Back in 2005, a British psychologist named Dr. Cliff Arnall created a formula to establish the third Monday in January as the peak of seasonal depression. He based this calculation on numerous variables including the weather, salary, debt, low motivation, post-holiday gloom, attempts to quit a job, and a sense of urgency to take action. An this is how Blue Mondays became an instant hit.
A recent article on CNN though pointed out that the equation Dr. Arnall used to determine Blue Mondays isn’t “scientifically sound.” Since the variables are subjective, they can’t be measured to test the accuracy of his claim. This calls the entire concept into question. To put this in plain words—Blue Monday is a marketing scam.
However, there is another perspective we should not dismiss easily. While there isn’t one universal worst day of the year, mental health can take a nosedive in the winter. For some, its impact is debilitating. Here’s what you need to know to manage the blues this time of year.
Blue Monday is a myth, but seasonal affective disorder is real
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a form of clinical depression that’s influenced by a change of seasons. In most cases, symptoms become noticeable in the fall, then worsen during winter. Less daylight, cold temperatures, and overcast weather can impact anyone’s mood state, but for those with SAD, winter conditions can interfere with their ability to function.
About five percent of Americans suffer from diagnosable SAD, while 10 to 20 percent have a milder type of winter blues, Cleveland Clinic reports. Those with seasonal depression often experience low energy, persistent sadness, lack of concentration, fatigue, sleep problems, anxiety, irritation, loss of interest in normal activities, or weight fluctuations.
Whether you fit the criteria for SAD, or you just feel a general slump this time of year, it can be hard to summon the motivation, stamina, and enthusiasm to be productive. What can you do to improve mental health outcomes and restore your high-performance workflow? Here are a few solutions to help.
How to reclaim your motivation and productivity
January can be a low month for productivity overall. The first quarter of last year saw a 7.5 percent decline in U.S. worker output from January through March, the lowest dip since 1947. Between exhaustion from the holiday rush and low morale from the dark, chilly weather, performance levels are bound to waver.
Fortunately, it’s easier than you might think to keep the winter blues from harming productivity. Use the strategies below to reclaim your normal groove—both on the job and in life.
Expose yourself to natural light
One of the main causes of seasonal depression is insufficient access to direct sunlight. In fact, those with depression are more likely to have a Vitamin D imbalance or deficiency, reports the Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine.
Vitamin D stimulates the production of serotonin, a hormone that helps stabilize mood, regulate emotions, increase brain function, and create a sense of well-being. On the flip side, lack of Vitamin D can dysregulate serotonin levels, often resulting in depressive symptoms, the research continues.
Therefore, it’s vital to expose yourself to as much natural light as possible in the winter months. Position your desk to face a window (with the curtains open, of course). If it’s a sunny afternoon, spend your lunch break outside. You can even find light therapy lamps that use glare-free LED bulbs to mimic the emission of natural light indoors.
In a season known for dreariness, some extra brightness can do wonders for motivation, energy, and outlook.
Regulate your work environment
Shivering in the cold is a common gripe this time of year. Not only is this uncomfortable, but it can also affect work performance. In a cold environment, your brain exerts itself more to regulate internal body temperature, which can drain your mental reserves. According to the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, coldness impairs attention, processing speed, memory, and other executive functions.
Another study from the BMJ Open Journal also found it often leads to chronic pain, which could increase absenteeism. Anything below 10 degrees C (50 degrees F) can reduce physical and cognitive performance.
So, monitor the temperature in your own workspace and adjust it to your comfort level. If you commute to an office and don’t have much control over the thermostat, dress for optimal warmth. A fleece sweater, insulated pants, and cozy socks are sure bets to ward off the winter chills.
Set measurable goals
Goals provide you with a clear sense of direction and purpose, which inherently builds motivation. It also help you:
- Make clear decisions
- Maintain a positive attitude
- Learn new skills and information
- Adapt to challenges
- Overcome difficulties
- Stay aligned with core values
- Contribute to the organizational mission
The key is to choose a measurable goal—an objective you can track with concrete metrics in order to visualize your progress. Rather than, “I want to improve my client relationships,” a measurable goal would be, “I want to secure four new client accounts within the first six months of 2023.”
Schedule time for your passions
A positive work-life balance is crucial for sustaining both your mental health and productivity levels. Work-life balance correlates with higher job satisfaction and performance outcomes. It can also reduce chronic stress, anxiety, depression, burnout, and other forms of emotional or psychological distress.
Don’t let Blue Mondays sap your work performance
It’s normal to encounter a dip in motivation in January. After all, you’ve just come down from a hectic, festive holiday season, and now you’re looking ahead to months of dreary winter.
While Blue Mondays are an urban legend, January can still be a challenging time. Use these ideas to shift into a productive mode and feel better while you do it.