Blue Monday, “winter blues” and how to cope with the season

Turning Point’s director of quality and risk and registered mental health nurse, David Foord, talks about Blue Monday, winter blues, mental health tips, support available and impact of COVID.

Blue Monday is supposedly the saddest day of the year – is that true? 

The concept was originally proposed by Psychologist Dr Cliff Arnall for a marketing campaign for a travel company.  Dr Arnall developed a formula, which considered factors including Winter weather, people’s probable level of debt, time after Christmas and new year’s resolutions, generally lower motivation levels.  Dr Arnall has since been remorseful about how his work has turned into such an annual phenomenon.  In fact, he has more recently said: 

“Whether embarking on a new career, meeting new friends, taking up a new hobby or booking a new adventure, January is actually a great time to make those big decisions for the year ahead” 

Enough of the pseudoscience, feeling blue on any Monday or on any day is a serious matter and I am far from alone to feeling lower at this time of year than at others.  There is evidence all of the factors Dr Arnall used in his formula have a significant impact on mood and mental health; however, there isn’t enough evidence that this can be pinned to a specific date.  For some people the impact of these issues alone or in combination can be just a lowered mood and for others it can be a lot more serious such as a condition called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).  Personally, I love to be outside a lot so this time of year does get me down as the weather prevents me spending as much time in the open air as I would like to.  There are many however who are much worse off than me in this season. 

How has covid made this worse? 

However severe an effect this time of year has on you, do take it seriously, especially with the added pressures on us all caused by Covid.  The restrictions caused by our attempts to control the pandemic can lead to increased social isolation and loss of physical connection with people.  This inevitably has an impact on our mood and mental health.  As humans, we are social creatures and need physical contact with other people to thrive.  There are many studies into the impact of social isolation on physical and mental ill-health, some of which are referenced at the end of this blog.   

A very recent Systematic Review was published just this month, into studies of loneliness and social isolation during the current pandemic.  This supports the view that there is a significant impact of Covid on social isolation, which in turn adversely effects physical and mental health.  On top of this many people are suffering from Covid themselves at this time or from the longer-term effects of having had the disease.  There is so much we don’t know about ‘Long Covid’, which again can cause further anxiety to those suffering from it and struggling to recover from infection. 

What three things would I recommend to those with Winter Blues? 

Be social!  I appreciate that when you are at your lowest, being motivated to be social is difficult, but it really will help.  Connecting with other people will recharge your batteries and reduce the feeling of isolation and helplessness.  Try to reach out to neighbours and friends, they may be in the same boat as you and you could help each other.  Join an online book club; these are often free to join and can connect you with people with a shared interest (just beware of online scams). 

Be active!  Motivating yourself to exercise can also be extremely hard when your mental health is affected in any way, but this time of year makes it even harder.  Get social in your activities.  This doesn’t have to be completing the Tour De France, join a local walking club, but most importantly, do something that is going to benefit you.  Going for a run is great for some but isn’t for all.  Group classes like Yoga and Pilates are excellent for overall physical wellbeing, which will help your mental health – they are also indoor activities, so ideal for this time of year!  I really notice the difference in my mental health when I don’t exercise regularly.  As I write this, I have a knee injury from rugby (I know, I should know better at my age!), and it is really affecting my mood that I can’t do any training at the moment. 

Have a plan!  If you don’t plan to do it, it’s less likely to happen.  Schedule time to be social and schedule time to be active.  Plan your meals in advance so that you don’t resort to too many takeaways or fast food.  The food we eat has a massive impact on our mental health in so many ways.  Personally, when I eat the wrong things, too late at night, I wake up feeling lethargic and unmotivated, which isn’t a great start to the day. 

Read the full blog post here.


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