Plus, how to make it just a little better.
At some point, we’ve all experienced a case of the winter blues. The weather is colder, it gets darker earlier and it can lead to hibernation mode.
January is tough in particular because the holiday excitement has died down and reality has set in. As it turns out, there’s a day that some say is the most depressing day of the year known as “Blue Monday.” This year, it’s on January 16.
Here’s everything you need to know and what you can do to prepare so it's not so bad.
When Is Blue Monday 2023?
Blue Monday is the third Monday of January and is dubbed the "most depressing day of the year." Blue Monday 2023 is on Monday, January 16.
Blue Monday 2024 will be on Monday, January 15, 2024
Blue Monday 2025 will be on Monday, January 20, 2025
Blue Monday 2026 will be on Monday, January 19, 2026
What Is Blue Monday?
Blue Monday is essentially when the post-holiday blues and exhaustion from the stress of the holidays begin to catch up with you. This is the week that holiday bills start rolling in and the weather is cold and dark, Dr. Susan Albers, PsyD, a clinical psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic, explains. There is a long stretch until the next holiday to look forward to, and interestingly, this timing coincides with studies that have found that people tend to give up on their new year's resolutions this very same week (the day they give up is also known as "quitters day.")
The number one trigger of Blue Monday is switching back to your ordinary, daily routine. This 180 from holiday mode can feel like a huge letdown, Dr. Albers states.
During the holidays, people massively disregard their routines. They stay up late and drink and eat excessively. Once this stops, their body has to find a new status quo which can be taxing on the body. As a result, you may notice a massive dip in your mood.
Although Blue Monday was determined by a complex calculation that includes things like the distance in time from Christmas, the weather conditions and debt after the holidays, it is based more on anecdotal evidence than hard science, Dr. Albers explains.
“I would agree with this phenomenon as I see it in my psychology practice. My patients experience a roller coaster of emotions. Their feelings are at an all-time high during the holidays and then come crashing down in January when people step back into their daily routine," she says. "Everything you have put on hold and said, ‘This can wait until after the holidays’ can no longer be delayed or avoided. The pressure of dealing with something that you'd been avoiding, leads to a dramatic dip in mood."
On the flip side, the happiest day of the year, which is termed "Yellow Monday," is June 20. It is also based on calculations such as weather conditions, distance from holidays and activity levels. This is no surprise either—more sunlight during the summer months is associated with absorbing higher levels of vitamin D, Dr. Albers adds.
Blue Monday and Seasonal Depressive Disorder
Seasonal Depressive Disorder (SAD) may play a role in Blue Monday as well. By mid-January, there have been months of cold, dark short days, and this can wear you down over time. SAD is feeling blue during the cold, dark, winter months, Dr. Albers explains. Here is a list of SAD symptoms to be aware of:
A downturn in your mood
Loss of pleasure
Lack of motivation
Changes in sleep or eating
What You Can Do
So, what can you do when complicated feelings around Blue Monday pop up? Here are some suggestions.
Give yourself permission to feel what you’re feeling
Keep in mind that sadness is a normal part of the human being and it is okay if there are periods like this, Aura De Los Santos, a clinical psychologist and educational psychologist, explains. Remember that the body is recovering from the Christmas festivities, so it is normal to feel tired. Give it time to recover. Little by little, resume daily activities, without pressure, but at a healthy pace.
Take a pause and ask yourself what is triggering you to feel down
Is it the past, missing the holidays? Or the present—all the bills that might be cascading in?
It could also be the future: thinking about what's coming up, and some of those resolutions that you may want to achieve and haven't yet, Dr. Albers states.
Adjust your mindset
Instead of mourning the end of the holiday and looking backward, look forward to the upcoming year, Dr. Albers suggests. Make it a challenge.
Open the blinds and let the sunlight in
This is particularly important if you are someone who struggles with SAD. This boosts your Vitamin D level, which is associated with boosting your mood. Or, try a light lamp and put it on your desk for 20 minutes in the morning, Dr. Albers recommends.
Exercise and movement have been shown to release serotonin, the neurotransmitters that make you feel happier, Dr. Albers explains.
Reframe your New Year's resolution
Oftentimes our New Year’s resolutions set us up to fail. Make it more realistic, attainable and achievable, Dr. Albers states.
Avoid activities that make you feel worse
This includes emotional eating and substances like drugs and alcohol, Dr. Albers says.
It's tempting to reach for comfort foods during the cold dark winter. However, eat foods that help to nourish your mood like fruits, veggies, lean protein and omega-3-rich foods, Dr. Albers suggests.
Cleansing your physical space can also cleanse your mental space. Do a little pre-spring cleaning, Dr. Albers recommends. This can help to boost your mood.
Make Blue Monday fun
Soak up your Blue Monday! Don't give yourself an epic case of Monday Scaries by dreading the week ahead. Make it a fun day—go out to breakfast, do something a little out of the ordinary and treat yourself in some way. Socialize if you can. Seeing friends is great for our brain health, especially when we're feeling down, Dr. Lauren Cook, clinical psychologist, explains.
While Blue Monday isn't exactly something to look forward to, it can help to understand why you're feeling so down—and then take easy action steps to make the day a little better.