7 Tips For Surviving Blue Monday

Welcome to Blue Monday.  I say this ironically, of course, because it is the day when the post-Christmas gloom hits us with full force.

We’re cutting back on booze, ramping up our exercise and facing our failings head-on. Again.

Blue Monday surival tips - woman with an umbrella walking along a walkway

Yes, Blue Monday (21st January this year) is THE most depressing day of the year.

So how to survive it?  You can find my own tips here but here are some extra ideas to put the colour back into your cheeks.

7 tips for surviving Blue Monday

TIP 1: Change your perspective

Clayton John Ainger, award-winning author of The Ego’s Code says that negativity is in fact, a very natural and normal process.

“By labelling negativity as bad, we provide it with more fuel. By changing our perspective on negativity and the meaning behind it will undoubtedly have a positive effect on your life. Feeling down is not meant to hinder you, it is there to learn from, so embrace your negativity and move on”  

TIP 2: Book a winter sun break

The summer months are the most popular time for sun holidays, but there are plenty of opportunities to escape to warmer, sunnier weather during the winter months. Booking a sunny break can increase your levels of serotonin which can make you feel more calm and focused as well as making you feel more productive when you return to normal life.

TIP 3: Book a staycation

If your bank balance doesn’t allow for an extravagant holiday abroad, why not book a long weekend away instead?  A change of scene will do all the family good and just a couple of days away can leave you all refreshed for a reasonable cost.

TIP 4: Go back to bed

It is ok to admit you are having a blue day, so don’t bother trying to fight it! Once you’ve finished work for the day, transform your bedroom into a tranquil sanctuary where you can take the time and rest you need.  If your bed isn’t comfortable consider investing in some gorgeous new bedding or a new mattress.

Stephen Volkins from Big Brand Beds has this sound advice.

“Make sure it is dark and a comfortable temperature with a source of light air flow, and remove light sources like TVs and LED clocks. Take a tip from Feng Shui and make your room softly curved and coolly coloured – avoid sharp angles and dominant colour schemes in order to calm the mind and spirit for a really relaxing night’s sleep.” 

TIP 5: Identify your negative thinking triggers

What sends your thinking into a spiral of negativity? Does seeing your friends going on great nights out on Facebook make you feel inadequate? Or perhaps you have some people in your life who are negative and that brings you down. It could even be the news on the TV before bedtime that send you to bed feeling unsettled or bad. Take some time to identify your triggers and then you will be able to avoid them.

TIP 6: Put the kettle on

Tea has a range of psychological and physical health benefits that can improve your wellbeing. The humble cuppa has been used for centuries across the world to help with relaxation, improve spirituality, nourishment and healing and there are many speciality teas which contain health promoting ingredients.

TIP 7: Challenge the rut

Carla Watson and Shelley La Mancusa, authors of Getting Out of a Rut (released 24th January ) suggest that the only way to combat self-defeating behaviour is to concentrate on who and what you surround yourself with. They say:

“It is hard enough sometimes for us to get out of bed in the mornings and shower ourselves with compliments, without the aid of other people commenting on the choices you make. A supportive network of friends and family is vital to achieving inner happiness and avoid negativity.” 

So there you have it – 7 more tips to cheer you up.  What coping strategies do you have for surviving Blue Monday?

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Blue Monday Survival Tips - woman with umbrella walking under structured metal arch

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Will You Be Blue This Blue Monday?

Monday 20th January 2020 is designated “Blue Monday” – no not a celebration of the now-classic song by New Order, but the day in the year when the combination of post-Christmas debt, dreadful weather and the lapse in our New Year’s resolutions combine to make us reach a peak of misery.

The first bank holiday is weeks away. The approach of Valentines’ Day is ramping up the pressure on singletons to find true love, whilst some married couples have thrown in the towel and are headed for the divorce courts.

The seasonal fun and frolics of Christmas seem a very distant memory indeed.

The concept of “Blue Monday” was apparently coined by a travel company some years ago to push us into booking our summer holidays.  Marketing has a lot to answer for, doesn’t it! Even Santa’s distinctive red robes were invented by Coca Cola.

Still, there is certainly some truth in the idea that having something like a holiday to look forward to is a great psychological tonic.

But, let’s be honest, shall we?

There’s a huge difference between feeling a bit down and ‘under the weather’ and truly suffering from depression, which some call the Black Dog.

