Health & Medicine

Blue Monday" isn't real, but the blues certainly are

French President Francois Hollande gave a rose to his companion Valerie Trierweiler during his 2012 election campaign.
French President Francois Hollande gave a rose to his companion Valerie Trierweiler during his 2012 election campaign. Herald-Leader

Back in 2005, a psychologist named Cliff Arnall tried to determine the most depressing day of the year. His formula, which considers personal debt, weather, time since Christmas, and failed New Year's resolutions, calculated what is now called "Blue Monday" — the third Monday of January.

The concept has become so popular that it is an entry on Wikipedia and an annual feature in mainstream news.

Blue Monday is just like Groundhog Day: a lot of fun but not much science. Arnall's formula has been debunked, and it has since come to light that he was paid to invent the concept for promotional purposes.

But the "Blue Monday" concept does hold some seeds of truth. We can get discouraged by cold, gray weather, the disappointment of a failed New Year's resolution, or the prospect of returning to "regular life" as the holidays end. While this isn't necessarily depression, the same advice doctors give to depressed people can be helpful in beating the blues.

Get outside: Take a long walk, eat lunch at a nearby park, or simply sit on a bench and soak up the sun. Even on cloudy days, outdoor light can help improve your mood.

Make your environment sunnier and brighter: Open your curtains, and try to sit closer to bright windows while at home or in the office.

Create happy habits: Try to develop routines that improve your sense of well-being. Our bodies actually thrive on routines. Try to go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day. Ignore the temptation to hit that snooze button — it actually disrupts natural sleep patterns and makes you feel less refreshed. At night, use relaxing cues — like a warm bath — to help your brain shift into sleep mode. Keep in mind that electronics use before bedtime can reduce sleep quality, so try to avoid that TV or email.

Exercise regularly: Physical exercise helps relieve stress and anxiety, both of which can play a role in the "blues." Being more fit makes you feel better about yourself, too, which can lift your mood. It doesn't have to be a 60 minute aerobics class — a brisk 15 minute walk every day will do wonders.

Socialize: When you're feeling down, it can be hard to be social. Make an effort to connect with people you enjoy being around. This is sometimes called "fake it till you make it."

If, however, you suspect that what you're feeling is more than "the blues" — you're turning to alcohol or drugs to escape, you feel worthless, or have suicidal thoughts, seek medical attention immediately.