Though New Order released a song called Blue Monday in 1986, it took a 2005 press released publicized by Sky Travel after they commissioned Cliff Arnall a former lecturer from Cardiff University to find the day and claim it as the “most depressing day of the year”. Using pseudoscience to make a nonsensical formula only people in marketing would appreciate (based on weather, post holiday debt, new years resolutions, low motivation and feeling the need to take action) they claimed the 3rd Monday in January would be Blue Monday. Laughed at by many actual psychologists, scientists and mathematicians it continues to be used in various press releases, social posts and articles annually (*Cough..yes I see the irony).
Originally published on LinkedIN.
Regardless of the how, when, why or the fakery of it all – there is no ignoring for many people including the creative minded like myself struggle through the coldest, dark days of January and February in the northern hemisphere. We don’t want to go outside so we hide at our desks or at home under blankets on our couches – avoiding the outside temperatures and becoming something akin to a modern hermit. With technology consuming our brains like a virus we are safer and warmer by the blue glow of our screens…watching the latest Netflix or Disney+ video, surfing social channels or chatting with other hermits in their own caves through easily misinterpreted text messages or short hand social commentary (often designed to make us feel better about ourselves socially than the person we commented on).
This has much less to do with a made up date and more to do with the all too real Seasonal Affective Disorder – where weather can affect some people’s mood. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) roughly 10% of people experience mood disorders that can start slowly in fall as days get shorter and last until spring. When you get to mental and emotional health it can be hard to say “just feel better” or “change your perspective” – we know that sort of motivation doesn’t help.
“a problem with filtering or gating the many stimuli that flow into the brain“.
Now combine that with studies that link creative thinkers to be more ‘prone’ to depression with some scary stats (18% higher the rate of suicide, 10 times more depression, twenty times more manic-depression) and you have a potent Winter Blues Cocktail to sip on until the ice melts. It’s been said creative people are often more prone to a higher risk of mental illness because our brains have difficulty “Gating” sensory input. As this article on Psychology Today covered a few years ago “a problem with filtering or gating the many stimuli that flow into the brain“. Which causes many creatives to shelter themselves and control their human contact as a form of self-preservation. And limiting human contact can have an obvious negative affect on us when we become trapped in our own heads.
NOTE: Now before I go over some suggestions experts say you can try – let’s also point out that not all creative people are prone to depression…and not all depressed people are creative or artistic. AND if you are feeling down at anytime you should always seek professional guidance to help you navigate those feelings. Not just read an article.
That said if you do get a bit of the winter blues there are some things creative minded people (or anyone really) can try:
- Surround yourself with other creative people – who are more likely to support out of the box creative ideas and leaps of faith. Building a support network so you are not feeling alone can forge stronger ties to friends or family. If you are someone who works with a team or manages others – don’t be afraid to discuss it with them or keep an eye on each other to pull through ok. (Remember, creating your own support group can help yourself AND others.)
- Reduce Stress. Stress reduction is not a cure, but it can help you cope and over the long term it can reduce depression. For me I find a few key ways to reduce stress: create things just for me (hence my drawing and painting), busy my overthinking mind with entertainment (video games, movies, etc), mediation and breathing exercises (headspace app), fidgeting with stress balls (I’ve had one since I was little…so yeah, I know a bit about stress), exercise (walk, run, lift, swim…whatever you need do it and get mobile)
- Start projects that are just for you to explore with no expectation for completion or dedication OR with a distant deadline – like the summer when it’s warm out again and you are more likely to abandon projects to enjoy the weather. It may turn into a whole new career or business…or it may just join the piles of ideas you once toyed with in a garbage bin. But trying new things and playing with new ideas can keep your creative mind busy and energized through the winter.
- Use your bed (and bedroom) the way it was intended (Sleep, relaxation, and *Cough*…you know) NOT for doing work or as a couch. Otherwise you disassociate your bed from rest and rejuvenation. This may not sound like a big deal – but 80% of people with depressive disorders also experience sleep issues.
- Adjust your thinking about negative thoughts. Depression can make you think in waves of negativity – effectively locking you into procrastination, guilt and stifling your creativity. Managing your time and your negative thoughts can be one of the hardest things to do and sometimes people may even need professional help like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). It starts like all things – beginning to recognize negative thoughts, analyze them and go digging for a positive one to balance it. You cannot get rid of negativity and why would you – it is part of being human. But you can balance it with the good when you recognize you are spiralling down. Depressed people are amazing analysts of things. Over thinking, over evaluating, thinking out every possible outcome in your head is a known trait accompanying depression and anxiety.
- Counter negative thoughts not only with positive thinking but ACTION. As I’ve become older I have also become better at recognizing when negative thinking creeps in and found my own ways to counter it. Make a list to get through things you want to complete and dive in first thing in the morning when you have the most energy. Contact others. Getting out for a walk. Or for me at least – writing an article about it or create something that makes me smile.
- Even if you are not that creatively skilled in some way – art is a proven therapy. You don’t have to be an artist to benefit from creating something.
Remember, NO ONE is happy and functioning perfectly every day of the year. The trick is not to be happy all the time or just “stop feeling”. Don’t just wait it out until you feel better. That doesn’t work. Life is often long and boring – and it’s not a movie, coping and finding out how to live it is likely the hardest thing you will do. And none of us will get it 100% right.
The trick is to embrace the bad with the good, embrace distraction when it helps, embrace your creativity when you can, embrace your emotions and discuss…inspect…and if possible counter them with a positive thought or action. It’s not easy. Especially if you live where it can be cold and dark for 4-5 months a year. But if you keep moving and keep fighting it you can overcome it each year and maybe also still create something awesome by the time the snow melts.
Originally published on LinkedIN.
About the Author:
Todd Lawson is a creative/art director who has made commercials, brands, software and ad campaigns, who understands tech and designs UI & UX, a designer who does large scale paintings, a painter who writes articles, a writer who is constantly curious about what’s next. His curiosity has garnered Cannes Lions, One Show Pencils, CA’s, Cassies, and countless other accolades. In 2014 & 2015, he was Ranked 9th & 15th Best Art Director by Strategy Magazine’s Creative Report Card. As Digital User Experience Lead & Associate Creative Director, Todd helped Grey Canada win ADCC’s 2013 Agency Of The Year. But the story doesn’t stop there. In 2015 Todd left Grey to Co-lead the complete transformation of Dashboard, his past agency, from a 16-year-old marketing firm into a Software SaaS Development Company, successfully selling it to tech firm Vicimus in under 2 years. Todd then led the company rebrand, developed departmental processes, guided UI/UX for product, oversaw and built external marketing plans and rebuilt creative and design teams.
See 18+ years of curiosity at www.toddlawsoncreative.com
Vertical Experience: Automotive, AutoTech, Alcohol, B2B/B2C, CPG, Cosmetics, DTC, Entertainment, fashion, Financial, Food, Gaming, Health & Wellness, Insurance, Marine, Not-for-profit, Pharma, Publishing, Software, Retail, Tech, Trade events.