Most of us, if we stop and think about it, can very quickly come up with a list of blessings, things to be grateful for, things that help us to celebrate living.

We can even, usually, come up with a list of solutions to those problems.

Spent too much?  Talk to your bank manager about your overdraft. Consider consolidating your credit.  Cut back on unnecessary expenditure.

Feeling bloated and unfit? You know what to do, don’t you?  Take more exercise, eat better. The old hoary chestnuts of advice stand the test of time, don’t they?

Some of us suffer badly from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). The lack of sunlight sends us spiralling into a winter depression.

The symptoms often begin in the autumn as the days start getting shorter and are typically most severe during December, January and February.

Symptoms may include a persistent low mood, irritability and feeling lethargic and sleepy during the day.  Sufferers may find themselves sleeping for longer than normal and finding it hard to get up in the morning.  They may also crave carbohydrates and gain weight

But there are things you can do about this, for example, light therapy.  You can buy special lightboxes which replicate the effect of sunlight on the body.  You can find more information about Seasonal Affective Disorder and light therapy here.

The cure may obviously not be as simple or as instant as buying a lightbox. I am merely saying that, sometimes, if we take matters into our own hands, we feel better.  Having some control over our problems makes us feel more empowered.

Most of us can find a way to lift ourselves out of the ‘Blue Monday Slump’.  A little time out for reflection may help.  Why not try mindful meditation?  Calming your inner voice may help you recognise what is making you feel so discontented.  It will certainly reduce your stress and improve your focus.

A long, hot, calming bath may also help perhaps with a herbal bath oil or a natural treatment such as Bach’s Rescue Remedy.

An early night will help.  We are all guilty of TV channel surfing when we know we should be going to bed – or, my particular downfall, playing the ‘odd’ game of Candy Crush.  One hour’s sleep before midnight is said to be worth two hours of sleep after midnight.  Lack of sleep has been proven to have very real consequences to our health and mental wellbeing.

Make sure too, that your bed is as comfortable as possible so that you get a good night’s sleep.  If your mattress is over 8 years old, the advice is to change it, but this can be done quickly and at a reasonable cost by searching for mattresses online.

It is important to recognise though, that if you feel things are really getting on top of you, or that you just cannot cope no matter what simple adjustments you make to your lifestyle, then you should talk to your GP.

There are also many organisations you can talk to, day or night, who can help you.  You can find a list of some of them here.

So, if this Blue Monday you feel your outlook is less than sunny, take the opportunity to be a little bit kinder to yourself.

And a bit kinder to others.

We never know exactly what others are feeling.  But by offering a few kind words, everyone’s day suddenly becomes a whole lot brighter.

And spring will be here before we know it.

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Depression And The Return Of The Black Dog

The highly ironic thing about suffering from depression is that you are very often the last one to recognise that you are back in its grips.

Black Dog - Depression - Mother Distracted

A key clue, for me at least, is when I find myself unable and unwilling to communicate.  It’s that thing of announcing ‘I’m fine’ to everyone whilst looking like you’d cheerfully assassinate them. It’s the piercing resonance of the slightly shrill “I’m OK”.

Sometimes it even seems loud to me.  And I’m deaf.

Whilst we go on strike verbally, struck dumb by our latest encounter with the Black Dog, our bodies tend to shout our feelings loudly.

We don’t want to get out of bed.  We don’t want to talk.  We want to eat comfort food and watch the same ITV3 drama repeat over and over again letting it wash over us like morphine.

The Husband has become pretty shrewd at working out when I’m about to plummet. He knows the signs better than I do.  For the person who suffers from depression, so locked inside our experience are we that everything seems normal – even when it clearly isn’t.

You know, those days when washing your hair seems unnecessary and hiding behind the curtains so you don’t have to answer the doorbell is entirely normal.

Equally odd is the slow drip, drip, drip of the latest malaise as it builds up without you noticing. Like leaving a tap on in the bathroom, you never quite know when to expect the flood.

Also confusing is what exactly sets it off – whether it’s the effect of a period of poor self-care, or the kids going back to school, or the gradual fading of the sunlight into autumn, I can never pinpoint when I crossed the line from slightly anxious and definitely grumpy, to morose, gloomy and downright unapproachable.

All of this has to be hidden behind a painted smile, of course. But, gradually, phone calls get ignored, letters remain unopened and packet noodles replace any attempt at cookery.

