The mid-winter blues

by Ruth Griffiths

Blue Monday, the so-called unhappiest day of the year, comes hard on the heels of our big holiday blowout. It’s freezing cold, the bills are piling up and our New Year’s Resolutions are already wearing thin.

The concept of Blue Monday originated in a 2005 a press release from the UK holiday company Sky Travel. It detailed a purported formula that calculated factors including weather, debt, time elapsed since Christmas, and unsuccessful New Year’s resolutions. According to, “When those factors were combined and the “sadness” algorithm applied to them, 24 January 2005 was identified as the single most depressing of the year.”

The calculations were attributed to a Dr. Cliff Arnall of the University of Cardiff in Wales, who explained: “Following the initial thrill of New Year’s celebrations and changing over a new leaf, reality starts to sink in… The realization coincides with the dark clouds rolling in and the obligation to pay off Christmas credit card bills.”

The truth is, Arnall had sold out. The suspect “calculations” were created by Porter Novelli PR agency to help sell plane tickets. It seems people are more motivated to book a sun holiday when they are trying to escape the darkness and unhappiness of January.

But the mid-winter blues are a problem for a significant number of Canadians. Seasonal Affective Disorder is a real condition in which the dark days of winter affect our moods. The Canadian Mental Health Association says some people “are vulnerable to a type of depression that follows a seasonal pattern,” while about 10 per cent of people will experience mood disorders. Shorter days in fall, for example, can trigger a form of depression that lasts until spring. The depression saps your energy and makes you feel moody and sleepy.

Some people find that basking in sunlight or light-therapy lamps relieves mid-winter depression. In addition to seeking help from your doctor, there are lifestyle changes that can improve symptoms and lift your mood. You might try going outside more often, exercising, avoiding drugs and alcohol, getting plenty of sleep, and practicing relaxation.