A woman works listlessly at her laptop while dealing with seasonal depression.

Blue Monday: recognizing and alleviating seasonal depression

By Doug Berkowitz, Senior Vice President of Operations January 17, 2022

Happy Blue Monday?

What is Blue Monday, you ask? While it might not be a day worth celebrating, it certainly is one worth recognizing as we work together to promote better mental health for employees, customers and their families all around the world.

What is Blue Monday?

In 2005, UK travel company Sky Travel dubbed the third Monday of January of each year Blue Monday: the most depressing day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere.

Sky Travel claimed to have developed a formula to calculate the date, which considered various factors including the weather and the time since Christmas. The company never defined how it calculated these variables, leading some to initially disregard the concept of Blue Monday.

However, that doesn’t mean that recognizing Blue Monday is meritless. January, occurring in the middle of the Northern Hemisphere’s winter, may host more feelings of depression than the Spring, Summer or Fall months.

The American Academy of Family Physicians seems to agree. The organization says that while 4-6% of Americans will experience winter depression, another 10-20% may have mild seasonal affective disorder. It also says women are four times more likely to experience seasonal affective disorder than men.

What is seasonal depression?

In her LifeSpeak blog, Taking Control of Seasonal Blues, clinical psychologist Dr. Marni Amsellem says seasonal changes in mood are caused by biochemical imbalances in the brain triggered by shorter days and decreased sunlight. For some people, reduced daylight also alters their circadian rhythm, making it harder to respond to the demands of daily life.

Dr. Amsellem says some signs of seasonal depression include:

  • feeling sad or depressed
  • feeling low energy
  • losing interest in activities
  • trouble concentrating
  • increased appetite, and
  • a heightened desire for sleep

So, how do we alleviate seasonal depression?

  1. Find the light

Dr. Amsellem’s first tip is to find the light. As we noted, limited sunlight is thought to be a factor in seasonal depression. Those sensitive to seasonal depression should ensure they open blinds and drapes during the day when they are inside the house and get outside regularly, especially in the morning.

Those who need an extra boost can consider light therapy lamps, which produce artificial daylight. You can consult a physician to see if this option makes sense for you.

  1. Reach out to others

Another of Dr. Amsellem’s tips is to reach out to others. This can mean getting out of the house to spend time with friends or family members, or even volunteering in your community. People who suffer from seasonal depression don’t have to talk specifically about their feelings, but doing so can help, even if it is scary.

In her LifeSpeak video, Speaking to others about depression, psychotherapist Dr. Lisa Ndejuru says it’s important for people suffering from depression to share their feelings with someone trustworthy, someone who can remain discreet while potentially supporting them.

The person seeking support can ask their confidant if they’ve noticed any changes in them. This type of question can be a good starting point for a discussion about difficult feelings.

  1. Add healthy habits

Dr. Ndejuru also recommends adding healthy lifestyle habits like taking walks, doing activities with friends, eating well, exercising, meditating, or playing sports. She encourages starting slowly by doing just one such activity a day or every couple of days.

“Having the desire to invest in your own wellbeing is an engine for change,” she says.

  1. Diet matters

According to nutritionist Nishta Saxena, a healthy diet is another way to promote positive mood and mood stability.

In her LifeSpeak blog, Food and Mood: What’s the connection? Saxena says hydration is everything. She says the human brain is more than 70% water, and even just a 2% change in hydration can cause cognitive impairment. Saxena also says chronic dehydration causes fatigue, depression, and the inability to make clear decisions.

As a guideline, Saxena says most adults benefit from drinking 2-3 liters of hydrating fluids per day—including water, herbal teas, various kinds of milk and plant beverages and homemade soups.

Want to learn more about how to help your team members and customers manage depression?

To learn more about how the LifeSpeak platform can help employees, customers, and their families manage seasonal depression and promote overall mental health and wellbeing, book a demo today.

Organizations looking to provide extra fitness support to their people can check out LIFT session, a LifeSpeak company, which specializes in virtual self-guided and expert-led fitness sessions. With LIFT, employees, clients, and their families can train virtually with experts on mindfulness, cardio, strength, yoga, pre-natal fitness, Pilates, and more.

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