Blue Monday: is it really the worst day of the year?

Jan 15, 2016

This 18 January will be the saddest date on the calendar, says tradition, but is there any scientific reason why?

If you find yourself feeling thoroughly down in the dumps on Monday, take comfort from the fact you're not alone. According to popular belief, this is "Blue Monday", the most depressing day of the year.

But is this just another example of the sort of pseudoscientific quackery that does the rounds on Facebook or does the post-Christmas hangover really culminate in a late-January peak of misery?

What is Blue Monday?

Blue Monday – the third Monday in January - is popularly said to be the most depressing day of the year. If the pop psychology is to be believed, this is the day you are most likely to find yourself cold, poor, miserable, and fantasising longingly about a week in the sun. A combination of factors, such as plunging thermometers, debt, post-Christmas blues and the likely failure of your New Year's resolutions, make Blue Monday the perfect storm for feelings of gloom and doom.

Where does the expression come from?

The phrase Blue Monday has been bandied around so much in the media that it could be assumed it has some academic root. However, it was actually coined in 2005, as part of an ad campaign for Sky Travel. The channel claimed experts had devised a formula to scientifically calculate the most depressing day of the year. Since then, other brands have leapt on to the bandwagon to promote everything from soft drinks to new clothes as an antidote.

Is there any truth to it?

In a word, no. Despite endless newspaper articles suggesting ways you might "beat the blues" on the "most depressing day of the year", there is  no basis in psychology for feeling particularly blue. In 2014, after nearly ten years of the Blue Monday meme, psychologist Dean Burnett bemoaned the "pseudoscience" behind the concept in a column for The Guardian. The idea that any specific day marks some kind of peak national melancholia is plain "silly", he said, and dismissed the equation used to identify Blue Monday as "ludicrous".

However, you are slightly more likely to feel glum on this day thanks to the "January Blues", which do have some scientific basis.

Professor Ed Watkins, of the University of Exeter’s Mood Disorders Centre, explains that cultural expectations for New Year self-improvement can bring feelings of inadequacy. "For people who are isolated or finding these activities difficult for whatever reason, this stark contrast can make them feel inadequate and blue," he says. Becoming more physically and mentally active, and avoiding negative thinking patterns, can all help shake off the feeling.

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