By Maureen Smojkis, Lecturer in Mental Health
Department of Social Work and Social Care, University of Birmingham
A combination of post-Christmas blues, cold dark nights and the arrival of unpaid credit card bills have contributed to the third Monday in January being awarded the title of Blue Monday – so what can we do to tackle the blues? As well as the noise around Blue Monday, after returning to work from the Christmas break, I was reminded that January can be a time of particular vulnerability, not just for the 1 in 4 people that are affected by mental illness in the UK, but for others too.
The festive season is recognised as a time of immense joy but it is also one of the most stressful times of the year. For some it can be a time of celebration spending time with family and friends, eating and drinking (sometimes to excess). For others it is a time of sadness, feeling alone and a time to remember people who are no longer with us, a time of transition from one year to the next.
In 2018 I experienced professional disappointments and a very sad personal loss but alongside these, I also experienced some professional achievements and the arrival of a new member to my ever-growing extended family. I celebrated the arrival of the New Year but despite wanting to be optimistic, I woke on New Year’s Day feeling very down, so I took some time for myself to reflect and think about what I wanted to do in 2019, to set myself some realistic achievable goals.
The end of January 2019 seems like a logical time for a reminder of what might be useful to look after ourselves and try to counteract those Blue Monday feelings. Wellbeing is currently very visible in the media; celebrity and professional advice are easily accessible in different forms. Professor Paul Dolan’s latest book Happy Ever After: Escaping the Myth of the Perfect Life explores what makes people happy and emphasises that in order to be happy, it is important to pay attention to what makes you feel good. Ruby Wax shares her struggles and her journey of self-understanding of the value of Mindfulness for her.
A new year can bring opportunities and possibilities but starting the year with a positive attitude can be a struggle, and trying to develop a new habit can be hard. It can be useful to look at when we have been successful in forming a habit or changing a behaviour previously and look at what was different. For some people it will be, ‘I will start from Monday’ or for others ‘there is no time like the present’ and they begin straight away, lining a new habit to an existing routine can work for some. I am no exception to the rule as procrastination sometimes takes hold, but on Monday the 15th of January, I got out of my own way and made it to the gym for the first time in 4 months. And it felt good.
So, what things should we think about when looking to beat Blue Monday?
In addition, here are some suggestions for 2019:
- Try to declutter your mind
- Do not make your targets too difficult
- Think about your digestion
- Look at the Eat Well guide
- Look at your own sleep patterns, when and how you sleep, think about your sleep environment. In 2019 remember to be kind to yourself as focussing on kindness, to ourselves and to other people stimulates areas of the brain and body that are conducive to your health and wellbeing.