Into the Blue (Monday) - Embracing the Blues.
Today is #BlueMonday - The most depressing day of the year, according to some.
The third Monday in January does host a nasty combination of short days, dark nights, post Christmas, New Years Resolution Fatigue and a whole host of other mood-sinking factors like high levels of debt.
There’s even a (questionable) scientific equation - but the whole thing was started as a PR Stunt for British company, Sky Travel! The academic who’s name was associated with the press release now campaigns AGAINST #BlueMonday. That being said, I think he and Sky Travel really hit on something - and the suspicious origins of the phenomenon doesn’t seem to stop the hashtag trending on Social Media, or companies cynically leveraging the idea to sell a host of products, holidays and lifestyle aspirations that promise to make us, to quote Radiohead “fitter, happier, more productive, comfortable”. Yes, yes - I appreciate the hypocrisy of me basing a blog post on it too - BUT I’m not selling you anything.
I must admit that even I felt like I was succumbing to it a bit (missed my Saturday post and spent a lot of today dreading feeling guilty tomorrow). Then, I thought I’d do something about it. So I’ve written a post to help you weather the day and maybe even embrace the blues a little. Quite a lot of these tips are also good for making it through sad anniversaries (perhaps you lost a loved one) or just any old day when the black dog starts scratching at the door.
Take a look at the other events on the day.
You could choose to re-frame the day a little. This year, Monday January 18th is also Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the US, and Winnie the Pooh Day in the UK. You could do some reading, or watch a film, about MLK, or just read some weary words of wisdom from Pooh’s mate, Eeyore.
In response to the #BlueMonday trend, there is also #BrewMonday, run by The Samaritans. This UK campaign encourages people to get together for a brew and a blether - to chase away the winter blues, and to highlight the importance of having someone to talk to when times are hard (something The Samaritans know a lot about!).
This year may feel especially hard with social distancing and strict lockdown regulations - so why not set up a Zoom call to another household (or two!) and all commit to a cuppa and catch-up. Or if you have a bit of screen-fatigue - have a 1 hour technology band this evening in your house and spend some quality time just talking. Here’s a list of questions you may never have asked your loved-ones, and that could spark some VERY interesting conversations!
Take a Hint FROM Nature.
Ever think you might be fighting a loosing battle?
While humans are able (but not OBLIGED, mind you!) to work 24 hrs a day in all weather due to modern technology, the rest of the animal kingdom is running a slow vibe at this time of year. Many species are still hibernating. Cut yourself a break and acknowledge the fact that your body is low on some of it’s rocket fuels right now - daylight and warmth. You may also not be getting as much fresh air as is ideal for your body to feel awake and refreshed.
Take the opportunity to practice some shutdown self-care. Have a comfort food treat night if you’ve been dieting like crazy since New Year. Comfort food doesn’t have to be unhealthy - a bowl of steaming broth can be soooooo soothing. If you’re craving a bit of pud, a pan of healthy berries and apple goes all warm and gooey real quick (and you can always use low fat custard!). Make the food that your mum made for you when you were sick as a kid. When was the last time you had a runny boiled egg and buttery dipping soldiers?!
Curl up with a great read, do a bit of Yin Yoga, or pop some corn and hunker down with that film you’ve always meant to watch. If you prefer the movie you’ve watched a thousand times after heartbreaks and heavy nights out - THAT’S ABSOLUTELY FINE TOO!
Have a long warm soak in the tub with a few candles and your favourite chill-out playlist.
Spend allllll evening pampering yourself with your Christmas smellies.
Take a Walk IN Nature.
If you can get out for a walk - do it! Obviously, practice social distancing - in fact, I’d heartily recommend having that time by yourself. When I walk for my exercise with my household, we cut quite the pace, and I feel obliged to take part in the conversation. When I’m feeling listless, it’s so much more comfortable to be alone. I like to get off the main walking path and have an aimless womble between the trees in the woods. I can’t really pinpoint what it is, but I get so much comfort from breathing in the still air, feeling the texture of the tree bark and moss, hearing the water lapping at the mere. As per usual - I’m not on my own. The Japanese have long practiced shinrin yoku, or ‘forest-bathing’, and now Forestry England has posted a guide to help you get started.
The idea is to take time, seek stillness, be mindful and breathe deeply.
Practice Gratitude and Big Yourself Up.
I HATE when people suggest thinking about those worse off as a cure for depression or sadness. It totally negates how you are feeling - as if you are selfish or pathetic to feel bad!
