Beating the Blue Monday blues

by Doug Rapp

After a white Christmas, there may be a Blue Monday.

Blue Monday is the name given to what some  consider the most depressing day of the year—usually the third Monday  in January.

The idea originated with a Welsh academic as a marketing plan for a travel company, according to the  British newspaper Tele- graph. A formula involving debt, time past since  Christmas, winter weather and failed New Year’s resolutions add up to the infamous day in January. 

A Northwestern Medicine psychologist believes Blue Monday is a myth.

“There are so many other factors that contribute to depression,” said Dr. Stewart Shankman, chief of  psychology in the department of psychiatry and  behavioral sciences. “I don’t think there’s a certain day of the year that’s the most depressing day.”

Shankman allowed that  even without Blue Mon- day, January may be the  most depressing month of the year.

“What’s interesting is seasonal affective disorder (SAD, a seasonal type of depression), the onset of that actually tends to be in the beginning of winter,  more like October or November,” he said. “As the weather starts to get worse, that’s when you see the onset of SAD. It might hit its peak in January.”

Joyce Marter, a licensed psychotherapist who founded the multi-location counseling practice Urban Balance, agreed.

“More of the population is impacted by SAD in Chicago, due to the cold and gray weather during the winter months,” she said. “Poor weather can worsen any underlying mental health issue, such as anxiety and depression, and decrease motivation.”

Chicago’s brutal winters limit social and physical activity while possibly raising fattening food intake, according to Heloisa G. R. Roach, a psychotherapist at Urban Balance’s South Michigan  Avenue location.

“In January, we might also experience  stressors of post-holiday financial concerns and seasonal unemployment (which)  intensify these feelings,” Roach said.

Several mental health professionals said  even if Blue Monday isn’t an actual phenomenon, they do see more patients in the  first month of the year.

“January does tend to be a busy time for therapists,” said Alicia Hoffman, a licensed  clinical professional counselor with a private practice in New Eastside. 

“A lot of people put off starting therapy during the holidays and understandably wait until after. Some people are coming to fulfill a New Years resolution, and some people come because they had to spend a  lot of time with family which can be triggering and high stress.” 

There are several ways to fight winter de- pression according to healthcare providers.  Light exposure is essential, through limited sunlight or a sun lamp. A healthy diet with plenty of Vitamin D , while avoiding  excessive alcohol use, can help. Maintaining physical activity, whether indoors or  outdoors, is important, along with keeping social contact with friends and family and avoiding too much “hibernation” and screen time. 

Marter added that cultivating a positive, grateful attitude is also beneficial,  and, if possible, arrange a trip somewhere warm between January and April. She said research indicates the anticipation of a vacation could be more helpful than the trip itself. 

If none of these lift your spirits, professionals said it may be time to seek help.  Roach said if you experience a significant  loss of energy in the winter, it’s worth consulting a mental health professional to see  if you’re experiencing a seasonal episode of depression.

Shankman said anyone can have sad  moods, but if it impairs your work or family life, seek treatment.  

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