How to stay in good mental health and beat Blue Monday
The third Monday of January, known as Blue Monday, is considered the most depressing day of the year. But what do we know about this day, and how can we handle it better?.
It’s important to pay attention to how we’re feeling to stay in good mental health, and at the same time, take on Monday and even the whole week with enthusiasm.
Amid the global pandemic, which has lasted nearly two years now, our mental health and emotional state have become more important than ever for our personal well-being. At MAPFRE we’re committed to SDG 3 of the 2030 Agenda, which aims to ensure healthy lives and well-being for all. As a part of our commitment to health, we have expanded our services, adding programs for wellness, psychological support and video consultations. Since the start of the pandemic, we’ve offered free access to our digital health platform, Savia. As a result, the number of registered users increased by 50,000 during lockdown to a total of 150,000 now.
How did Blue Monday start?
Blue Monday started in 2005, when psychologist Cliff Arnall, a professor of psychology at the University of Cardiff, claimed to have come up with a mathematical equation, which has never been scientifically proven, to determine the most depressing day of the year. His calculation was based on various factors that impact human behavior. But before we dive into the equation behind this popular day, it’s important to point out that the idea came from an ad campaign for Sky Travel, a UK travel agency, to encourage people to book vacations to sunnier climes.
January: is the first month of the year also the saddest?
What we do know is that winter depression is a scientifically proven disorder that can impact our mood. Sometimes called the “winter blues,” this phenomenon is better known as SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder. A form of depression generally experienced in the fall and winter months, it coincides with reduced exposure to sunlight.
This condition is attributed to a biochemical imbalance in the brain caused by the shorter daylight hours and reduced sunlight in the winter.
Mental health in the times of COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused everyone to experience anxiety to some extent. The anxiety levels we’re experiencing today are different from what they were in 2020, and obviously this situation favors mood disorders such as depression. Depression causes drowsiness and fatigue, which in turn affect our daily work. When we’re exhausted and not resting well, our performance also suffers.
Recently, on our Código insur_space podcast channel, where we discuss using innovation to transform society, we featured an episode exploring the role of new technologies, social media and the current context of hyperconnectivity, as well as some of the most cutting-edge research in the field of mental health. We also discussed the therapeutic use of wearable technology and serious games.
Blue Monday: why does it happen, and how does it affect us?
As we explained, the famous Blue Monday is based on a mathematical equation. The calculation measures variables such as returning to our routines after the Christmas holiday, belt-tightening in January , and the weather typical of the winter season.
These variables make up a formula: [C+(D-d)]TI / MNa, which determines how this day will impact us. C is the weather factor; D is our debt level after Christmas expenses; d is our monthly salary in January; T is time since Christmas, and l stands for the time since the failure of our new year’s resolutions. The result is divided by M, our motivational level and by Na, the feeling of a need to take action.
Again, there is no scientific proof behind this equation, but January is clearly a sad month due to the season we find ourselves in, because the weather can significantly influence our emotional state.
Sunlight and how it affects our serotonin levels
In any case, how depressed we actually feel on Blue Monday will depend on our sensitivity to the weather, on the seasonal affective disorder we referred to earlier, which affects 15 percent of the population and causes strong mood swings when the temperatures drop.
This seasonal phenomenon is indeed scientifically proven, because sunlight helps us produce vitamin D, which affects our hormone levels. And that’s where serotonin comes into play. A neurotransmitter closely related to emotional control and mood, it is partly conditioned by sunlight, dropping at night and rising in the morning.
That’s why low serotonin levels make us more apathetic, while high levels make us feel livelier and more cheerful. The fall and winter have fewer hours of daylight and more gloomy and rainy days; this reduces the amount of serotonin released and can increase our feelings of apathy.
Tips to beat Blue Monday
Although our mental health is clearly dependent on many other factors, having Blue Monday marked on our calendars might cause us to reflect on how we’re feeling today, especially since Mondays by their very nature are not always easy to deal with.
So let’s take advantage of this event, and the fact that we’re in the middle of January belt-tightening, to list some mood-boosting tips to make Monday a little less Monday-like.
Sunlight exposure therapies
If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with SAD, there are certain sunlight exposure therapies that may prove beneficial. Again, sunlight is closely related to serotonin. By boosting our serotonin levels, we can recover a sense of well-being.
Realistic and achievable goals
Another tip to improve your Monday is to not rush to achieve your new year’s resolutions: we’re in the first few “pages” of the year and we have more than 300 ahead of us.
Feeling the need to start off the year with a clean slate can often lead us to set ambitious goals, which generates a sense of frustration when we’re unable to achieve them. That’s why it’s important to plan goals well from the outset. Sometimes less is more. It’s better to have 2 achievable goals than 10 impossible ones. Think of goals that are realistic and motivating, ones that don’t require an extreme effort, but that generate a sense of well-being when you achieve them. Impatience to see quick results is one of the main reasons why people throw in the towel, so it’s important to be patient, we are only in the third week of January.
Learning how to budget to improve January belt-tightening
After the holidays, January belt-tightening is a frequent topic of conversation. If we want to spend money responsibly, learning how to budget can help us to save and prioritize our upcoming expenses.
New hobbies to stay busy
If you have too much free time on your hands, why not find some new hobbies? Learn to play an instrument, read a book, listen to music, spend time with other people, start a collection, sign up for a volunteer program, play board games, go for a walk or play a new sport, spend more time with your family, draw or paint, make an improvement or change in your house, cook new recipes, chat with people who live far away. All these ideas can help you to stay busy and boost your mood. That way you can start the week, and even the new year, with more enthusiasm.
Our health must be a top priority
Health needs to be one of our top priorities, and we must seek help when we need it as well. Amid the sixth wave of the pandemic, many of us have gone back to teleworking. It’s important to give yourself time to unwind, to separate between your work routine and free time.
On a related note, if you’re finding it stressful to return to your routine, check out these 10 tips from Fundación MAPFRE to lower your stress levels.
To take care of your overall health, it can also be helpful to exercise regularly, eat and sleep well and keep socializing with family and friends.
On this day, which is supposed to be the most depressing day of the year, think about how you feel. If you´re feeling good, don’t jump to the conclusion that it’s going to be a bad day. Just keep enjoying your Monday!