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Tuesday 22 January 2013

Blue Monday: A Tuesday Post

January in Vancouver. Not all that bad, really.
Apparently I have been living under a rock. Yesterday a reporter called wanting to film an interview about “Blue Monday.” I had to look it up. Those who pay more attention to the news are treated to this idea annually.

Blue Monday is allegedly the most depressing day of the year. It has an interesting history as a kind of cultural meme: something that has entered the public consciousness despite being based on nothing at all.  Something like the idea that we only use 10% of the brain, an utterly groundless but widely-believed notion that no one seems able to source.

The idea of Blue Monday originated with a tutor for an offshoot of Cardiff University in Wales (a connection the university seems to have been attempting to play down). It was, according to sources on the internet (yes, I am embarrassed by some of my research efforts, in case you are wondering), part of a public relations campaign for a UK travel agency hoping to sell more vacation packages.

The scientific basis for the notion that any particular Monday is the worst of the year is, needless to say, absent. Though often dismissed as pseudoscience, the Blue Monday idea doesn’t even aspire to those modest heights. It comes complete with an utterly meaningless equation that seems to have been constructed just to look complicated.

The campaign appears to have been stitched together from a brainstorming session about what might be depressing about early January. The elements are:

  • Weather (lousy in many northern countries this time of year).
  • Time since Christmas (allegedly traumatic, though many people seem to find it a bit of a relief).
  • Debt (see Christmas, above).
  • Time elapsed since failing to abide by New Years resolutions (which seems counterintuitive, because by the 21st of January, this year’s Blue Monday, most such resolutions are only a hazy memory).
  • Low motivation levels (the link between these and January seems unclear; perhaps it has something to do with biorhythms).
  • A feeling of needing to take action (as opposed to blissful apathy).

Are any of these valid? To a greater or lesser extent, probably all of them, though summing it up as an authoritative statement about any particular day is nonsense.

During my interview I was waiting for the question of whether many people do indeed find this date the worst. I was all set with my answer: “I’m sure of it. I’d be willing to bet that about 1 in every 365 viewers will find this the worst day of 2013.” No such opportunity arose, unfortunately.

To the reporter’s credit, he was actually looking for someone to snort derisively at the idea and he found one in me. Most of the snorting wound up on the cutting room floor though, as apparently it wasn’t telegenic.

Is January difficult? It doesn’t seem to produce notably more cases of clinical depression than other months. But yes, many people feel the January blahs. The social whirl of the holidays is over, the climate doesn’t encourage many of the activities that normally give us joy, and the gloss is off the pristine new year. We have already determined that no, this is not the year when we will live flawlessly or revolutionize ourselves.

What to do about it? Here’s a plan.
  1. Welcome the blahs. They may sound inarticulate, but actually they are telling you that something is amiss. And you’ve felt them before and lived, so you know they aren’t lethal. 
  2. Brainstorm. What are you blah about? Only do this with pen and paper, or it counts as rumination. Then act.
  3. Exercise. The catch-all recommendation for almost any type of distress. It’s probably more powerful than seeing a therapist.
  4. Socialize. You may have overdosed on people in December, but that’s no reason to become a hermit in January.
  5. Plan. You were looking forward either to the holidays or to their end. Now both are behind you and it’s a long while til summer. Find something to look forward to in February.
  6. Kill the revolution. If you haven’t violated your New Years resolutions yet, do so now. Revolutionary change seldom works. Identify small changes instead. And like Obama said yesterday, count on every positive step you take being imperfect. It’s still worth taking.
  7. Watch or read the news in smaller doses than usual. And look at the “Reader’s Feedback” sections NEVER. Nothing will kill your faith in the human race faster.
  8. Get off the computer, stop reading blogs, and go live your life.
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