How Blue Monday can actually be good for you

    Published: 30 December 2021. Written by: Hattie Parish.

    The media might claim it’s the most depressing day of the year, but you don’t have to follow suit. Instead, why not take this opportunity to flip things around and use the power of a positive mindset to banish the blues on Blue Monday (and every other day, too)? Belinda Sidhu, Head of Mental Health and Wellbeing at Vitality, explains how.

    When it comes to the third Monday in January, you can guarantee that it’ll be hard to avoid the deluge of news stories and social posts about ‘how to cope’ with what has become generally accepted as the ‘most depressing day of the year’. Blue Monday, not only allegedly the worst day of the week (Monday) in the worst month of the year (January), is also apparently the day when we’re most aware that winter is dragging on, our post-Christmas bank accounts are creaking with the strain of lasting out till payday, and the sheen of all those December celebrations has finally worn off. 

    In fact, there’s absolutely no science behind this idea, which was invented as part of a marketing campaign back in 2004 telling us to escape it all and go on holiday instead. The problem is that calling it the most depressing day of the year can become a self-fulfilling prophecy if we’re not careful. ‘There’s no such thing as Blue Monday,’ says Belinda Sidhu, Head of Mental Health and Wellbeing at Vitality. ‘It’s important to remember this, because people who think ahead will see that it’s Blue Monday and prepare themselves for a bad day.’ The good news is that you can learn to rethink the way you approach Blue Monday and use the power of a positive mindset to overcome negativity. And the even better news is that you can apply this to day-to-day life, not just the January blues. 

     

    Watch your language

    It’s one of the simplest things we can do, but it has a big impact – stop calling it ‘Blue Monday’. ‘The language we use can affect the way that we feel – it’s all about self-talk,’ says Sidhu. ‘We talk to ourselves more than anybody else does, so whatever we tell ourselves – whether it’s about the January blues or something else – we start to believe it, and it can build into our thoughts and our feelings.’

    Try this: To think your way out of false negativity, reframe what Blue Monday means to you and then change the language accordingly. Perhaps you have a big meeting scheduled, or you’re trying a new class at the gym: think of it as ‘the day I’m trying boxing for the first time’. Remembering that there’s no scientific evidence behind it might help, too. 

     

    Plan ahead

    If you’re just not a Monday person (Blue or otherwise), consider creating a mood-boosting ritual to help you feel more in control. ‘If you find Mondays tricky to deal with, plan ahead something that you enjoy so you’ve got something to look forward to after work or at lunchtime,’ says Sidhu. You can apply this to any day. ‘If you know you have a pattern where a certain day or activity is going to affect your mood, think about what you can introduce that brings you joy – what’s in your toolbox that you can use that day?’ 

    Try this: Find 20 minutes to spend with a book you’ve been waiting to read or listen to your favourite album. Or, if you’re a more social person, is there a friend you can call? What works will depend on your personality. Bring in these practices regularly to help disrupt negative patterns of thinking.

     

    Look after yourself

    For a positive mindset, you need a sturdy foundation – and that means taking care of your body and your brain. ‘Your mental and physical wellbeing are interconnected, so take a holistic approach,’ says Sidhu. ‘Make sure you get enough daylight, take a lunch break and get outside. Move your body, whether it’s moderate exercise, a lunchtime walk or some yoga – this helps to reduce stress, boost energy levels and alleviate the brain fog many of us are prone to at this time of year. Eat well, focusing on foods rich in vitamin D and B to help energy levels. Get enough sleep, between seven and nine hours – a lack of sleep can make you feel down, as well as lead to a lack of focus. Sometimes sleep is the one thing you need to change.’

    Try this: Get outside in nature every day if you possibly can – it’s been proven to have benefits for your mental as well as your physical health. You can find ideas for how to get started and what to do here.

     

    Re-set your goals 

    The theory goes that most of us will give up our well-intentioned New Year’s resolutions by the third Monday of January. But Sidhu says the goals aren’t the problem – it’s the way we set them. You need to ensure your goals are SMART – specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely – as well as fit in with your values and your lifestyle 

    Try this: Sidhu recommends something called ‘micro-habits’ to help you get there. These typically involve three steps: 

    1. ‘After I…’ (do something that’s already in my routine, such as brushing my teeth)
    1. ‘I will…’ (add in the new micro-habit)
    2. ‘Then I will celebrate by…’ (doing something small that rewards me) 

    For example, if your goal is to move more, you might say, ‘After I wash my hands, I will do five squats, and then I will celebrate by giving myself a pat on the back.’ 

    ‘With goals this tiny, you can build them into your daily routine and you don’t need a lot of motivation to do them,’ she says. ‘Then you can slowly build them up, and the resulting sense of achievement will feed into a more positive frame of mind.’

     

    See the bright side

    There’s no getting away from the small frustrations of daily life, but we can change the impact they have on us. ‘Think about ways you can reframe situations,’ says Sidhu. Say your train is delayed: see it instead as an extra 15 minutes reading a magazine or listening to a podcast. 

    Try this: Use the 3 Cs method to help turn negatives into positives: 

    Catch your thoughts (eg ‘My new colleague ignored me today – they don’t like me’)

    Challenge your thoughts (‘Perhaps they’re just tired or distracted’)

    Change your thoughts (‘I wonder if they’re feeling OK?’) 

    ‘This can be tricky to do when you’re down or feeling anxious, so start training your brain this way when you’re in a good headspace,’ says Sidhu. 

     

    Practise gratitude

    Taking note of the positive things in life, no matter how small, can also help rewire our brains towards the positive. ‘We tend to hold onto the negative a bit more, due to an inbuilt negative bias, so gratitude is a great practice,’ says Sidhu. 

    Try this: When you brush your teeth in the evening, think of three things that you’ve been grateful for that day. Those can be small things – you can be grateful for the sun shining. When you’re feeling and practising gratitude, it’s difficult to feel stressed or fearful. And the more you do it, the easier it will get.

     

    Reach out

    One positive of Blue Monday is that it does open up conversations on mental health, which can be very helpful for those finding it difficult to seek help. ‘Check in with your friends, your loved ones and your colleagues,’ says Sidhu. ‘Ask how they are, and how they’re feeling.’ Don’t forget to check in with yourself, either. ‘Remember that it’s normal to feel a bit low at this time of year, and that’s OK. If you do feel you need support, there are plenty of resources available, as well as charities like the Samaritans, and you can always see your GP.’

     

    As a Vitality health insurance member, you have a range of mental health support available to you, from a Headspace subscription to mental health forums and talking therapy. Log in to the Member Zone for the details.