How to survive Blue Monday

If January isn’t exactly your favourite time of year, you’re not alone. After the excitement of all those festive season activities, January can take its toll on many people’s emotional health, with the third Monday in January often acknowledged as the most depressing day of the year.

Called Blue Monday, in 2018 it falls on Monday January 15. The first Blue Monday was noted in 2005 on January 24 and has since become an annual event. It’s been claimed that the date was originally calculated using an equation that takes several factors into account, including the weather, debt, time since Christmas and the level of low motivation. But since the concept was first introduced as part of a press campaign by a holiday company, you may want to take any science used to calculate the timing of Blue Monday with a rather large pinch of salt.

That said, many people do struggle during the winter months, especially those who are susceptible to seasonal affective disorder (SAD) or its milder version, the winter blues. Indeed, low mood is a major symptom of SAD, but if you’re affected you may also feel as if you have no energy or you may have problems sleeping (either not sleeping enough or wanting to sleep much more than usual). Other symptoms include anxiety, panic attacks, stress, overeating, weight gain, frequent colds and loss of sex drive.

How to help yourself

If you’ve been experiencing some or all of these symptoms during the autumn and winter months for two or three years, your GP may be able to diagnose you as having SAD. It’s important to get help, as there are ways of treating SAD if you’ve been officially diagnosed with the disorder.

One treatment that may be recommended to you is light therapy. This involves using a light box that produces a very bright light (SAD light boxes produce 10,000 lux whereas normal domestic or office lighting produces 200-500 lux). You simply sit in front of or under the light for around 30 minutes to an hour a day.

If your symptoms are severe, your GP may also recommend talking therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or medication such as antidepressants.

Besides treatment, here’s how you can help yourself to feel better, not just on Blue Monday but throughout the autumn and winter months:

• Go outdoors Whenever possible, expose yourself to lots of natural light during the autumn and winter, especially on bright sunny days and around midday.

• Get active You may not feel much like exercising, particularly when it’s cold, but experts believe physical activity can boost your mood and make you feel more energetic. According to the NHS, exercise can not only help people with depression, it can help prevent them from becoming depressed in the first place. Exercise is also especially useful for people with mild depression.

To stay healthy, you should aim to do 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity every week. If you haven’t exercised in a while, start slowly and work up to 150 minutes. Always speak to your GP before starting to exercise if you have a medical condition or if you haven’t been very active lately.

• Eat healthily Try to resist any cravings you may be having for stodgy foods by making sure your diet contains heaps of healthy fruit and vegetables.

• Tackle tension If you feel extra stressed-out during the winter months, try to plan any stressful events or activities for the spring and summer. And don’t forget to make time for regular relaxation. There are lots of ways to unwind, simply do whatever works for you.

Your local Careway pharmacist can also give you tips if you’re feeling lower than usual. Find your nearest Careway pharmacy by using our Pharmacy Finder.