'Blue Monday' is a hoax – but it could become the most depressing day of the year if you don't watch out

January 12, 2018 by Jolanta Burke, The Conversation
Don’t give up on dry January. Credit: VGstockstudio/Shutterstock

Over the past decade, hordes of innocent people have bought the idea that the third Monday of January is the most depressing day of the year – despite there being no scientific evidence to support it. While retailers, beauty salons, travel agents and many other commercial bodies have capitalised on the concept, originally conceived by a PR company, mental health professionals have despaired. That's because, to many people, the Monday blues is a reality.

This may in part be due to the power of self-fulfilling prophecy. When we hold some expectations about an event, people, or ourselves, we start behaving in a way that matches our expectations. For example, thinking it is the most depressing day of the year, we might start paying more attention to the negative events around us – the boss who doesn't listen to our good advice, or the partner who isn't doing enough around the house.

Suddenly, we become so focused on thinking about what is bad about our lives that we become more tired, decide not to go to the gym after work and soon realise that our prophecy of the most depressive day of the year came true.

Another reason as to why Blue Monday can be a bad day is because it is inherent to all human beings to make sense of the randomness of the world around us. We seek out patterns that do not exist, because "chances", "randomness", or "messiness of life" make us feel uncomfortable.

We do this because we need to feel like we have control over our lives. When we control our lives, we believe there is some cause and effect – if I am a good person, good things will happen to me. If our lives are random, then our actions don't matter, making us panic and feeling helpless. This is why we force our brain to see meaning where there is no meaning.

This includes experiencing traumas in life. We sometimes make sense of difficult experiences by saying that it happened to us because we were meant to learn a lesson or realise who our real friends are.

For example, when we break up with someone after a few months of being in a toxic relationship, we conclude that we had to go through it to learn what a good relationship looks like – in other words, there was a meaning in our suffering. The truth is, we may have known about the good and bad relationship beforehand, but believing it to be true is easier for us to bear than saying that we have just wasted time with this person.

Similarly, we believe that it must be a blue Monday because we think we are somehow emotionally "in debt" after overindulging over Christmas – like we deserve a bad time. And suddenly we notice we are cold, miserable and close to three weeks into our challenging new year's resolutions, which have tested our willpower to the limits. It's easy to think we are doomed to have a depressing day.

While there is no of Blue Monday on the third Monday of January – or any other Monday in a year – research shows us that, unsurprisingly, our mood is significantly better on Fridays and over the weekend in general. Even people who love their jobs may show a rise in mood during these days. This may be due to many reasons. Most of us do not get a full night of restful sleep every day of the week – so a lie-in at the weekend can help us feel refreshed and boost our mood.

Also, when we're off, we may be more likely to go out and play, enjoy nature and meet up with friends, all of which are associated with higher levels of well-being. Finally, the weekend allows us some "me time" – space to be us and sometimes do nothing, as opposed to the other days when we keep ourselves occupied most of the time.

Happy Monday

Since Blue Monday is a hoax that may affect our thinking and emotions so much, let's turn it into Happy Monday and reap the benefits. Instead of searching for all that is going badly on the day, be mindful of all the good things that happen around you – that woman who held the bus door to prevent it from closing, the old lady who smiled at you for no reason or the little boy who gave you a big hug.

You can also boost your mood further by eating good food, as keeping the body healthy will improve your state of mind. You could even create a new, healthy routine, such as taking the stairs instead of a lift – or getting up earlier to do 10 minutes of mindfulness meditation before going to work. Spending the evening with friends or family rather than just lounging on the sofa could also help.

So let's actively make Blue Monday the happiest day of the year by savouring our morning coffee for a change, reflecting on the three things we are grateful for in our lives, or practising some acts of kindness for people around us. Happy Monday to you all!

Explore further: How to beat the Sunday night blues

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