Blue Monday: We don’t need a day of dread. We need compassion
Moaning about Mondays can create a false reality, writes psychotherapist Trish Murphy
We are not born hating Mondays. We grow to see them as a curtailment of enjoyment, and fill ourselves with dread
All mental health services will tell you that there is a spike in demand for their services in the month of January and on into February. Naming a day that acknowledges this recurring phenomenon – such as today’s “Blue Monday” – has both positive and negative aspects: positive because it allows us to feel normal in our state of low mood or negative emotion; and negative because whatever we give attention to, grows.
Blue Monday gives us permission to speak about the way we often feel when there is little daylight and we have to face the prospect of long working hours with little relief until the next holiday period.
We have probably overspent, overeaten and overextended ourselves over the Christmas period, and are now suffering the consequences. For most people, “blue” is a good enough term to describe what we are going through.
For many others this dip can trigger deeper and more substantial mental health issues, and the colour blue is too flimsy a word to represent what they feel.
Yet this permission to speak might offer those who are suffering a right to express themselves. As we all now know, talking and sharing is key to recovery.
Some might discover that when they are talking about “Blue Monday” they are sounding more dejected and pessimistic than even they knew. Others might go on to share their stories of failure, loneliness or sadness and for an isolated person they could begin to normalise their feelings and discover the many ways out of their situation.
However, when we have expectations of low mood and as a collective we engage in moaning about Mondays in general and January Mondays in particular, are we not creating a reality that might not have truth behind it?
We are not born hating Mondays, but we grow to see Mondays as a curtailment of enjoyment and freedom, and our attitudes are often full of dread. We start diets on Mondays, we push ourselves to take up exercise, study routines and many more self-disciplinary regimes.
Often by Thursday, we find we’ve had enough punishment and we fall off the wagon, and by Sunday night we are full of self-loathing and the cycle starts again.
The outcome of this cycle is shame and guilt, and mid-to-late-January (which comes with darkness, no money and low mood) is possibly the worst time for self-criticism. So what to do?
We could start with “Attitude”: What is our attitude to Mondays and Blue Monday in particular? Once you have named it, you have a possibility of influencing it. Could we have a more humane attitude such as “lightening up” or practising some self-compassion?
Instead of engaging in a moaning session at work, we could discuss “comfort” things such as movies or dreams and leave changing the world/work/self to springtime.
We could look at “Measure” instead of discipline: what are the right measures for you at this time of year, in terms of food, exercise, fun, study, etc. Your own intelligence can tell you what this measure is. If in doubt, ask a good friend and then follow what they tell you.
The cycle of shaming yourself – because you have not achieved a goal or have overspent or have overindulged – never brings about anything useful, so give up this useless practice and go easy on yourself.
If you find that you or someone close to you is sinking deeper as January progresses, then action is needed. The earlier it is taken, the better the outcome. There are many options: GP, helplines, psychological counselling supports, Aware and Grow support groups – and of course talking to friends and family who may be able to help us figure out how we’re really feeling.
Blue Monday offers the narrative for discussing our low mood but we must not indulge too much in the cycle of shame. Instead we should be compassionate, use our intelligence to create the right measures for ourselves, and be brave enough to accept help if it is offered.
Trish Murphy is a psychotherapist and Irish Times columnist
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