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Is there a scientific basis for the ‘January blues’?

It is a term that you are likely to have heard more than a few times by this stage of the month: the “January blues”. It is a term that people often use socially in reference to a time of low mood in the “comedown” after all the excitement of the Christmas period.

There is even a specific day, “Blue Monday”, that is said to be the most depressing day of the year. Blue Monday is supposedly the third Monday in January, which meant that in 2024, it fell on 15th January.

However, it is important to separate the reality from the myths when it comes to terms such as “January blues”, “the winter blues”, and “Blue Monday”, as you might see being bandied about at this time of year. So, let’s explore them.

Good news – ‘Blue Monday’ is definitely a myth

When it comes to busting misconceptions about the association between January and low mood, “Blue Monday” is an especially easy one to tackle.

The term “Blue Monday” was coined by a travel company in 2005, shared via a press release; an “equation”, accounting for such factors as weather, debt, and resolutions being broken, had apparently been used to conclude that levels of “happiness” were lowest on the third Monday of the year.

Unsurprisingly, there was considerable backlash to such a nakedly transparent marketing gimmick. Not only was there a lack of agreement among many of those responding as to whether the third Monday of the month really was the strongest candidate to be the “most depressing day”, but experts in mental health counselling and related fields widely declared “Blue Monday” to be bogus.

So, “Blue Monday” can be safely dismissed as lacking scientific basis – as can the notion that January as a month necessarily brings about low mood, although a few caveats should be added to the latter point.

Certain factors – largely linked specifically to the transition from Christmas into the New Year, such as post-Christmas financial worries, returning to work after a long break, and persistent holiday-period eating and drinking habits – can contribute to low mood for many of us at this time of year.

The winter in general can bring mental health challenges for many of us

Indeed, if one is seeking a scientific justification for a decline in mood after the festive season, it is safest to say that the winter as a whole presents certain factors that can bring about this effect. Most scientists believe the issue is linked to how the body reacts to sunlight.

It has been theorised, for example, that in the case of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) – a type of depression that comes and goes in a seasonal pattern – the light that enters the eye causes changes in the body’s hormonal levels. Indeed, light plays a major role in the body by stopping the production of the sleep hormone melatonin, thereby causing the body to wake up.

It is believed that those suffering from SAD are impacted by the winter’s shorter daylight hours, with the higher levels of melatonin they produce causing lethargy and symptoms of depression. It should also be emphasised, however, that scientists are yet to definitively establish the causes of SAD.

To learn more about our expertise at GibMed in relation to a wide range of fields, potentially including mental health counselling, please feel free to contact us.