Although today is labelled as the most depressing day of the year, Brecher suggests three things to bring joy into the day
Mid-January can be a melancholic time of year as the days are short, the skies are gloomy and the weather is cold.
These weather conditions are just some of the many reasons why today is known as Blue Monday or the “most depressing day of the year.” However, a clinical psychologist at Ryerson says there is a dynamic tension in negatively labelling this date.
“If people are aware of this named day and understand that there are a lot of people who share in that experience of being more down, they might be more willing to seek help,” said psychologist Diana Brecher. “The downside is that if you are told this is going to be the most depressing day, you’re probably going to expect it and that expectation is going to lead you to dismiss things that contradict it and look for information that’s going to confirm it.”
This is called a confirmation bias, meaning people will seek out evidence to support the preconceived belief they started off with. If people know what Blue Monday is and that this particular day is going to be dark, dreary and depressing, then they’re going to look for evidence to prove it to be true.
“You’ve already set a tone and an expectation and often our expectations are fulfilled because we look for confirmatory evidence,” Brecher said.
The official day first came about following a 2005 press release from U.K.-based travel agency Sky Travel. This holiday company claimed to have calculated the date using an equation that considers the weather, time since Christmas, time since failing new year’s resolutions, debt level, lack of motivation and the feeling to take action.
This gloomy day affects Ryerson students in different ways.
For third-year Ryerson media production student Patrick Remy-Danziger, Blue Monday is a day to further the conversation about mental illness and to seek support.
“Blue Monday can encourage people to get out of their shell,” Remy-Danziger said. “If people are more vulnerable in a setting, they’re more likely to share certain things. Shared vulnerability and getting people to talk about stuff that may be bothering them is helpful.”
Although this day may promote awareness about mental health, Brecher said it is possible to be so over-aware that people become more overwhelmed, feel helpless and give up.
Brecher pointed to a 1972 study with 150 dogs by American psychologist Martin Seligman, where he would ring a bell and then give a slight shock to a dog. The dog could get away from the shock by jumping over a barrier. If the dog was shocked at another time, it would jump over the barrier again. The researchers discovered that about two-thirds of the dogs eventually stopped jumping and just lay there helpless.
The dogs were inadvertently taught something the psychologists called “learned helplessness.” Seligman says that is what he thinks depression is. But Seligman believes people can move against depression if “learned optimism” can be taught instead.
“If you get overwhelmed by the idea of ‘this is going to be the worst day,’ it may engender helplessness which will prevent you from looking for positive things in your day,” Brecher said when comparing Blue Monday to the study. “So you don’t want to disempower people with too much information. You have to be careful of not overloading and making people feel like they can’t do anything about it.”
Timothy Aranas, a first-year graphic communications management student at Ryerson, echoed Brecher and said Blue Monday can encourage people to feel depressed.
“I’m kind of dreading Blue Monday now that I know it’s supposed to be the most depressing day of the year,” Aranas said. “I’m a little worried for when it actually comes.”
How to bring joy into Blue Monday
Although today is deemed the most depressing day of the year, Brecher said people have the ability to cultivate a positive perspective and be empowered.
Here are three things that can brighten up your day:
- Do something that brings you joy
Whether you are a musician, gym-rat or an artist, spend time doing what you love. Spend time with someone close to you, be in nature or binge watch your favourite Netflix show.
- Look for positive things
On a day that is labelled in a negative way, try to find find the positive in every situation. If everything seems to be going wrong, focus on what is going right.
Brecher says when you choose to be grateful, even for the small things, it can improve your mood overall: “What you’re doing is you’re actually setting a different expectation of the day that maybe it could be filled with kindness, care, gratitude and joy and then it’s not necessarily the most depressing day of the year.”