Blue Monday typically takes place on the third Monday in January, known as the saddest day of the year. It is a time when we can feel our emotions dipping: the festive season is over; we have long, dark winter nights to contend with; we may be coping with debt, and possibly struggling to stick to New Year’s resolutions.

Many may argue that Blue Monday doesn’t really exist, though – that it is more a misguided PR stunt conflating seasonal factors with clinical depression – and I think they’re probably right. It has been purported that the date was calculated in 2004 by psychologist Cliff Arnall for a travel company that wanted to sell more holidays during the winter. His concept was coined as a reflection of a pseudoscience formula taking account of factors likely to contribute to low mood.

I would urge you to refute the notion that pegging depressive symptoms to one day in particular as sensationalist nonsense, trivialising mental health terminology with the potential for insidious effects. That being said, one positive element of Blue Monday is that it represents a chance to tackle some of the stigmas around poor mental health and raise awareness of its symptoms.

Blue Monday or not, there’s no denying that this year is harder than normal. The pandemic is still a reality, with our school and workplaces having to respond to the demands of going in and out of lockdowns. If we or our students are feeling sad or low, what strategies can we use to cope and bounce back? We know that meditation helps our mental health and that exercise is good for our bodies. Getting into the kitchen, experimenting with recipes, tastes and visual presentations can boost our self-esteem – it’s another way to be active, follows through with our intentions and offers a sense of achievement – which in turn can be a gateway to positive feelings. Simple meals with fresh ingredients encourage us to eat healthily too, which has a positive effect on our emotions. Turning off our devices, putting away our work and stepping into nature allows our minds to relax and breathe; immersing ourselves in the great outdoors can be grounding and restorative. Allowing our senses to feel the delight of indulging in the simple pleasure of reading a book – the old-fashioned way – offers another opportunity to unplug and unwind.

The woeful lack of balance in some media reporting is plaguing our minds with a sense of constant concern. Through our mindfulness lessons, we are equipping our students with the skill of holding off on worry until a designated period of time, later in the day. Postponing our worries and only allowing ourselves a limited time (for example 15 minutes at 2 p.m.) is an effective strategy for ensuring our disposition is not soured. Ruminating on worst-case scenarios can contribute to feeling overwhelmed, hopeless and down. Instead, recognising these fearful thoughts maintains them as mental events, and reminds us to approach ourselves as we would other people – with courage, honesty and compassion.

Turn the notion of Blue Monday on its head. As Samaritans’ Brew Monday highlighted this week, reaching out to a friend, family member or colleague for a virtual cuppa and a chat enabled us to check in with each other and stay connected. Please continue to Share A Smile with us – be that through RED January’s goal to get from Reading to Zimbabwe, or Family Friday’s opportunity to unleash that inner diva in a singalong with loved ones. Your images and captions are a daily boost to morale!

When we’re going through tough times – a pandemic, an illness, a loss or a serious accident – we can struggle on an emotional level. Take comfort from knowing that knowledge can be power. Post-traumatic growth can help us become stronger and acquire a more profound perspective on life. There’s no denying that tough times can feel impossible to get through. However, I would urge you to reflect on this beautiful quote: “When the world says ‘Give up’, Hope whispers, ‘Try it one more time’”.

Nisha Kaura
Head of the Junior School