The Most Miserable Day of the Year Is Upon Us—Here's How to Survive It

Have you noticed yourself feeling slightly less enthused about everyday life lately? Maybe you’re more cranky than usual or just feel bored with your routine. There’s actually an explanation for this: We’re quickly approaching Blue Monday, a.k.a. the most depressing day of the year, which this year falls on January 21.

Blue Monday came to be in 2005, when psychologist Cliff Arnall, a lecturer at the University of Cardiff in South Wales who specializes in seasonal disorders, deemed the third Monday of January the worst day of the calendar year. His reasoning? The weather is drab, the holiday season is officially over, the routine of work has resumed, and our bank accounts are have less cash in them. Adding to the misery is that many people have probably abandoned their New Year’s resolutions by now, sinking their high hopes for positive changes. (What? Me? Never…)

Arnall even created with a Blue Monday formula: – [W + (D-d)] x Tq ÷ [M x Na]. W means weather, D represents debt, d is for monthly income, T equals time since Christmas, and q is the time since we broke our New Year’s resolutions. M stands for low motivation levels, and Na is the need to take action. It doesn’t take a math genius to realize that this all adds up to some serious gloom.

We asked Jennifer Guttman, PsyD, clinical psychologist and author of A Path to Sustainable Life Satisfaction, what she thinks of Blue Monday. In her opinion, it likely comes down to one thing: cold weather. 

“People have been cooped up inside because of shorter, darker days for awhile now,” Guttman tells Health. “It’s really starting to sink in that winter is here, and they’re going to have to hunker down for a few more months.” She explains that when brisk weather first arrives, it can be fun to feel a chill in the air and bundle up to do outdoor activities. But by now, we’re over it.

Whatever the exact cause, there are things you can do to brighten your mood and not give up hope on Blue Monday (and for the rest of winter, that is). Here, Guttman’s advice for staying ahead of cold weather sadness.

Keep up your usual workouts

You know exercise helps your body produce mood-brightening endorphins, but other reasons make it an excellent sadness buster this time of year. For most people, exercising requires getting out of the house. Guttman says it’s easy to hibernate indoors when it’s cold outside, but forcing yourself to leave the cozy confines of your home will make you happier in the long run. And you don’t have to do much exercise to reap benefits: A study in the Journal of Health Psychology says simply getting up and moving around seems to reduce feelings of depression. 

Do fun or challenging indoor activities

Just because there’s snow on the ground doesn’t mean you can’t still do summer activities—just get creative and bring them indoors. Guttman suggest organizing an indoor picnic or even making s’mores in your kitchen. Another idea is to enjoy those indoor activities that you usually overlook in the summer because you’re too busy swimming or basking in warm sunshine, like putting together a puzzle or scrapbooking. 

Eat more mood-boosting foods

It’s easy to fall into a habit of unhealthy eating during winter, the season of rich, indulgent comfort foods. Plus, studies have suggested that maintaining a healthy diet can actually help prevent depression. Do you brain a favor and work into your diet more foods that have a rep as mood boosters, like avocados and nuts (which contain healthy fats), kimchi and other fermented foods (for their healthy bacteria), and dark chocolate (which packs powerful antioxidants). 

Switch on a SAD lamp

If you think you might have seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression that typically strikes during the cold, dark winter months, you may want to try light therapy. Research has shown that bright light from a special lamp or light box can help make up for the sunlight you’re not getting naturally during the winter, and a lack of exposure to UV rays is linked to mood changes. “The most important thing is that you use it consistently,” Guttman says. Most lamps need to be used for 20 to 60 minutes daily. Sound like this might be for you? Buy one here. 

Get outdoors

Speaking of sunshine, you can still get it in the wintertime. Sure, you won’t be absorbing as much as you would in the summer, since the sun sets so much earlier and winter can be marked by gray days. But you’ll still reap some of the mood-enhancing benefits. “Even if it’s a short brisk walk or parking your car a little bit farther away than you normally would, getting outside is so important,” Guttman says. Pro tip: You can also get vitamin D from foods like mushrooms, fatty fish, and eggs, as well as fortified milk.

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