Why ‘Blue Monday’ is a myth

A quick internet search will reveal that today, the 21st of January, is supposedly Blue Monday, the worst day of the year, when doom and gloom govern the general mood.

Blue Monday does not fall on the same date each year, but it has to be a Monday (of course), and it has to be in January, and it is usually the third Monday of the first month of the year.

Truth be told, today, as I write this article, I am not in the best of shapes. Fighting off a stubborn and painful cold, stressed by pressing deadlines, and worried about the challenges that the week ahead may present, I am tempted to say that the Blue Monday label is fitting for a day like today.

But then again, I had the flu last week as well, and stress-inducing deadlines are a common occurrence in my line of work, so why not call every less-than-perfect Monday a “Blue” Monday? What makes today so uniquely gloomy? Or perhaps a better question would be: “Is the third Monday of January truly the gloomiest day of the year?”

In this Spotlight feature, we find out where the concept of Blue Monday originated, how this date is calculated, and whether or not there is any truth to the idea.

While, in essence, such initiatives may be well-intentioned, aiming to share general advice about coping with stress and low moods, they can also have unintended consequences.

For instance, individuals who are already facing depression or anxiety may find their symptoms exacerbated by constant references to, and warnings about, this allegedly grim date.

In an interview quoted by the BBC, a woman with a history of anxiety points out that talk of Blue Monday can put additional pressure on her and others who may anticipate this date as a special “day of reckoning” with mental health symptoms.

Blue Monday, she says, is “just a label on an ordinary day, but it puts a lot of pressure on people who already have a mental illness to overcome it. It adds a lot of anxiety to the day, and people get worried about the buildup [to] it.”

However, despite the suggestive name, Blue Monday was never meant to make people dread the month of January — rather the opposite, according to the concept’s originator.

‘A self-fulfilling prophecy’

In an interview with The Telegraph, Arnall explains that he initially meant Blue Monday as a challenge, encouraging people to fight any post-holiday “blues,” and start planning new adventures and embarking on new hobbies.

Yet he also says that the concept was, in retrospect, unhelpful, with the potential to become a “self-fulfilling prophecy.”

Speaking of how he developed the Blue Monday idea, he notes, “I was originally asked to come up with what I thought was the best day to book a summer holiday, but when I started thinking about the motives for booking a holiday, reflecting on what thousands had told me during stress management or happiness workshops, there were these factors that pointed to the third Monday in January as being particularly depressing.”

[But] it is not particularly helpful to put that out there and say ‘there you are’ […] it is almost a self-fulfilling prophecy that it is the most depressing day.”

Cliff Arnall

Over 13 years, what started as an idea for a regular marketing campaign has gained impressive momentum and become embedded in internet culture. Blue Monday now walks a fine line between making January a gloomier month and providing an excuse to talk more openly about mental health.

And for some companies, this infamous day is merely a continued opportunity to boost business during one of the slowest months of the year.

So don’t worry about what Blue Monday may bring to you. Ignore the hype, do your best to enjoy your day, and if you have not been altogether successful in keeping your New Year’s resolutions so far, just take this day as an opportunity to get back on track, at your own pace.

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