a group of people walking through an arch of lights at the light festival in Toronto

How to Beat “Blue Monday”

I was recently scrolling through Twitter when I stumbled upon a trending topic that intrigued me. From friends to strangers and many organizations, I found that quite a lot of people were tweeting about “Blue Monday”. Whereas many café’s and restaurants I follow were persuading people to “Get a #BlueMonday cure” with some tasty food and drinks, many friends were tweeting about the anticipation of feeling sad, which was startling.

After doing some research and talking to an internal medicine physician Dr. Lukasz Kwapisz, I discovered that the “Blue Monday” myth was created in 2005 by psychologist Cliff Arnall for an ad campaign. Since then, many people have depended on Arnall’s formula that he uses to dictate “the most depressing day of the year” which, for 2017, just so happens to fall on January 16th. Arnall bases this formula on several aspects, including failed resolutions, the realization that holidays are officially over and of course, the weather. This myth has come under fire in recent years from several mental health organizations who argue that it diminishes the real definition of depression, and that it perpetuates the idea that you’re expected to feel unhappy on this particular day. Dr. Lukasz Kwapisz emphasizes the danger of this; “First off, “Blue Monday” is a myth. There’s no science to specifically point to one day being more depressing than others. The key concept is to realize that all winter months in general are more gloomy/sad and can worsen our moods. Additionally, given that it’s post-holiday season and either people have to go back to work or school there is additional stress or annoyance.”

Whether you believe in the myth or not, the fact that many people continue to give the third Monday of the year such a dismal title definitely puts a damper on the day. But just because it’s perpetuated in society doesn’t mean we have to buy into the idea that today is supposed to be terrible. So in order to combat “Blue Monday”, I’ve put together a few tips to help us get through the blues and kick off the first week back at school in a productive, healthy and happy way.

  1. Look out for Blue Monday offers!

One of the few benefits of Blue Monday going mainstream is that many companies have special offers for customers! Today Cineplex is doing a special redemption offer for SCENE members, since “73% of Canadians say watching a movie cheers them up.” So rather than letting the blues bring you down today, grab a friend and catch a movie.

  1. Exercise

GIF of Elle Woods from the movie 'Legally Blonde'

Elle Woods sums up the importance of exercising best. Not only does it relieve the stress of returning to school and releases endorphins to boost your positivity, but there are many beginner classes at the MAC which is a great way to kick off a new semester and make new friends. Dr. Lukasz Kwapisz advises: “If you are worried or anticipate being sad that day, some practical tips include being very self-aware and recognizing that this may be a specific problem. If you’re aware about something potentially being negative, you have the mental capacity and power to approach it in a positive light. You can wake up that Monday, with a positive mind-set, with a smile on your face, with an attitude that you’re going to have a good day and you won’t let anything get in the way. The power of positive reinforcement can go a long way. I think the next step is to follow one’s typical routine. If it’s exercise, then make sure you go and exercise and naturally boost your endorphins and energy levels.”

  1. Get ahead on your schoolwork

Good work more than often equates to happiness. We’re all familiar with feeling overwhelmed a few weeks into school, but usually the first week is slow paced and we’re not hit with a million assignments at once. Although we’re often tempted to take this opportunity to try to hold onto our holiday habits, it will feel even better to discipline yourself and to use this time to break down your syllabus and map out how to tackle upcoming assignments.

  1. Treat yourself

I recently read a quote by Lin-Manuel Miranda in which he said ‘I think it’s important to eat your vegetables and I think it’s important to eat your dessert.’ Although he was using this as a metaphor to emphasize the importance of spreading positivity on social media rather than investing in negativity, I think this quote is just as effective when taken literally. Even though January is usually the time we put ourselves on a health kick, don’t forget that self-care and treating yourself to dessert every so often is just as important for your health. Dr. Lukasz Kwapisz suggests that “If you think you may be particularly susceptible to feeling down on Blue Monday, make sure to watch your favourite TV show, maybe even binge watch a few episodes. Surround yourself with positive people who will improve your mood.”

  1. Look at January as a “trial month”

During this time of year, many of us put pressure on ourselves to eat a certain way, stick to resolutions and to somehow change our behaviours overnight which is often difficult and unrealistic. When we’ve failed at our resolutions or if we’ve had a bad start to the year we often think that it defines how the rest of the year will go. After I had a difficult start to 2016, I joked to myself that January was my ‘free trial month’ and that I could turn it around at any time. With this mentality, I took a lot of the pressure off myself and 2016 turned into one of the best years of my life. Just remember that you can start resolutions at any time, or not start them at all, and whether you fail at them or accomplish them you should be just as proud of yourself for trying.

  1. Stay in the light

a group of people walking through an arch of lights at the light festival in Toronto

It has been scientifically proven that symptoms of seasonal depression and general anxiety can be treated with light therapy. This involves sitting in full-spectrum fluorescent lights for 30 minutes every morning. When you’re doing assignments, it’s also effective to sit near a window for natural lighting which generates higher concentration levels. Lighting has such an effect on our moods, most of the time without us even realizing. Dr. Lukasz Kwapisz agrees: “Other practical tips include getting a good night’s sleep on Sunday, eating a healthy breakfast, and to go outside and be exposed to sunlight. There is nothing worse than waking up and going to work/school when it’s dark and coming back home when it’s dark. Make it a point to get outside and see some daylight.” Give you something to look forward to on this ‘Blue Monday’, the very first Toronto Light Festival is coming to the Distillery District this month, which is sure to light up the start of the year in an amazing way. 

  1. Change the hashtag

Rather than perpetuating the #BlueMonday hashtag, let’s change it. Organizations such as Rethink Mental Illness are urging followers to change the day into a positive one and to tweet them how you’re planning on doing so. I think this is an incredible way to combat the negativity of Blue Monday as a community, so please share how you’re making ‘Blue Monday’ a Bright Monday instead by tweeting us at @RUStudentLife with the hashtag #TakeCareRU. 

  1. Be kind

Although it would be ideal for feelings of seasonal depression, back-to-school anxiety and general sadness to only last for a day, unfortunately for many these feelings are prominent in our daily lives. As Dr. Lukasz Kwapisz explains, “Let’s not forget that having mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of. Feeling sad, anxious, or depressed is a result from decreased hormonal levels in the brain, specifically serotonin. If this has been an ongoing issue for quite some time, it’s best to see your family physician to discuss potential medical or cognitive treatments to help boost those levels. If there is any concern or any suicidal ideation that crosses anyone’s mind, it is imperative to get help right away.” Whether it’s a stranger or a friend, a lot of people suffer during this time of the year for a myriad of reasons, and quite often without our knowledge. It’s the start of a new semester and so it’s our opportunity to reach out to others which can be done so in many ways, from saying hello to the person sitting alone in your elective, paying for someone’s coffee or simply smiling at a stranger passing by, take this day as an opportunity to reach out to others and spread the love.