January 18th is Blue Monday, the most depressing day of the year. But does that mean it’s darker and gloomier than any other day this month? In a word, no. Because, as I found out, Blue Monday was made-up by those clever marketers at the British travel company, Sky Travel, back in 2006. And while encouraging people to leave January’s cold weather for sunshine and margaritas is awesome in normal times, this idea that there is one worst day of the year can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, say the experts at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, in Toronto.
After all, January is a tough month, especially for those of us (like me) who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, a type of depression that’s tied to the seasons. My mood is bleak in the winter anyway but now, not only am I freezing, the kids have cabin fever and are bouncing off the walls and — OMIGAWD how much did I put on my Visa at Christmas? The idea that my mood is destined to get worse can be overwhelming. That’s why I think we moms should turn Blue Monday into ‘You Monday’ this year, a day full of self-care for our bodies and minds. Here’s how I plan to spend my day. If you’d like to join me in busting the winter blues, read on.
Mindfulness meditation is a mental exercise that focuses thoughts on the present moment and is proven to significantly reduce anxiety and depression. By paying close attention to something that’s happening right now, such as breathing, we effectively train our brains to slow down. But like any exercise, meditation takes practice. I try to meditate every morning while I’m still in bed, so when I inevitably feel my mind spiralling into anxiety later, I can calm myself down. I like to follow along with the guided meditation on the Buddhify App, a collection of quick meditations designed to fit into your busy day but meditating on your own works too.
Is it just me, or does it get dark at lunchtime in January? About three percent of Canadians suffer from SAD and a full 15 percent of us get the winter blues, meaning they experience SAD-like symptoms such as weight gain, carb cravings, and sleep disturbances without clinical depression. I fight my SAD with a combination of antidepressants and light therapy. Every morning, I sit in front of a fluorescent lightbox (at least 10,000 lux) for 30 minutes while I sip my coffee, from fall until spring. Doctors don’t know exactly how light therapy eases SAD symptoms but they think it causes a chemical change in the brain that boosts mood. Lightboxes cost between $25-250 on Amazon and since they’re a medical device the cost is often covered by health insurance.
I’m not going to lie, I don’t love every minute of my yoga practice but I do love how it improves my mental health. This month, I’m going to make my body and mind happy with hot vinyasa yoga because I know exercise can release feel-good endorphins and over time, improves brain function. In fact, according to experts at Harvard University, the effects of exercise can be as powerful as antidepressants for some people. So, I’m going to drag my reluctant butt to an online class. While I’m there, I’m going to imagine that the reason I’m dripping puddles of sweat is that I’m on a hot, sunny beach.
Whether it’s sitting at a computer all day, carrying a toddler around or trying to schlep all of the groceries into the house in one trip, we moms sure know how to wreak havoc on our bodies. But even though massages are covered by my insurance plan, I’m rarely able to eke pampering time out of my day. Today though, I’m heading to the spa to relax with a glorious rub down. Massages don’t just soothe our aching muscles, they also reduce the levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, in our body and increase levels of feel-good chemicals, oxytocin and serotonin. So, c’mon mama, in the name of science, get yourself to a massage!
I’m going all out today, I’ve decided to maximize the relaxing powers of my massage by springing for the full aromatherapy experience, which according to the Mayo Clinic’s website might offer some relief from my depression and anxiety. I know what you’re thinking and sure, “might” isn’t the same thing as “scientifically proven” but I’m depressed, not fussy. Now, which to choose? The relaxing lavender massage or an energizing citrus one? Considering my SAD has temporarily stolen all my energy, I think I’ll go for citrus.
There’s nothing I hate more than going outside in winter. I am perfectly happy to snuggle up by the fire with my lightbox and a bottle of delicious vitamin D gummies. But since I really want to banish my blues, I’m willing to try anything — even if it means *gasp* going for a walk in the outside. According to experts at Harvard University, nothing beats the healing power of the great outdoors, just 20-30 minutes spent in nature can significantly reduce cortisol levels.
Finally, I’m going to celebrate my newly strengthened mental health, with an evening of painting, wine and friends, via Zoom. Creative activity of any type, whether it’s writing, playing a musical instrument or creating a work of art, has a calming effect on the brain and body that’s similar to meditation. And adding your girlfriends into the mix just increases all that positivity by strengthening your social network and lifting your mood. Finishing your creation will flood your brain with feel-good dopamine and you’ll earn bonus mom points at the same time.
Being a mom is hard every day, not just on the third Monday of January. Choose one, or all, of these ideas and give yourself and your mind, a break. Moms don’t have hours to spend at the spa, so we need to practice little acts of self-care often. And if you’re not feeling well emotionally, check out the resources below. Help is literally just a click away.
List of mental health resources
Centre for Addiction and Mental Health
An amazing resource for anyone with questions about mental illness, including a helpful self-assessment tool for those who’ve ever wondered if they’re just blue or if it’s depression. You’ll also find information about what to do in a crisis and helpful links.
Mood Disorders Association of Canada
Find support near you and discussion forums about a wide range of mental health issues.
Helpful information about the day-to-day realities of living with depression.
University of British Columbia Mood Disorders Centre
Everything you ever wanted to know about SAD and light therapy.