By Alexandra Becker
The third Monday in January has become known to many as “Blue Monday,” a.k.a., the most depressing day of the year. The concept was first developed based on an observation that people consistently seemed to feel down on this date, likely due to a combination of cold and dreary weather, the cheer of the holidays now a thing of the past, lingering debt from purchasing presents and end-of-year expenses, feelings of discouragement stemming from shattered New Year’s Resolutions, and, naturally, the fact that it is a Monday.
Despite these factors, which together would make anyone feel at least a little blue, Mariam Wahby, Ph.D., LMFT, an education specialist with Behavioral Health Services at Memorial Hermann Health System, says there are concrete steps people can take to turn this—and any bad day, for that matter—into a positive one.
“Just because there is a label on this date, it doesn’t mean that you should prepare yourself for feeling bad—it just means that plenty of people feel down around this time of year,” Wahby said. “But, if you are feeling blue, it’s always good to sit with yourself for a minute and take an inventory of what feels off.”
Wahby suggested that people ask themselves a few tough questions to help them really understand their emotions. For example: Am I really feeling down? Am I feeling overwhelmed? Do I feel behind at work or like I haven’t done enough for my kids today? Where is this “low” coming from?
She added that these feelings may be particularly prevalent this year, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to surge throughout the country.
“In 2020, in every email and every phrase, we heard that it was an unprecedented time, but it’s not unprecedented anymore,” Wahby said. “We’re familiar with it and we’re getting fatigued and worn out, and it seems like in many different directions we face difficult conversations and difficult feelings to manage.”
She said that once people can establish the root cause for their blue feelings, the next step is to then think about what they can do to mitigate those feelings. She encourages people to be honest about whether they are properly taking care of themselves.
“Focus on getting yourself what you need and be really realistic about what self-care can look like,” Wahby said. “Say nice things to yourself and allow yourself to take breaks when you need to. If being productive is what feels good to you, find an attainable way to be productive. Maybe you can’t write a 30-page report today, but you can brush your teeth, fix your hair, and do the things that you can do to feel productive. Just don’t feel defeated if you can’t reach the 100 percent end goal of something that’s maybe just not attainable today.”
Wahby also encouraged people to take note that the third Monday of January is also when we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr., who was born on Jan. 15. She said rather than focusing on the bad, people should try to focus on the good, and choose to rejoice in today instead.
“Martin Luther King Jr. Day is something that is really meaningful and positive,” Wahby said. “It may be a rough time of year, but it’s important to notice when good things are happening, too.”
That, she added, is an important lesson for any day.