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The Myth of Blue Monday: Debunking the Pseudoscience Behind the Most Depressing Day of the Year

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The Myth Of Blue Monday: Debunking The Pseudoscience Behind The Most Depressing Day Of The Year

Is this “Blue Monday” claim a true Monday claim? In 2005, Sky Travel, a company in the U.K., began labeling the third Monday of January each year as “Blue Monday.” The company claimed that it’s the day when happiness levels fall to the lowest levels of the year. So since tomorrow, January 15, will be the third Monday of 2024, should you be prepared for a particularly rough day? Or is this whole “Blue Monday” claim a bit—how shall we say it—bogus?

Well, you may want to get your “bogus” file ready for yet another entry. Dr. Susan McCutcheon, an Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, called the whole thing a “marketing gimmick.” She explained that the travel company “wanted to increase business by claiming they had found the most depressing day of the year and were hoping it would encourage customers to travel more during this time.” It’s not clear how successful this gimmick was in drumming up more more business. One indication is that Sky Travel is no longer in business. This gimmick, though, was quite successful in drumming up attention for itself as the “Blue Monday” legacy has ended up outliving the company.

So how did the company land on the third Monday of January as opposed to some other day such as January 22, which is Answer Your Cat’s Questions Day, or May 9, which is Lost Sock Memorial Day? According to McCutcheon, “The company worked with a psychologist to develop a ‘depression formula’, and his result was the third Monday in January.” Dr. Cliff Arnall, the psychologist based in the U.K., was the brain behind the formula, which looked like this: [W+(D-d)] x TQ divided by M x NA. In this equation, W stands for the weather, D for your debt, d for your monthly salary, T for the time since Christmas, Q for the time since you failed quitting something that you attempted to quit, M for low motivational levels and NA for the need to take action.

All of that may look kind of sciency. The problem, though, is that the formula hasn’t really been backed by that stuff known as scientific evidence. Whenever you come up with a formula, it’s important to explain how that formula has been validated with the possible exception of avocado toast plus anything equals bliss. Plus, how the heck can you come up with a simple formula that churns out the identical answer for everyone around the world?

Contrary to what this formula may indicate, not everyone is destined to feel the same way on the third Monday of January in a given year. In fact, it could be a super joyous occasion for many people. Undoubtedly, some people somewhere will meet the love of their lives, give birth to children, win some kind of award, hear of a major promotion, spend time with an important person, eat a lot of sushi or meet some other type of success tomorrow. Remember, no single day in the year is universally great for everyone or terrible for everyone.

Even if this is apparent to most people, there are dangers in declaring a single day as the most of anything for everyone. McCutcheon related, “The disadvantage of labeling a particular day ‘the most depressing day of the year’ is it can minimize the experience people have with depression during the remaining days of the year.”

Buying into the whole “Blue Monday” idea could also lead people to feel down on that particular day because they feel that they are supposed to be down then. After all, the power of suggestion can be, well, quite powerful.

Now, there are reasons why January in general and not a particular day in January may be particularly tough for many people. In the Northern Hemisphere, November through February is when the daytime gets shorter. Less sunshine exposure can affect melatonin secretion in ways that can adversely affect mood, energy, and sleep patterns. Moreover, colder and more inclement weather can prevent you from doing outdoor activities that you would typically enjoy.

January is also when you begin failing to fulfill all those New Year’s resolution that you made. For example, that resolution to “do push-ups every day” may have already become “do push-ups every month.” Plus, January is when you have to deal with the aftermath of those December Holidays and New Year’s Eve and Day such as the weight gain from Holiday food binging, the unpleasant revelations and arguments that arose during Holiday gatherings, the debt from shopping and all those fruitcakes that you received.

So rather than arbitrarily choosing a single day in January and saying, “How does it feel” in the words of the New Order song Blue Monday, it may be better to raise awareness of how people may be feeling this month in general. January is a prime month for people to experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which is when people experience depression during particular seasons, typically the Winter seasons. SAD affects about five percent of all adults in the U.S. for about 40 percent of the year. Even if you don’t officially have SAD, the Winter months can bring you the Winter blues that leave you feeling more down and longing for the warmth and revitalization of Spring.

Therefore, it will be especially important this month to practice good self-care. McCutcheon recommended “practicing good sleep hygiene by having a set bedtime and wakeup time, taking daily walks outside to get natural sunlight, and exercising routinely. You can also eat healthy foods and avoid misuse of substances like alcohol.”

Don’t try to tackle the Winter blues all by your lonesome either. McCutcheon added that you try to maintain “positive social relationships to avoid the social isolation that can occur in the winter months.” Contact a legitimate health professional as soon as possible if you continue to struggle with symptoms like feeling sad, losing interest in things that you used to enjoy, changes in appetite or sleep patterns, loss of energy, difficulty thinking, concentrating or making decisions, agitation, or feelings of worthlessness or guilt.

Ultimately, mood and how you are feeling in general are much more complex than what a simple formula can capture. One size doesn’t fit all when it comes to mental health approaches, just like it doesn’t with skinny jeans and mullets. So, before you automatically assume that tomorrow is going to be a “Blue Monday,” keep in mind what is and is not true about this Monday and the blues.

Rachel Adams

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