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Blue Monday: What to Do When Sad for Your Mental Health




"...I still find it so hard

To say what I need to say

But I'm quite sure that you'll tell me

Just how I should feel today…"


Frustrated by the fact that fans never asked for an encore at their concerts, the British band from the '80s, known as New Order, wrote a song titled "Blue Monday" to celebrate what is considered to be the saddest day of the year.



Sad smiley mug on desk, symbolizing Blue Monday's impact on mental health





Quick Summary

  • Blue Monday, the third Monday of January, was conceived by psychologist Cliff Arnall in 2005 to identify the year’s saddest day. It's based on a formula considering factors like weather conditions, post-holiday blues, and financial stress.


  • Despite its popular recognition, Blue Monday lacks scientific backing. Mental health experts emphasize that depression and sadness don't adhere to a specific calendar date, making the concept more of an urban legend than a psychological reality.


  • On days like Blue Monday, self-care is crucial. Tips include planning enjoyable activities, dedicating time to personal hobbies, expressing emotions, setting achievable goals, practicing gratitude, disconnecting from social media, and recognizing personal value to maintain mental and emotional well-being.




Sad, pensive woman in car, contemplating Blue Monday's effect on mental health


What is Blue Monday?


Blue Monday was supposedly conceived in 2005 by Cliff Arnall, a psychologist at the University of Cardiff and an expert in seasonal affective disorders, who developed a real mathematical equation capable of calculating on which of the 365 days the highest level of sadness, melancholy, anguish, depression, and anxiety was perceived (Unione Sanitaria Internazionale, 2023).


Thanks to this formula, it was possible to determine, albeit in a not strictly scientific manner, that the third Monday of January is the saddest day of the year... precisely, Blue Monday!



What Factors Are Believed to Be Responsible for Blue Monday?


According to Cliff Arnall, to calculate which of the 365 days was the gloomiest and saddest, it was necessary to consider various factors (The Independent, 2022):


  • Weather conditions: indeed, there is the Seasonal Affective Disorder (better known as SAD), an unrecognized pathology characterized by major depressive episodes that recur regularly at certain times of the year. About 10% of the population develops it, especially during winter, when the sky is covered with clouds, often heavy with rain or snow, the horizon is invisible behind high walls of fog, the streets are now dark due to the absence of Christmas lights, and the hours of daily darkness exceed those of light (National Institute of Mental Health).


  • Usual monthly salary and Christmas debt: after the December bonus that seemed to give us a breath of relief, in January the classic salary returns, although expenses are increasing. In addition to heating at stellar costs, there is an increase in the electricity bill, caused by decorations and Christmas lights, and all the debts accumulated during the Holidays for gifts to relatives and friends.


  • Returning to work from the holidays: during the Christmas period, almost all companies and offices close for about two weeks, during which everyone finally practices some healthy self-care, taking time to dedicate to themselves, for example, waking up a little later in the morning, having a healthier breakfast more calmly, trying to unwind with relaxing meditation, a good book, a delicious chocolate, and (why not?) an afternoon nap in front of the warm fireplace. Returning to work can, therefore, be a real shock!


  • Low levels of motivation, a sense of failure of good intentions for the new year, and the need to act: returning to the workplace can represent a trauma for our psychophysical well-being, especially on those Mondays immediately following the long Christmas break. Many also develop a strong sense of inadequacy and frustration: starting from my experience, between the dinners of Christmas Eve, Christmas, Boxing Day, and New Year's Eve, with lasagna and fried foods, the feeling of having gained 5 kg is undeniable. The guilt for the feasts leads me to think that it is necessary to shed the mascarpone and grandma's tortellini, going on a diet, that famous diet that "I will start on Monday"... yes, the Monday of the year two thousand never! And every year, in January, it always ends like this: me ruminating on not having managed to lose even a gram, of being still too "soft", of not being able to compete in beauty with other people.



Donna stressata al lavoro, il disagio del Blue Monday incide sul benessere mentale

Blue Monday: Truth or Myth?


Although conceived by a professional, the concept of Blue Monday lacks scientific and psychological legitimacy: there is no theory that verifies the validity of the mathematical equation invented to calculate the most depressing day of the year.

Moreover, the scientific community and mental health experts emphasize that depression does not follow a fixed calendar and that attributing a specific day to feelings of sadness has no reliable scientific basis. Mental health is complex and influenced by numerous factors, and the feeling of psychological discomfort cannot be reduced to a single day in the year. Indeed, the "awareness and belief" that the third Monday of January is the saddest of the 365 days serves no purpose, except to increase pressure and concern in those people who already suffer from anxiety (BBC, 2022).


Therefore, the concept of Blue Monday is widely considered an urban legend, a fabrication created for advertising and commercial reasons.



What to Do When Sad: 10 Tips for Dealing with Blue Monday and Down Days


Each of us experiences totally "off" days in our lives that jeopardize our psychophysical well-being.



Group in blue clothes embracing, united for mental health on Blue Monday


Starting from the premise that the keyword should be "self-care," I propose a series of tips to understand what to do when sad and how to survive the Blue Mondays of our daily lives. Let’s also make it clear that having "off" days is a very normal thing that happens to everyone, because no one is always indestructible and smiling. So, what to do when sad?


  • Plan something fun: organize an evening with friends, maybe a pajama party with fun pajamas and slippers; go to a disco; sit around the table or on the sofa and get carried away by a family board game; have a marathon of your favorite movies, preferably comedies that make you laugh; take your space to indulge in wild dancing in front of the mirror; listen to cheerful and lively music at high volume to isolate yourself from the world. You have every right to find serenity!


