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Friday, January 13, 2012
It’s supposed to be the most miserable day of the year...but are we being duped?
According to psychologists, you’ll probably not be surprised to learn that January is the most depressing month of the year.
And using some rather dubious formulae, we are reliably informed January 16 is the precise date when our shoulders sink deepest and our brows become most furrowed.
There is a fancy looking equation which factors in the likes of the weather, debt, failed new year resolutions, low motivation and time before pay-day, which attempts to make it all seem a little more official.
The reality, is that the concept is believed to have been dreamt up by marketing folk at Sky Travel who wanted to get people turning their gloom into a splurge on an exotic holiday.
So what can we expect on Monday if we are to believe the hype?
Predictions for the day include grouchiness due to lack of sleep from the night before, a morning of coffee, broken resolution cigarettes and a stack of bills marked ‘urgent’ on the kitchen table.
By the afternoon you will have given some serious consideration to strangling your boss and/ or co-worker. From the evening you can expect some disheartening public transport, a broken umbrella and some truly awful television.
As for the abundance of advice for staying upbeat and ‘busting those January blues’ the suggestions are worse than the depressive state itself.
A friend suggested trying some of the many ‘happy websites’ available to browse.
One example is Feelinghappy.com where you can read and share happy stories and tips with what I imagine are various unhinged individuals who invite you to ‘get positive vibes from the praise page’.
Alternatively, the people at Lovely-life-plan.com have narrowed down the path to happiness in an introduction comprising of clichés, some heavily watered down Buddhism and three simple points.
One of these life changing ideals is backed up by a quote from Pablo Picasso.
In the interests of authenticity I wonder if they would also recommend heavy smoking and the copious consumption of Absinthe and opium?
Now, the most popular suggestions by far for ‘busting the blues’, which incidentally require you to spend rather a lot of money - somehow dodging around the fact that spending money is what got you into this abyss in the first place - are holistic spa type treatments.
Amongst many of the ‘rejuvenating’ treatments on offer around January for combating seasonal depression is the relatively new treatment of snake massage- where in manner of nightmarish hell, snakes slither all over your body for a hefty price.
Keith Paice, a Medway psychology lecturer at MidKent College believes we all risk falling for the hype.
He says: “There’s no argument that January blues exist, but to spend more money to alleviate such feelings will spiral you further into debt, which is a contributing factor of the blues.”
You have been warned.
But if you choose to ignore the wise words, bathing in beer, a wide range of natural anti depressants and acupuncture are also recommended.
The MidKent College lecturer is not the only one, however, to question the apparent science behind it.
On this supposed math, science writer, doctor and psychiatrist, Dr Ben Goldacre said that the equations “fail even to make mathematical sense on their own terms”.
So before you start counting down the days consider that as scientific accuracy goes it sits side by side with ‘sex-o-meters’ and some of the ground breaking research which proved that women prefer chocolate to their boyfriends.
Nevertheless, it cannot be disputed that January is rough.
Everyone is skint, life has become a little washed out since attempting to give up drinking - again - and even the simplest of tasks can become gruelling when you’re being pelted with rain and wind and everyone seems to be ill.
But it’s also occurred to me that we seem to go out of our way to seek bad news and make ourselves miserable. Humans are wired to find negativity everywhere.
Experts say that this goes back to prehistoric times when our brains developed in a ‘hunter gatherer’ environment where anything bad had to be attended to immediately in order to survive - as a result, we have evolved to care more about the threat of bad things than the prospect of good things.
So unsurprisingly, media studies show that in papers, TV, radio and more recently in social media the amount of bad news reported outweighs the good by seventeen negative pieces to every one positive piece.
I’m not entirely cynical however, and some further suggestions from Keith Paice struck me as quite pleasant in regards to keeping your head up.
He added: ‘Research has shown that being around pets, especially cats, releases the hormone Oxytocin - commonly known as the ‘cuddle hormone’. Likewise we are all aware of the benefits of serotonin and endorphins - ‘happy hormones’ released in exercise.
“Harvard Business School has shown that giving to others, even just a smile, also makes one feel good. So forget the therapies and holidays; put your jogging bottoms on, go for a jog with your pet and smile at everyone that you pass by; your body will be bursting with happy hormones’.”
So, to conclude, here are my tips for making it through Monday January 16 – or, if possible, the whole of January:
Don’t watch the news, don’t read or even glance at a newspaper, unplug your radio, put your laptop in the bottom of the wardrobe and stay with your head firmly under the covers - in bed - until a pre-arranged alarm rings to inform you of the beginning of February. Gin and Sudoku optional.
If your job/ family/ adult responsibilities don’t allow this luxury then there is plenty of other advice available on the web being distributed by budding life coaches everywhere. See nauseating websites and paying someone to poke you with needles.
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