The third Monday of January is known as Blue Monday—the most depressing day of the year. It’s when New Year resolutions die, holiday credit card bills start to show up in the mail, and winter is in full force, with many more weeks of it on the horizon. But is it real?
"[Blue Monday] was postulated by a man named Cliff Arnall in 2005, after adding together different variables and coming up with the idea that the third Monday in January is the most depressing day of the year," says Larry Shushansky, a Rhode Island-based therapist. "I have not seen any real scientific research that bears this out."
Shushansky says the issue of sadness is much more complicated than identifying a specific day of the year. Feeling down can be due to factors such as not getting enough sleep, lack of exercise, poor diet, dysfunctional relationships, and general stress. These can add up and cause "the worst day of the year," he says.
Morgan Johnson, research director for the Monday Campaigns, a nonprofit public health initiative associated with Johns Hopkins, Columbia, and Syracuse universities, says Monday can actually be the healthiest day of the week. In a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Johnson and her colleagues looked at health information-seeking behaviors on Google and found that there is a surge in query volume on Mondays.
"People see Monday as a fresh start and a day to get their act together," she says. "Monday helps people get back on track with health goals that they’ve set for themselves. It’s a cue that comes around every week, kind of like a mini New Year’s."
Whether you’re feeling down or optimistic on Blue Monday or any other day of the week, there are some things you can do to beat the blues and stay positive:
Look at your lifestyle objectively and see if there are obvious changes you can make, says Shushansky. "See yourself as you are in your relationships and make changes in the way you relate so you can have the kind of relationships that add to your well-being," he says.
Most people start to lose steam on their New Year’s resolution after three weeks. Use Blue Monday to recharge and keep going, says Kelley Kitley, a Chicago-based therapist.
"The best way to work through it is to set short-term tangible goals on this day to accomplish for the end of the month," she says. "Keep it simple; choose one or two and write down something you can do daily to create a new habit."
Whether it’s sticking to a diet or exercise routine, quitting smoking or another health goal, Monday is the day to state your goals for yourself, says Johnson.
Also use Monday as a day to plan ahead. "How will you fit your healthy activities into your busy schedule? What kinds of barriers or triggers to bad behavior should you watch out for and make a plan to avoid?" asks Johnson. "Making a plan is a great way to make those behavior changes stick."
This doesn't have to be big, says Shushansky; it can be as simple as taking a five-minute walk a day, or go out to somewhere you would not normally go out to. Getting out of a rut takes a change in scenery.
It can feel overwhelming when they all come in at once, says Kitley.
"Typically in December, people go outside of their projected budget due to the holidays," she says. "Make a goal to set aside X amount of money per week to make it feel more manageable."
People will often withdraw from work, family, recreation . . . all the things that can actually help, says Michael Boman, a Utah-based therapist. "Make sure to connect," he says. "Reach out to people. Focus on work. Stay healthily busy."
Too many people wait until March or April to get outdoors, says Boman. "Winters can be long and very cold," he says. "I snowshoe and hike, and that absolutely makes January doable. Get up. Get out. Get going."