We asked Jenny Collard, Practice Director and Senior Psychotherapist at RHCP, to help us understand what Blue Monday is all about.
Q. #Blue Monday (the third Monday in January) is known as the most depressing day of the year, but is there any real science behind it or is it just modern-day hype?
The origins of Blue Monday are disputed with some believing it was originally a PR stunt by a travel company to promote holiday sales in January, while others give credit to a part-time psychology professor at Cardiff University. Whether the basis of this sadness-themed day is fact or fiction we don’t know, but we do know that year on year we see an increase in self-referrals for private psychological therapies in January (not necessarily on a specific day!).
Q. If Blue Monday (or any other day) has you feeling down at work is it better to be alone, focused and working hard or surround yourself with colleagues and chat away?
To be honest, the answer to this is as individual as each of us. Ultimately, it’s about the outcome of the behaviour – does behaving in this way give you what you really want or need? If you really want connected relationships, spending too long avoiding others isn’t going to give you that. If you really need some space from people, then take it.
Q. As recent studies have shown a link between creativity and overcoming depression, is Blue Monday the day to try and be creative at work?
Being creative is incredibly good for your mental health! Creativity gives us a sense of mastery or, in other words, a feeling of competence, self-confidence and control – what better boost could there be if you feel low? It’s important to remember that creativity doesn’t just refer to the creative arts and we don’t need to consider ourselves ‘a creative person’ to be creative. Opportunities for creativity are around us all the time, as creativity simply means to form something new; it can be as simple as a joke, as imaginative as a new business model or strategy, or as classically creative as a redesign of the aesthetics in your working area.
Q. We all know exercise is good for you, as it releases endorphins which improve your mental wellbeing, but how do you manage this when you’re at work behind a desk all day?
That’s a great question! Our modern lifestyle has become so sedentary we simply don’t need to move like we used to. There was once a time when we had to go out and physically catch our food – now we don’t even need to walk around a supermarket if we don’t want to – everything is a ‘click of a button’ away. The technological advances are amazing, but also quite scary!
I think mindful awareness of our need to be active more is key. Our tendency to sit for hours at a time in meetings or staring at computer screens means we must compensate in other ways. The fitness tracker devices that many people wear can be great at periodically reminding us to ‘get up and move!’ if we’ve been still too long. But we can also make other subtle changes like parking further away from the office, taking our bikes instead of driving to work or walking between sites. There are plenty of exercises you can do from your desk that are easily available by searching Google or your preferred social media sites.
Workplaces can also consider organising a physical challenge as part of team building and/or charity fundraising. Team building activities must always be accessible to all members of a team, regardless of physical ability to ensure inclusivity, but they can be a great experience and an opportunity to do good for a great cause.
Q. How do you take control of your work-life, accept that some days can be better than others and conquer any negative feelings about Blue Monday?
The keyword in your question is ‘accept’. It’s unrealistic to expect that we’ll always be happy and motivated. In all lives, there are good times, bad times, and times when life can become simply mundane and monotonous. It’s more about developing the resilience to cope with the challenging times, and the self-motivation to challenge ourselves when life feels dull.
But how do we do this, I hear you ask? Developing resilience is very much about good self-care and as part of that, we need a good level of self-understanding. Many of us are completely out of touch with our true selves as we spend so much time in our ‘functioning modes’ and life roles, getting things done rather than ‘being’ with our thoughts and feelings. My bias as a therapist means I’ll always advocate a period of psychotherapy for personal development as much as for mental health treatment. Psychotherapy is a journey of self-discovery, an opportunity to really consider ‘Why do I behave the way I do?’ and ‘Why do I make the choices that I do?’
Having had to undertake personal psychotherapy as part of my training I can say, without a shadow of a doubt, that I’m far more resilient now than I used to be, purely because I understand myself better.
Q. What key activities can lift your mood at work?
• enjoy friendships with peers. Work can be very serious at times and, as long as we remain professional and respectful, enjoying some human to human fun is good for the soul
• plan your annual leave as evenly throughout the year as possible. Knowing when your next break from the work routine will be, can act as a reminder that we should be working to live
• tidy up! Keep your desk/workspace tidy. Just as at home, when we are surrounded by mess, we can feel like life is getting on top of us. By tidying up, we can regain a sense of calm and increased perception in our ability to cope
• a random act of kindness. There’s a ton of research showing that giving to others boosts our mood far more than receiving. Give selflessly to someone else, see how you make their day and you are likely to greatly increase your own mood
• if you are unhappy at work, remind yourself you have a choice. Try to improve the situation, make changes or talk with your manager, but it’s also important to ask yourself ‘Is this still the right role/industry/company for me?’ Change is hard but living a life that you’re not happy with is much harder!
Q. What’s your one top tip for not just surviving Blue Monday but boxing it into a corner where it has no impact?
Just remember it was made up by an advertising campaign to sell holidays! It’s not real, in fact, it’s no more real than… hmmm now, who was that guy stuck in my chimney the other week…?
Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us Jenny, they’re so insightful and practical.