For over a decade now, the third Monday of every January has been accepted as the most depressing day of the year. Fittingly dubbed Blue Monday, this day is considered the most melancholy and downcast day of the year. But can we really pinpoint one day as the dreariest, or is it all just a hoax? Let’s look at how this day started, and why it feels like January is such a tough month for us to get through.

What most people don’t know is that the entire concept of Blue Monday was created as a PR Stunt. Sky Travel, a now defunct travel agency, published a press release in 2005 in which they commissioned Dr. Cliff Arnall to determine the most depressing day of the year. Why would a travel agency pay a psychologist to write about the most depressing day of the year? To sell more vacations! The whole purpose of the press release was to set the tone for the company to market their services, and sell more vacations to people as a solution for their sadness.

Dr. Arnall even created a formula to explain how he calculated the exact date people feel at their lowest:
[W+(D-d)] x TQ/MxNA
W is weather, D is debt, d is monthly salary, T is time since Christmas, Q is time since failing new year’s resolutions, M is low motivation level and NA is the need to take action.

Sounds a little sketchy right? That’s because despite the complicated-looking math, Arnall’s formula is what many refer to as pseudoscience. The equation uses no real units of measurement, with no quantifiable evidence to support his claim. Arnall has received significant criticism from the medical community for accepting money from a PR firm, and has since admitted that his assessment of a ‘most depressing day’ was both useless and dangerous. Not to mention, insensitive.

Does that mean Blue Monday isn’t really the most depressing day of the year? Maybe. In an interview with The Telegraph, Arnall said that his Blue Monday theory had become "a self-fulfilling prophecy", driving people to materialism as a way to alleviate their perceived sadness. Over the years, countless companies have jumped on board, capitalizing on the theory to market their products as a solution for the winter blues. January blues got you down?  Many believe that the yearly onslaught of marketing messages using Blue Monday to sell has conditioned us to believe we will feel sad around this time – so we do.

Now, some of you might never have heard of Blue Monday, but still feel down in the dumps in January . That’s totally normal because there are legitimate reasons why this time of the year feels difficult. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is the primarily culprit, and is something experienced by most Canadians at some point in their life.

The primary caused of SAD is the reduced exposure to sunlight, which is why it generally affects people in January when there are cold overcast days, and lowest number of daylight hours. To make matters worse, most people get in and leave work when it’s dark outside, making it even more difficult to catch some much-needed rays. This lack of sunlight means lower levels of serotonin, a chemical produced by our nerve cells that reduces depression and anxiety. Sunlight also affects how much melatonin your brain produces. Melatonin is a chemical that controls your sleep cycle, which is why many feel tired and lethargic in the winter months when they have little exposure to sunlight.

Although it may not be possible to calculate the one most depressing day of the year, it is common to feel a little offbeat in January, and that’s totally normal. Even on cold days, getting an extra 20 minutes outside could help you get through the month a little more energy and optimism. So, forget about Blue Monday, focus on your goals and make 2018 your best year yet.

If you, a friend, or family member are struggling with feelings of depression, and might need some help, please don’t suffer alone. Here is a list of National and Provincial resources and organizations that can provide support.