The kids are, happily, generally unaware of all this.  Caitlin though, approaching the grand old age of 10, has a way of looking at me knowingly and asking “Mum, are you ALRIGHT” in that cadence which hints she knows something is up.

Many of us rely on anti-depressants to see us through.  I have never been able to take them. I don’t want to be beholden to chemicals to make me feel better, particularly since the side-effects of some of these drugs make you wonder why they are prescribed in the first place.

I say this with absolutely no judgement of those who do take them, by the way.  We sufferers all find our own way through as best we can, dodging the bullets of depression like ninjas when we can and sinking like a donkey stuck in quicksand when it all gets too much.

I joked recently to my sister’s partner that whilst, for many 2016 was a dreadful year and t-shirts were being printed with “I survived 2016” on (funny, but not really if you see what I mean), I’m already starting to feel like I need the 2017 version.

Hospital visits, builders, family illness, endless problems with my glasses, tinnitus – ah – a veritable catalogue of potential triggers. There’s even Blue Monday in early January designated as the most depressing day of the year where we’re all likely to feel miserable!

So where is your tipping point?

When does the Black Dog return to sit faithfully at your lap, tail wagging, damp cold nose insisting you pay attention?

One thing’s for sure, I wish someone would let the bloody dog out.

One Of The Worst Things About Depression For A Parent

Acres of words have been written about depression and what I am about to write will be no earth shattering insight into this dreadful disease for those of you who already suffer its blight.

But I am prompted to write this post following the recent news of the death of writer and columnist Sally Brampton who took her own life this week after many years spent fighting her depression.

I find myself greatly saddened and unsettled by the news.

Sally’s book “Shoot The Damn Dog” received much praise for the candour and accuracy of the description of her battle with the disease.

She wrote, with great poignancy, “‘Killing oneself is, anyway, a misnomer. We don’t kill ourselves. We are simply defeated by the long, hard struggle to stay alive.’

I have a mild form of depression which, at its worst, sucks the joy out of existence and turns everything grey.

For those of us suffering this burden, nothing gives any pleasure.  It doesn’t matter how much we have or how many gratitude lists we write but at some essential level we just cannot ‘connect’.

Trapped in our own heads, we can only watch with a sort of helplessness as life carries on around, and inspite of, us.

Proof, as though we needed it, that in our heads we don’t matter.

We feel like puppets whose strings have been cut, only able to twitch but not quite move.

The worst thing, for a parent suffering from depression, is that we cannot receive love.  And we cannot seem to find the impetus to show it either – even when we know that those around us are crying out for acknowledgement, a smile, a glimpse into our soul to say “it will be alright”.

Somehow we need to explain to our children that our emotional deadlock does not mean we don’t love them.

This is one of our greatest challenges.

Today I imagine that any of us suffering from this curse and having read this news will be feeling a little more down.  If Sally couldn’t make it after fighting so hard, can we find the strength to carry on?

We know we must.

But we also know that getting to the point where we want to, the lights go back on and the carousel starts to whirl again to the sound of music, well, that may be a very long journey.

If you are living with a sufferer then please keep an extra special eye on them today.

If help is needed you can call the Samaritans on 116123, visit a local Samaritans branch or go to www.samaritans.org.

You can find a list of alternative helplines here.

Save Me From The Shiny Happy People

I’m having one of those grumpy mornings when all my gripes and moans are amplified by the kind of mood which makes you find even gambolling kittens rather irritating.

And nothing is worse during these times than a run-in with the terminally jolly.  If you’ve ever found yourself faking happiness in a relationship with these people just to keep the peace you’ll know exactly what I mean.

Now I know I should not find happy, upbeat, positive people occasionally annoying.  It’s probably a heresy to say so but don’t you sometimes suspect that it’s all a bit of an act?

faking happiness in a relationship - grumpy pug dog wrapped in a blanket

There are myriad ways to shore up flakey self-confidence and I don’t doubt there’s a lot of truth in the statement “fake it until you make it” but good God, please give the rest of us a break.

Actually, people who put a positive spin on everything run the risk of denying others the chance to experience their misery in glorious technicolour – which is often quite enjoyable, albeit for a short period of time.  If you are insisting that everyone radiates sunshine, you force them to deny the storm clouds overhead and perhaps stop them from truly dealing with their problems.

