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Happy New Year?

Written by Joanna Barnard, Head of Counselling at Professional Help.

If you’re feeling particularly blue this Monday, it would seem you’re not alone.

Once upon a time, someone somewhere decreed that the third Monday in January was the most miserable day of the year.

It’s not difficult to see the logic: post-Christmas, the lights have come down and the bills have come in. For most people there’s still a little wait until payday. It’s cold and damp and Spring feels remote even on a sunny day.

In the scheme of world problems, of course, these might seem minor concerns. And does the institution of so-called ‘Blue Monday’ trivialise mental health problems, or imply that depression is a condition that can come and go in 24 hours?

There’s a serious side to the January blues. Talk of new year’s resolutions can cause us to look towards self-improvement, but also excessive self-criticism, if we aren’t careful. A quick glance through ever-present social media and you could be forgiven for thinking you’re the only one not partaking in (dry) Veganuary, daily yoga, detox, getting fit and feeling GREAT! All of those initiatives are admirable, of course, but if you’re struggling to get out from under the duvet they’re not necessarily what you want to see.

Self-improvement is healthy; comparison with others and self-deprivation is not.

For people experiencing bereavement at this time of year, they may have felt Christmas was the big hurdle to overcome. But for some it will have turned out to be a welcome distraction. What’s left is worse: a whole year yawning ahead of them, a calendar full of days without the person they’ve lost.

Perhaps the last thing we need is the media telling us we feel rubbish. I was pleased to find this attempt to turn this ‘most miserable’ day on its head by encouraging acts of kindness to one another:

It’s important to remember to be kind to ourselves, as well. If reaching out to friends, or doing something charitable, is your way of lifting the January 21st fog, that’s great. If you need to feel blue on “blue Monday”, that’s ok too. The pressure to be constantly upbeat can, conversely, be damaging to our wellbeing.

If the low feelings persist beyond a day, or even a week, though, it could be time to reach out. It’s hard to know where to start, and only you know what feels right for you. For some, the trusted GP is the right place to offload; for others, only a long chat with a friend will do. For me, when I’m down I tend to “write it out”; I find the act of writing cathartic and seeing my worries on paper helps me identify what’s important and sometimes find solutions. If the cloud doesn’t lift, then I’ll speak to a pal, or maybe a professional counsellor.

The important thing is to bring perfectly normal, dark feelings into the light…so perhaps a day that draws attention to feeling miserable is no bad thing.

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