  • Dedicate time to yourself: give your mind a break from worries and immerse yourself in a hobby that you are passionate about. Read a book while sipping a hot cup of tea; go outside and take a relaxing walk in the midst of unspoiled nature; dive into a relaxing bath surrounded by scented candles, preferably with aromas that contribute to improving psychophysical well-being (if you missed our article on self-care and psycare beauty, read it here!). If you want to completely unplug, plan a trip, a special event, or a journey. You are your priority!


Woman meditating in peace, embracing self-care to uplift mental health
  • Give yourself a day of relaxation without expectations and let things take their course: pamper yourself by doing what makes you feel good at that moment, without feeling guilty. If you feel like eating chocolate, eat it; if you don't feel like cooking, go to a restaurant or order delivery. If you don't want to vacuum or dust, don't do it, because no one is forcing you and be sure that no one will do it for you. If you feel the desire to lie down for a few hours during the day, lie down, look at the ceiling, and rest. You deserve it!


  • Feel free to express your emotions: talk and share your feelings with someone you trust, a friend or a family member, or with a professional. If you don't feel like talking about it, write down your anxieties, fears, and worries on a piece of paper. Find what is the best way for you to vent. Not talking about your discomfort doesn't make it disappear!


  • Set small, realistic goals for the day and celebrate small victories: create a short "to-do list" with a few simple points to accomplish, such as organizing your clothes closet by color, not procrastinating in responding to messages just because you don't feel like it, washing the dog, stopping biting your nails. Rejoice and be proud of yourself every time you check off a completed action. You don't need the moon to be happy!


Joyful smile up close, reflecting gratitude's role in mental health wellness on Blue Monday
  • Practice gratitude: although it's always nice to receive good things, giving also has its advantages on mental and emotional health. Therefore, verbally express your gratitude, remembering to use kind words towards others, like "thank you" and "please". Look for the good and the beautiful even in the most complicated challenges, develop a positive mindset by seeing difficulties as opportunities for growth; these simple daily gestures can improve your emotional well-being. There are many things in life to be grateful for!


  • Make a list of the positive things in your life: to remind yourself of the good things that surround you, write down everything that makes you feel good and transmits joy and tranquility. Think about the hug of a loved one, the sincere kiss of your partner, the plant you manage to keep alive, new work opportunities, kind gestures received from strangers, opportunities that contribute to making you better. Don't always look at the glass as half empty!


  • Accept that some days are harder than others: it's normal to feel down from time to time... we are human and experience a roller coaster of emotions every day. It can happen to have "off" days, but we should try to find the positive side even in difficult situations, looking for the lessons that can emerge and the teachings we can internalize. Even down moments strengthen you!


Bare feet on the beach, taking a step back for mental health and presence on Blue Monday
  • Disconnect from social media and focus on the present without comparisons: it's okay if you plan a digital break and immerse yourself in screen-free activities for a while. Very often on social networks, we see success stories from which we could draw inspiration, but which, at the same time, on "off" days, could worsen our mood: the risk is that our sense of inadequacy, frustration, and disappointment increases, of not being up to par, of being several steps behind others, of not meeting the expectations that the people around us have of us. Turn off social media to avoid turning yourself off!


  • Recognize your value: be aware of your qualities, love your uniqueness, and appreciate yourself for who you are. Overcome negative and demoralizing criticisms and self-criticisms. Accept your imperfections and understand that every person, including yourself, has intrinsic value regardless of the challenges or difficulties they may face. Treat yourself with kindness, respect, and love!


Thanks to an ever-greater and better self-knowledge and awareness, each one chooses and then puts into practice those gestures, those cares, and those attentions that they consider most suitable and efficient to optimize their physical, psychological, and emotional health.


Let's remember that the greatest gift we could and should give ourselves in life is to listen to ourselves, to give ourselves time, to take care of ourselves, and to do what makes us feel good.




FAQs


What is the meaning of Blue Monday?


Blue Monday refers to a concept that suggests the third Monday of January is the saddest day of the year. This idea was supposedly conceived by psychologist Cliff Arnall, who used a mathematical formula to calculate the day with the highest level of sadness, melancholy, and anxiety, influenced by factors like weather conditions, post-holiday blues, and financial stress.



Why is Blue Monday the saddest day of the year?


Blue Monday is considered the saddest day of the year due to a combination of factors. These include dreary winter weather, the return to work after the holidays, the fading excitement from Christmas and New Year celebrations, financial strain from holiday spending, and the challenge of maintaining New Year's resolutions. These elements collectively contribute to a general feeling of gloominess on this day.



Is there science behind Blue Monday?


The concept of Blue Monday lacks solid scientific and psychological legitimacy. While it was proposed by a professional, the scientific community and mental health experts point out that depression and low moods do not follow a fixed calendar. Therefore, attributing a specific day to widespread sadness is not supported by reliable scientific evidence.



How do you deal with Blue Monday?


To deal with Blue Monday, you can engage in self-care activities. This includes planning enjoyable activities, dedicating time to hobbies, expressing emotions, setting achievable goals, practicing gratitude, and recognizing your own value. It's also recommended to disconnect from social media and focus on the present moment to avoid negative comparisons.



What to do when having a down day?


When having a down day, it's beneficial to focus on self-care and personal well-being. This can involve doing things that make you happy, like watching your favorite movies, spending time in nature, or indulging in a relaxing bath. It's also helpful to express your emotions, either by talking to someone you trust or writing them down. Setting small, realistic goals and celebrating your achievements can also boost your mood. Practicing gratitude and acknowledging the positive aspects of your life can shift your focus from negative thoughts. Lastly, taking a break from social media can reduce feelings of inadequacy and comparison.

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