How to beat Blue Monday
Today is officially the most depressing day of the year – but thankfully help is at hand.
7:00AM GMT 18 Jan 2010
Today is Blue Monday, but there are ways to cheer yourself up Photo: Alamy
It’s freezing and dark outside, you’re statistically likely to have broken your last remaining New Year resolution at the weekend, Christmas is but a distant memory, and the largest credit card bill you’ll get all year has just landed on your doormat. So it’s no wonder that today has been designated the most depressing day of the year.
Psychologist Cliff Arnall, from the University’s Cardiff Centre for Lifelong Learning and an expert in seasonal disorders, has designated January 18 as "Blue Monday". But it needn’t get you down. Try these quick-fix tips to help beat the blues.
Eat chocolate for breakfast
Chocolate has long been held to be a mood-lifter. It boosts levels of serotonin, the brain’s antidepressant, as well as endorphins, the feel-good chemicals released after exercise. It’s also a known source of theobromine, a stimulant that has a lasting relaxing effect. But there’s evidence to suggest that chocolate is less fattening when eaten at the start of a dark, depressing day such as Blue Monday. According to endocrinologists in Venezuela, women who ate a 600-calorie breakfast, which included a piece of chocolate, lost more weight than those on a low-carb diet. Dr Daniela Jakubowicz attributed the success to kick-starting the body’s metabolism at the time of day it was most receptive to food. So will it be muesli or Maltesers?
Enjoy your garden
After breakfast, step outside and pick a flower. If you’re lucky enough to have something sweet-smelling in the garden, such as the lovely, pale yellow Chimonanthus praecox (Wintersweet), Viburnum x bodnantense 'Dawn’ or Sarcococca confusa, all the better. By the time you return from work, tired, cold and depressed, their honey scent will have filled a room. If you don’t own any of these irresistibly cheering species, order them now for next year.
Boost your alertness with bright morning light
Spending 15 minutes exposed to bright light before leaving for work in the morning is a great way to boost your alertness, says Vicki Ravell, a light therapy researcher at the University of Surrey. “Whether you turn on the light in your kitchen and have a cup of coffee or take the dog for a walk, getting a good dose of bright light will reset your body clock, lift your mood and help you feel more alert.”
Cancel a meeting
Bosses take note. The advantage of cancelling a meeting at short notice on the worst day of the year is multi-fold, says leading executive coach Tom Preston (www.thomaspreston.co.uk). “First, you get some time that you thought you didn’t have, as do the others in the meeting. Yet the preparation, for when the meeting is rescheduled, is all done. Everyone gets the benefit of a little “me” time or time to catch up on all the things that feel like a tsunami that we have yet to do so far in 2010.”
Force a smile with a pencil
In 1988, psychologist Fritz Stack asked a group of participants to clench a pencil between their teeth for 20 seconds so that their lips did not touch it, creating the impression of a smile. The pencil-biters then reported enjoying a comedy show more than another group who had been asked to forced a frown.
Book a holiday
When spending your way to happiness, do it wisely. Professor Richard Wiseman, author of 59 Seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot (Macmillan, $12.99) says splashing out on a city break or summer holiday, rather than material things like a new handbag, are the best way to lift your mood. “Experiences promote one of the most effective happiness-inducing behaviours – spending time with others.”
Imagine the end
Sounds morbid but, says Richard O’Connor, author of Happiness: The Thinking Person’s Guide (Vermilion, $8.99), but picturing your own death is a great way to improve your state of mind. “In your final moments, you are at peace and your thoughts are clear. You can get in touch with a number of regrets. Fortunately it’s not yet the end of your life. You have the time to correct some of the problems.”
Eat certain fruits
Eating key foods can improve your mood. Blueberries are packed with vitamin C, which can alleviate stress. Pomegranate is one of the richest sources of flavanoids, an antioxidant with mood-enhancing properties. Though not a superfruit, cherries can also give you a lift. “They were renowned in the East for combating mental fatigue,” says Cherry Chappell, author of Grandma’s Remedies (Arrow, $7.99). “It was advised that 10 to 20 were to be taken daily along the Silk Route.”
Forage for borage
Raid your high-street health food stores for products loaded with this traditional English herb. Borage tea – which is available in bags – can “dispel sadness and boost courage,” according to Chappell. “We don’t use it much today, but it was widely used in medieval remedies to lift the mood. Roman thinker Pliny is reputed to have said borage 'maketh a man merry and joyful’.” Try a spoonful of borage honey – or 'happy honey’ as the Romans called it. Or apply a moisturiser with borage extract to tired skin.
Capsaicin, the substance that gives chilli its kick, also raises the body’s natural endorphin levels, which improve one’s mood. Even better news, it’s an appetite-suppressant. According to a Japanese study, people who ate breakfast with red chilli ate less than normal at lunch. Reason to be cheerful, part three? Capsaicin is also a foot soldier in the fight against cancer because, according to research at Nottingham University, it can attack mitochondria, the engine rooms of cancer cells.
Go for dinner with fat friends
If you’ve already given up your resolution to eat healthier, arrange to dine out tonight with fat friends. “A thin friend who eats a lot may lead you to eat more than you normally would,” says said Gavan Fitzsimonds of Duke University. “If you eat with a heavy-set friend, you are likely to adjust your behaviour and eat less.”
Change your gym playlist
Propel yourself towards the gym by adding a thumping new mix compilation to your iPod. Dr Costas Karageorghis, a reader in sport psychology at Brunel University and supporter of 'Run to the Beat’, London’s music marathon, says: “Repetitive listening can lead to boredom and irritation, so vary the playlist.” Edging up the tempo of the music will also encourage you to train at a faster rate.
Exert a positive influence
According to Mark Twain, “the best way to cheer yourself up is to try to cheer somebody else up.” Over the course of the day, slip your colleagues three compliments, and watch the positivity ripple out across the office.
Go to bed an hour earlier
If you’ve still had a bad day, hit the hay. A study from the University of Wisconsin and Stanford University found people who regularly slept less than seven hours, 42 minutes a night had a higher body mass index than those who slept for longer.
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