I guess it’s the difference between glass-half-full people (like the Husband) and glass-half-empty people like me.  I’ve come to the conclusion that we are genetically programmed this way.  Even in medieval times, doctors talked about ‘the humours’ and knew all about melancholia (possibly what we today know as depression).

If you happen to suffer from depression or anxiety (as I sometimes do), trust me when I say that you cannot whitewash your emotions by pretending to be happier than an Andrex puppy in a toilet roll factory.

You can change your state by changing your physiology – studies show if you smile you feel happier. We know that we can lift our mood by going for a walk or taking a nap.  But these I think are temporary fixes and the source of our gloom still needs to be addressed and comprehensively dealt with.

Do us misery guts a favour and let us be who we are.  If you must radiate sunshine and joie-de-vivre, could you do it quietly, and preferably without a witty slogan t-shirt and a selfie stick?

If you feel you have to plaster on a smile to keep everyone else happy, consider that faking happiness in a relationship just adds an extra layer of suffering if we are worried about how our depression is affecting our partner, family and friends.

And it’s dangerous too.  From a mental health perspective, how much healthier is it to acknowledge the sadness, the grief, the inability to cope with the smallest of life’s minutiae? And to be surrounded by people who recognise that we are struggling and can read between the lines of any forced laughter or attempts to jolly ourselves along.

So no, I don’t want to hear

“It’ll all come out in the wash”

“Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift, that’s why it is called the present.”

“Shoot for the moon and if you miss you will still be among the stars.”

“Everything happens for a reason”

“Today is the first day of the rest of your life”.

and any other phrase involving surviving.  The only person qualified to talk to me about survival is Gloria Gaynor.


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I Like a Bit of “Bleak” on a Monday

“I think that shale may be neolithic” announced The Sybyl, prodding the rain spattered rocks with her hiking pole. It is a Monday morning and we are walking the dogs on one of The Sybyl’s favourite routes. She has several routes, all with a unique mood.

There is Cosmeston (up-beat, slightly flowery, duck-filled and, always a plus, with toilets), Cwm George (beautiful, silent, noble, containing an Iron Age fort – and near toilets (my own) and Bendricks Beach (bleak, windswept, rock-pooled and moody – absolutely no toilets).

The battered red van is parked up in a hedge so tightly that I nearly have to extract a blackberry from my eye. We have brandished our poles and released the dogs, Rumpus and Bedlam, to shout excitedly at the scrubby coppice we have to traverse on our way down to the gloomy beach.

Bleakness at Bendricks Beach, Vale of Glamorgan

We pick our way cautiously down to the shore, chatting all the while. We run through our standard checklist which, since we are both around the age of 50, usually involves discussing those of our acquaintances who have suffered an untimely early demise and then a comparison of ailments. Most of the ailments are mine and most of The Sybyl’s medical advice involves i) shutting up and ii) getting on with it.  

The rain, which I term a heavy shower and The Sybyl terms “light drizzle” is getting heavier. We park ourselves on an outcrop of rock down on the sand whilst Bedlam chases the ball with excitement and Rumpus sits with the expression of a dog who wishes he was back in the van with his duvet. I wish I’d brought a thermos, or a hip flask with Stones Ginger Wine laced with a nip of something Scottish and peaty. The Sybyl is yearning for tomato soup perked up by the addition of melted cheese – like a fondue for truckers.   

I wonder, not for the first time, what other women of our age talk about. We just don’t look or feel our age. Next year I will be 50 and I feel about 13.  On a good day. We have the same preoccupations, the same insecurities.  Does our brain ever catch up with our body? I am reminded at this point of the great moment in Mel Brooks’ “Young Frankenstein” where the doctor asks Igor where he got the brain for the monster and Igor replies, the jar said “Abbie someone”. “Abbie Normal”.

The rain is now what I term torrential and The Sybyl terms “a light shower”. I suggest we hasten back to the van. The Sybyl looks at me as if I lack the resolve to get to Base Camp on Everest but grudgingly agrees go back.  On the way back we discuss our teenage wardrobes with a certain degree of fondness and concede that clothes shopping today is quite a chore, no matter what Carol Vorderman says. The dogs are steaming elegantly in the back of the van.

We are soaked through but quite content. There is something about bleak Bendricks beach that is, strangely, enjoyable.  As my grandfather Harry used to say “It’s being so cheerful that keeps you going”.