Welcome to the most depressing day of the year. Jan. 18 has been designated "Blue Monday" - the day when the perfect storm of failing our new year's resolutions, working through debts from the holiday season and the grim weather make us feel horrible. Here are four ways to get through the day:
1. Skip the fast-food breakfast
Cinnabons and Egg McMuffins are the ultimate comfort foods, but on Blue Monday, fatty delights heavy in simple carbohydrates will provide only temporary relief.
Forget the effect they have on your heart and waistline: Those foods are also bad for your mind when you're trying to beat the winter blues, says Amanda Watkins, manager at the Wild Oat, a popular Ottawa bakery and restaurant that caters to healthy eaters.
"Whatever you start your day with, if it feels heavy in your body it's not going to give you a great lift," she says.
Her staff substitutes simple carbs (which can alter your mood, make your blood sugar yo-yo and cause overeating) for complex ones on menu items such as cinnamon buns (made with whole-wheat flour) and muffins (made with high-protein spelt flour and sweetened with bananas). Try making your own healthier options at home.
Got the winter blues?
Karen Liberman, executive director of the Mood Disorders Association of Ontario, answers your questions on battling the winter blues, Tuesday at 11 a.m. ET
Leave a question for Karen Liberman of the Mood Disorders Association or join her live Tuesday morning
2. Let the light in
Karen Liberman, executive director of the Mood Disorders Association of Ontario, identifies light therapy as the most effective treatment for the more extreme manifestation of the winter blues: seasonal affective disorder.
Studies suggest that just 30 minutes a day of light therapy from a light box can improve the mood of a SAD patient by 60 to 70 per cent.
Light boxes are rated by lux (light intensity). Sit by a 10,000-lux box for 30 minutes each day or 45 to 60 minutes by a 5,000-lux box. A table-top version is available from Philips.
Ms. Liberman also suggests cheaper alternatives such as walking outside or moving your chair closer to a window.
"Someone bought me half a dozen yellow tulips. Every time I look at them I smile. They're not emitting light, but they look light," she says.
3. Have a YouTube marathon
Today may be the only day of the year when you can justify watching substandard footage of a cat swinging recklessly from a ceiling fan.
Toronto family doctor Mel Borins, who lectures about laughter and play, says the first thing you should do when you wake up on Blue Monday is turn to your go-to chuckle-inducing book, DVD or - if you're pressed for time - YouTube clip.
"Physiologically, when you laugh and giggle and are playful, it improves your mood," he says.
Decades of research suggest laughter triggers an increase in endorphin levels, which work as the body's natural painkillers.
The results of a 2002 study published in Humor: International Journal of Humor Research (yes, there is such a thing) tested two groups: one that had a lower than average sense of humour and one with a higher than average level. Both participated in stress assessments, and researchers found that the group with the higher sense of humour was better equipped to handle anxiety and stressful situations.
4. Sweat, baby, sweat
If the marathon of kitten-fight videos fails to raise your spirits, try another endorphin booster: Work out at higher than normal intensity. Numerous studies have shown that exercise can help in the treatment of mild to moderate depression.
Pushing yourself to go to the gym is often difficult when you feel listless, but Ms. Liberman says the payoff is worth it.
For those who are more sedentary, she suggests escaping for a brisk walk outside during your lunch break. If you're more active, she recommends upping the ante from mild to moderate during your regular workout.
"On Tuesday you'll be a little sore, but I think there's real merit to … pushing the endorphins past the level that they would more likely be at."
And don't do this:
Ignore symptoms of serious depression. Learn more at camh.net.
The general idea of the winter blues is widely accepted, but the notion that one specific day is worse than all the rest? That's dubious.
The concept of Blue Monday was created by British psychologist Cliff Arnall of Cardiff University in 2005. Dr. Arnall created a scientific formula that considered the weather, one's monthly salary, debt from Christmas, time since failure of a new year's resolution, levels of motivation and a need to take action. All highly subjective variables, of course. As a result, number crunchers arrive at different results for which day is the true Blue Monday. Some say the most depressing day of 2010 happened last week on Jan. 11, while others insist we have another week till it hits on Jan. 25.
While we've arbitrarily chosen today as Blue Monday, feel free to wait another seven days to unleash your melancholy if you'd like.