Joy, stress, fear, happiness and sadness are all subjective and relative. For some people, their most content ‘flow’ state is working to a deadline or pushing for a personal best at the gym. For others, it’s an achievement to get out of bed and showered, and the ring of a phone can feel like a warning shot from a threatening world outside. The really important thing to understand, is that those two states can be experienced by the SAME PERSON given different life events and levels of mental/emotional health.
Comparing yourself to others is rarely a source of joy or contentment. People either appear to be doing so much better than you (often due to the ideal versions of ourselves we project on social media) or if others are suffering worse than you, it can lead to feelings of guilt for not being more grateful, or for not coping with your personal challenges in life.
It’s possible to remedy this by practicing gratitude, and giving ourselves a few warm fuzzies to boot.
Make a list of 3 things that you’re grateful for today. It can be as simple as:
1) I’m grateful for how nice the bed felt this morning when I woke up.
2) I’m grateful for the internet to keep me connected to the outside world.
3) I’m grateful for a hot shower and a cup of tea to start the day.
First off, we can tell guilt to ‘get stuffed’, because now we know we are NOT ungrateful. Second, we can spend a few minutes thinking about the finer details of those items on the list. This is kind of like reverse rumination. Think about the warmth of the duvet, the feeling of the sheet on your feet, turning the pillow over for the lovely cool side. By doing this, we can squeeze every drop of joy out of a seemingly inconsequential part of our day.
Next, make a list to Big Yourself Up. Again, it can be simple:
1) I managed to haul my ass out of bed, even though it was tempting to stay for hours.
2) I made myself a nice breakfast and took care of myself.
3) I remembered to practice gratefulness instead of comparing and despairing.
IT IS OK TO ACKNOWLEDGE EVEN YOUR SMALLEST ACHIEVEMENTS.
All we are aiming to do here is recognise that, while we are busy feeling bad about what we haven’t done, we forget the hundred small achievements we make every day, as a matter of course. It can be easy to tell yourself that you are pathetic or lazy - but you’re probably ignoring all the things you do for yourself and others all the time.
Connect with other people - however works for you. It’s astounding how much of a relief it can be just to hear someone else say ‘Yep. It’s shit, isn’t it!? I feel the same”. I guarantee you, there are other people out there that feel the same. You may want to speak one on one with a single person (it could be someone close, or a kind, professional stranger on a helpline). You might want to be in a group where a little effort and input is required, but everyone’s efforts are acknowledged in return. Or maybe you’d like to just fire a few signals into space and take a quiet sneak peek at what others are sending out there.
Join a Facebook group about your favourite topic. Post a photo of something you doodled, then search #DoodleDrawing on Instagram and see what people all around the world are scribbling! Play a game app that allows you to play against strangers in another country. It could be chess, or noughts-and-crosses - it doesn’t matter in the slightest. Just do ANYTHING that lets you share an interest with someone else, in ANY WAY, for ANY AMOUNT OF TIME. Connection is the key.
Lean into Your Blues.
There’s a whole music genre dedicated to wallowing in the expression of your down days.
Even Picasso had a Blue period. Blue is also the colour most associated with calm and consideration (it’s why Apple store assistants wear blue shirts). Running away from sadness, and trying to power through or ignore it is often a fast-track to much worse. By looking at the things we are unhappy about, we can learn about ourselves and make changes for the better. If you don’t get that far, at least you’ll be ‘getting it off your chest’. This could be through all sorts of methods. Talking it out with a friend or a counsellor. Writing it down in a diary, or a letter you don’t need to send anywhere. You could draw it out is words are too hard. Sing it out. Turn it into poetry, a story, acting, dance, jokes.
There are schools of thought that believe all arts are born from people trying to work through an emotion or life event.
You may choose never to share your ‘theraputic’ creativity with anyone else - but you can still turn your sadness and struggle into something productive and beautiful - by working through it using whichever creative method you prefer.
If all else fails - Seek out the Silly.
I cried myself to sleep last night. It’s true… but it’s a good thing! I cried laughing! If it wasn’t for the idea of supporting your mental health, I’d be embarrassed to reveal the cause.
I couldn’t sleep, and I was feeling mopey. So I googled Damn You, Auto-Correct. I spent a half hour reading the screen-shots of unfortunate auto-corrections in message threads. Maybe I’m easily pleased! Who cares!? It did the trick.
I’ve always nursed the theory that it’s almost impossible to cry while you pee. There’s something so mundane and perfunctory about it, that it’s too hard for heightened emotions to straddle peeing time-period. Yes, it’s toilet humour - literally, but it works. Maybe it’s making up puns on a subject, or sharing a dirty joke. However you laugh - go for it.
I hope that however you spend your Blue Monday, you end it safe and well as you can be. See you later this week for some more Makes Tracks and Travels.