January blues? Or as good a month as any other?
16 Jan 2012 | Sarah Dale
It's a popular myth that one particular "Blue Monday" in January
tops all others for being the most depressing day of the year.
This year it's tipped to be today, 16th January. It makes some
sense on the face of it - in the UK at least it is cold and dark;
people may be in debt from Christmas excess; and who likes Monday
mornings at the best of times?
However, Ben Goldacre and others have put paid to the
"scientific" evidence for Blue Monday. It was actually just a
rather clever marketing idea, adding spurious scientific weight to
a holiday company's desire to get us booking our summer break well
in advance. It may still feel like the most depressing time of year
to many of us - but just because the post Christmas period can be a
bit of an anti-climax, there's nothing inherent about today, or any
other day, that makes it depressing.
What often makes things or times depressing is our
interpretation of events, rather than the events themselves. For
many of us today could be a day we really enjoy and remember.
Perhaps it's your birthday or something great will happen at work?
Or maybe you don't really enjoy Christmas and so January represents
a chance to get stuck into new projects. Perhaps the weather's
perfect for the sports you enjoy or you just get a warm feeling
from battling the elements. Many of us - and I definitely include
myself here - have grown to love the contrast and variety that
comes with living in a climate with such differences in light and
weather across the changing seasons.
Of course, many people enjoy a good old moan about how awful
January is and this is partly what gives the "most depressing day"
myth its popularity. It brings a sense of bonding which cheers us
up in a backwards sort of way. (I wonder if this is what's behind
our "enjoyment" of being grumpy in any collective circumstances?)
It's also rather convenient to believe the idea that a depressing
Monday in January is the reason we feel down or don't feel like
getting up for work. It certainly seems easier than challenging our
So what's the alternative? Well it's not about trying to induce
a Pollyanna-like sense of positive thinking even when things hurt
us, seem unfair or are going wrong. Feeling angry or upset is often
entirely justified and psychologically it's not a good idea to bury
these negative emotions. Both socially and politically, such moods
have been a force for the good on countless occasions, overturning
corrupt regimes and righting injustice.
What can we do then? Perhaps we can start by recognising that
any sense of gloom in January is at least partly of our own making
- allowing ourselves to get tired and unfit, to overspend, to spend
too little time outdoors and to be dwelling too much on the
negatives in our lives. (Of course, some people do have real
problems in relation to Seasonal Affective Disorder and this is
different from the "normal" ups and downs most of us experience. So
I am not addressing true SAD or clinical conditions here.)
It's not easy to turn these things around, especially if we and
the people around us think it is inevitable to feel this way - a
sort of powerlessness in the face of January blues. But although we
can't control everything in our lives, and there will always be
difficulties to be dealt with, we can often have a much bigger
influence on our mood and outlook than we realise. Although it can
be seductive to take a passive approach when we feel low (let's
hide under the duvet and hope spring comes by the time we come
out!), this only tends to exacerbate our negative
feelings. With practice we can learn to be more proactive and
As the saying goes, "There's no such thing as the wrong weather,
just the wrong clothes". So with that mindset let's embrace what
January brings: a fresh start after indulgence and celebration; the
days starting to get lighter; the first snow drops; some days of
brilliantly clear skies and air, and some of tempest that make the
bed seem extra cosy and bring a sense of gratitude for a roof over
our heads; seasonal vegetables; warm firesides and new drama on the
television; friendship without the pressures that Christmas can
Let's ignore the bogus evidence about this much maligned month.
Instead, we can try to keep a realistically optimistic outlook; put
fears in perspective; spend time with upbeat people; and get
outside (whatever the weather).
Times might still be hard - but they'll seem easier to bear.
Sarah Dale is the occupational psychologist and coach behind the
Focus coaching programme. She is author of Keeping Your Spirits Up, and is also writing a
blog throughout 2012 exploring the pros and
cons of middle age. You can follow her on Twitter at @creatingfocus.
Take care of your body, Live life mindfully, Look for what's good, Be comfortable with who you are