocktail of vitamins, antioxidants and other helpful stuff.
The bad news: if you're feeling stressed, your skin is probably showing it. And no one likes to be told "you look tired," especially when you don't necessarily feel tired.
The good news: you can create your own facial mask to boost your skin. It can be as simple as creating a face mask by putting a bit of kefir (fermented milk) on your face with a cotton ball. Life doesn't need to be complicated!
For fun we've created the "Blue Monday Drink", and because we don't like clichés, it ain't blue.
Our Blue Monday cocktail contains brewed black tea (because of black tea's surprisingly long list of benefits, including stress relief and stimulation of metabolism, the respiratory system, heart, and kidneys), coconut milk (contains lauric acid which helps protect the body from infections), a touch of maple syrup (because we're Canadian, and oh yeah the 24 antioxidants), and vodka should you so choose.
"The best way to cheer yourself (up) is to try to cheer somebody else up," wrote Mark Twain in 1896.
Humans are social beings whose brains are rewarded when we interact and connect with others. Whether it's just listening by letting someone vent without you going into problem-solving mode, giving someone a hug, volunteering or doing a random act of kindness, selfless acts are scientifically shown to improve your self-esteem, energy and happiness while decreasing stress, anxiety and depression.
One way to cure Blue Monday sadness is to learn a new skill. By challenging yourself to learn something new, wonderful things happen to your brain.
According to Inc., practising a new skill
increases the density of your myelin, or the white matter in your brain that helps improve performance on a number of tasks. Additionally, learning new skills stimulates neurons in the brain, creating more neural pathways and allowing electrical impulses to travel faster across them. The combination of these two things helps you learn better. It can even help you stave off dementia.
In addition, learning something new helps fight boredom, make change easier to adapt to, and might actually make you a more interesting person.
Taking up art has proven to have terrific benefits. As reported in Harvard Women's Health Watch, creating visual art reduces stress, promotes relaxation and prevents cognitive decline. Even adult colouring books count. As it's the process, not the output that matters, don't worry if you're not Picasso. No. One. Cares.
Recently I have personally rediscovered a joy of knitting which, as it turns out, has a substantial body of (not very well-publicized) evidence-based research demonstrating a litany of positive physical and mental health benefits.
Combine this with Tip #12, and watch those winter blues go away.
Feeling overwhelmed? Studies have shown that simply writing a plan to get things done can free us from anxiety and make us more effective.
A Baylor University study discovered that writing a to-do list can help with sleep. Using two control groups, the subjects who wrote to-do lists for the upcoming day or two vs. those who recapped their previous couple of days' accomplishments fell asleep more quickly.
Don't fall into the trap of avoidance due to fear of massive projects. Just break down what you want to do into smaller, more manageable chunks.
Another list you could create is to simply write a list of all the things for which you are grateful.
In the field of positive psychology, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Even if it feels contrived initially, practising deliberate gratitude will strengthen your positive mental state with practice, and will help you refocus on what you have instead of what you lack.
Harvard Medical School Publications suggests picking a time each week to capture your blessings and selecting three to five things for which you're thankful. Be specific and think about the sensations you felt when something good happened to you.
Other actions you can take include writing a thank-you note (including writing one to yourself), thanking someone mentally, and keeping a gratitude journal.
In addition to being grateful for what you have, to stave off Blue Monday blues don't fall down the rabbit hole of comparing yourself to others.
Everyone experiences the blues at some point. No matter how someone else looks to you - perfect life, perfect relationship - you don't know what goes on "behind closed doors."
Instead of comparing yourself to others and feeling bad, re-read Tip #14.
When it comes to your physical space, less can definitely be more. There are a lot of cognitive benefits to decluttering your space.
Just the effort of making quick decisions about your stuff can be energizing as you move into get-things-done mode. But perhaps more importantly, creating order among the chaos relieves the anxiety many of us feel when things are piled up and messy.
I know this sounds new age, but hear me out. There is strong research demonstrating that just mentally visualizing what you want can help you achieve it.
Olympians and professional athletes regularly visualize winning their sports.Even Oprah uses visualization.
Exercise psychologist Guang Yue from the Cleveland Clinic Foundation compared study participants who went to the gym vs. people who worked out virtually in their heads. The results? The gym goers increased muscle by 30%; however, the mental exercisers increased muscle strength by 13.5% without lifting a weight.
Did you get what you wanted - what you really wanted - for the holidays?
Oftentimes gifts may be given with good intentions, but some gifts don't really provide the same degree of satisfaction as buying something for yourself. (Don't get me started on Secret Santa gifts.)
One way to get out of those Blue Monday doldrums is to buy yourself something to cheer you up.
If you're skeptical about the benefits of retail therapy, there is a growing body of scientific proof that buying things (not experiences) can actually lead to happiness.
In a study published in Psychological Science, the authors conclude that
When spending matches the buyer's personality, it appears that money can indeed by happiness.
The important discovery is that there isn't a single rule to purchasing happiness - the joy derived from buying a material good is influenced by what that item means in the context of the purchaser's individual personality.
A subsequent study out of University of British Columbia discovered that while experiences provide intense enjoyment at the time, their impact diminishes once the experience is over. In contrast, buying something tangible provides more frequent moments of happiness over time.
To celebrate Blue Monday, we have hand-picked a list of our favourite items chosen specifically to give you a Blue Monday boost. Or you can use our Personality Quiz to find things that match your personality.
Whether it's January or any time of the year when you're feeling down, any of these tips can be used to improve your mood and state of mind, sometime in just a matter of minutes.
Have any other suggestions? Please let us know in the comments.
Photo by Tim Gouw via Unsplash
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