The third Monday of January, which falls on Jan. 16 this year, is said to be the saddest day of the year as folks grapple with holiday debt, failed New Year’s resolutions and dreary days.
It’s widely known as “Blue Monday,” and the term was created by the no-longer-in-existence UK company Sky Travel and Welsh psychologist Cliff Arnall. To determine the “saddest day of the year,” the company said it used a formula that considered seven things: time since Christmas, monthly salary, weather, debt, time since failed New Year’s resolution attempt, low motivational levels and the need to take action.
Though the formula sounds fairly reasonable and January is definitely a bummer of a month, experts are wary about the legitimacy of Blue Monday and say there isn’t any data that backs up this claim. What’s more, it may even be harmful to tie your negative emotions to just one day.
Here’s what to know about the phenomenon and what to do if you feel down this time of year:
Blue Monday is not a real thing.
Blue Monday is “not something that I think is a common concept in the mental health field, and I think one of the reasons is that there is not a lot of empirical-based research that focuses on that concept,” said Belle Liang, professor of counseling psychology at Boston College and co-author of the bestselling book “How to Navigate Life: The New Science of Finding Your Way in School, Career, and Beyond.”
Tyler Keith, a licensed clinical social worker and telehealth therapist at Thriveworks in Wilmington, North Carolina, said that mental health may be Googled more in January, but there isn’t data that proves people are at their saddest on the third Monday of January.
Liang added that although the concept of Blue Monday is tied to seasonal affective disorder ― a very real mood disorder that impacts millions of people mainly in the winter ― “the thought in our field is that mental health problems and struggles are pretty consistent and spiking right now in our country over time.”
In other words, more people are dealing with mental health struggles as we trudge through the COVID pandemic, high inflation and the winter season. But those issues won’t hit their peak on Jan. 16, nor will they go away after that date.
“It’s kind of more of a seasonal effect than really a specific date,” Keith said. He added that therapists often gear up for an increase in referrals after the holidays when more people are looking to start therapy due to post-holiday stress and winter’s largely negative effect on mood. But they don’t necessarily feel their saddest on Blue Monday.
If anything, Blue Monday may be a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Laing noted that there could be a self-fulfilling prophecy aspect of Blue Monday for some people.
They may know about Blue Monday and think it signals a time to take stock of whether goals have been met, resolutions are being followed and the post-holiday mood is in check, Lang said.
When you do that hard check, the answer is likely going to be no, which is going to make you feel pretty bad and could make you believe you’re dealing with a Blue Monday situation, she noted.
Or it could just be a marketing ploy.
Though this concept does relate to the winter blues that many feel, Keith said it also is bolstered by marketing organizations that capitalize on the increased interest in change (like new gym routines or diet plans) this time of year.
People want to feel better this time of year, which is why they set New Year’s resolutions or are quick to book a relaxing vacation, but that doesn’t get to the root of the problem, Laing noted.
“People are desperate to find purpose and meaning in their life, and they try to go about doing that through materialism,” she said, and the furor around holiday shopping is an indicator of this.
Marketing companies and social media brands are aware of this desire to find purpose through materialism and even goal-setting.
“Blue Monday is just yet another way our psyches are being manipulated by others,” Laing said.
This concept resonates because many are struggling right now.
According to Keith, the idea of Blue Monday resonates with people because it’s validating. It justifies how we’re feeling and reminds us that we aren’t the only ones feeling this way.
Additionally, tying our emotions to a specific day takes some of the pressure off of our mental health, though that is not a good thing, Laing said.
“We want to explain it away — we want it to be tied to a moment in time that will pass instead of thinking this could go on for some time and we don’t know the source of it and we don’t know when it will end,” she said, adding that the deeper reasons for mental health struggles are much harder to come to terms with than just one sad day.
″[A] deep-seated sense of lostness and meaninglessness in life and purposelessness, that’s scarier to sit with,” Laing said.
Dealing with ups and downs is a part of life, both experts stressed. It’s OK to feel sad at times; it’s a part of life.
Instead of turning to something exterior to explain how you’re feeling, Laing suggested you “do deeper work to connect with what is of value and what is purposeful in life — we don’t need to be looking toward our social media feeds for our sense of worth.”
Know that seasonal depression is real, though, and there are ways to cope if you’re feeling down.
According to the Mayo Clinic, the signs of seasonal affective disorder include low energy, feeling hopeless, no longer having an interest in activities you once enjoyed and feeling sad most of the day for days on end.
If you think you’re dealing with this, there are things you can do.
Talking to a therapist is a good way to deal with winter sadness — or sadness any time of year, for that matter. You can find a provider through Psychology Today’s database or get in touch with your health insurance to see what mental health providers are covered under your plan.
For more immediate help, you can dial 988, the nationwide mental health hotline, which is free and available to anyone who needs support.
While Blue Monday may not be real, mental health struggles, particularly during the cold and dark months, are. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help if you need it.