Monday 17th January 2022. It’s the most depressing day of the year – apparently.
But why? What is it about the third Monday of January – particularly in a COVID-era – that seems to make us feel worse than any other time?
Dr Rebecca Owens is a psychology expert from the University of Sunderland. Here, she sheds some light on the darkness of Blue Monday.
“Our feelings and emotions are all linked to our circadian rhythms – our internal body clocks.
“We have a roughly 24-hour cycle which is affected by external stimuli. For example, in the ancestral environment, we would have slept longer during the winter than the summer, to coincide with the change in natural light.
“Before we had electricity, we would have had shorter working days, we probably napped more, we probably had a more sustainable work-life balance.
“For many of us working at home during the pandemic messes up our circadian rhythms more than usual. It makes it harder for us to differentiate days because we no longer have specific events on certain days, or our daily routine is now different.
“It makes the day all blend into one timepoint, we don’t necessarily have things to look forward to anymore (everything seems to get cancelled) so our internal clocks and calendars are all out of whack.
“However, it is not just the pandemic that affect our circadian rhythms – cultural changes do too, and this in turn affects our emotions and our psychological wellbeing.
“One example of this is the weekend effect. This is where we generally feel happier on a Friday, but our mood has decreased dramatically by a Sunday evening – just in time for work.
“Before we had a culturally defined working week, the weekend effect did not exist. This effect has been linked to a lack of autonomy at work – essentially, if you do a job you dislike, in a place you dislike, if you feel forced to be at work, you are more likely to feel negatively about doing it.
“While working at home is essential for many of us now, and it has some benefits, it can also be very lonely which causes a further decline in mood and mental wellbeing.
“For many of us, we spend time with family and friends over the recent Christmas period – a time when the regular routine goes out the window for a short time at least, and we can overindulge in our favourite wintery food and tipples with loved ones.
“Fast forward to Blue Monday as the Omicron variant sky rockets, the usual feelings of being skint, feeling frumpy and bloated are now combined with more loneliness as more of us test positive and must isolate again.
“But Blue Monday is based on a mathematical formula which considers the cumulative impact of many different stressors on your emotions and psychological wellbeing.
“Specifically, it suggests that the poor weather conditions at this time, the amount of debt we are in, and the length of time between pay days all contribute to our reduced mood. All of these factors are culturally created…we are essentially setting ourselves up for ‘Blue Monday’.
“Add COVID into the equation and this year may seem harder than most.
“But how can we take care of our mental wellbeing at this time of year? Sometimes it feels out of our hands…we wanted to overindulge in December, we wanted to enjoy ourselves… do we have to pay the price for this now? And no matter how much mask-wearing, lateral flow testing, and vaccinating we do, we can’t change regulations and policies around what we can do – and when.
“Thankfully, technology has alleviated this for us to an extent. But we know from the pandemic that Zoom fatigue is a real thing, and virtual interactions just don’t cut it the same way as face-to-face interactions do. Nevertheless, it means we are able to alleviate this to some extent – we can organise online chats and connections. It is still important to make contact – we are a social species after all – but it is important that we adapt to our environment as it changes.”