The article below was written by Graeme Bigg, a member of the SelfharmUK training team.

Christmas leftovers have been eaten, decorations have been tidied away and presents are either now in use or have been returned for store credit, and you’ve now been back at school or work for over a week.  Some people find it easy to return to the routine of regular life, with all the promise of a new year and a new start, but others can find it much tougher, particularly if there are stressful situations going on from which the holidays offered a all-too-brief break.

The third Monday in January has been labelled as ‘Blue Monday’  - the reasoning being that as the wait for the first pay day since Christmas goes on and the weather gets colder, there is very little to raise the mood.  Indeed, everything from mock exams to presidential inaugurations can add to that existing weight.  So, if you’re feeling glum at the start of 2017, here are a few things that might help:

Blue Monday is made up.  The concept of this being the most depressing day of the year was made up twelve years ago by a travel company[1] – who understandably have a lot to gain by people looking to cheer themselves up by booking a holiday.  Marking out a particular day as ‘the most depressing day in the year’ offers a lot for retailers, who would like you to make comfort purchases, but the meaning behind the day in question is even emptier than November’s Black Friday.  So while the media might play it up, try to remember: Blue Monday is a lie.

January can be depressing.  Although the science behind Blue Monday is rubbish, part of the reason the term persists is because we can see why it might be true.  Punishing New Year’s resolutions that involve depriving ourselves of things we enjoy (our favourite foods, our favourite TV shows), the struggle for funds, the return to our work, going to and returning from school in the dark[2]: all of these can get our mood down.  If you’re struggling with these things, you don’t need to hide them, and because January is a month where people are more aware that life can be hard, you might find it easier to chat about it.  Samaritans are running a campaign this year called ‘Brew Monday’, encouraging people to meet up for a conversation over a cuppa[3].  Whether you’re finding January tough, or actually life is always tough, why not meet up with someone to chat about it.  And if you’re not finding it tough, check in on those around you to see how they are.

New Year, new start.  The tradition of New Year’s resolutions is one I sometimes find a bit daunting, as people ask me what commitments have I made for the next twelve months.  Memories of resolutions that were quickly broken add to the pressure, as does the fear of not making any and what that might say about my character, or thoughts about what ambitious scheme I could set myself.  This year I’ve been reflecting on, when it comes to resolutions, smaller might be better.  A New Year’s resolution is, ultimately, a personal target: it’s for you.  Devising something massive that, when you fail, just crushes you, is not helping you.  Attaching such great value to a resolution that your value becomes wrapped up with it has a similar risk.  You are more than your resolutions; don’t let them define you.  Instead, try to create something that is achievable and fun, something that will build you up rather than knock you down.  I do think making resolutions is a good idea – it helps us focus and be positive – and so I would encourage you to make one (or some) and write them down, so that you can see how you get on  However, they are also not exclusive to New Year’s Eve/Day, so if you do break a resolution, start again.  Make it a year of new starts – however many are needed.

Don’t look back – not yet.  Janus, the Roman god from whom January traditionally takes its name, famously is depicted as having two faces, one looking forwards and one looking backwards.  Because the New Year start in January is an annual occurrence, sometimes we can get tied up remembering Januaries from the past, with their joys and pains.  But this is the first January 2017 we have come across; let’s aim to live this one and not the ones of the past.  We don’t need to ignore of forget the good or (particularly) the bad moments from 2016 and before, but at the start of this new year try to put them to one side and see what this year has.  There will be new conversations, new experiences, the chances to try new activities and make new friends.  It can be good for us to reflect on these new things and the old things together, but leave that for now.  Let’s get this year started first, and see what it has in store.

[1] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/blue-monday-the-science-behind-the-most-miserable-day-of-the-year-a6816926.html

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/science/blog/2012/jan/16/blue-monday-depressing-day-pseudoscience

[3] http://www.samaritans.org/media-centre/our-campaigns/brew-monday

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