There will be a lot of discussion around Blue Monday in the media as we approach 17th January – apparently the most depressing day of the year. While we know ‘Blue Monday’ is a myth and that we can experience low mood or depression at any time, it is true that many of us can struggle with our mental wellbeing in the winter months.
There are countless reasons why this might be the case – each as individual as any one of us. It might be triggered by financial worry post Christmas; a recent survey found that we are 28% more concerned about our finances in January 2022 compared to a typical month.
Equally, it may be caused by health anxiety, bereavement, heartbreak, stress at work, or illness – Covid or otherwise. Digital mental health service Kooth has seen a marked and continued increase in the prevalence of many of these presenting issues since the pandemic first hit. 39% of adults completing mental health questionnaires on the platform last year reported feeling down, depressed, or hopeless nearly every day – a 28% increase from the previous year.
It’s also important to note that there could be no obvious reason at all for low mood.
What does low mood look like?
For some people, low mood might present as feeling sad or anxious. Others may experience low self-esteem, worry, anger, or emptiness. Some may feel overly tired, have trouble sleeping, and experience reduced appetite. Feeling low might also stop some of us from finding joy in the things we normally love, or reduce our ability to do day-to-day tasks.
And while a low mood can last for a short period of time, some people experience this persistently or more frequently.
I asked my good friend Eve* about her experiences with low mood. Eve was diagnosed with mild to moderate depression a year ago, and describes her main symptom as feeling low. Over time, acceptance of low moods has helped Eve to handle her symptoms and gain more understanding of her mental health.
It’s important to note here that this is the experience of one person. How one person feels and copes with a low mood might be completely different to another’s experience.
*Eve is a pseudonym
Weathering the Storm – Eve’s experience:
Numb, empty, and vacant. That’s how I feel most days. And heavy. Like I’m carrying the biggest backpack full of bricks.
When you talk about low mood, most people expect you to be curled up crying on the sofa, or spending each day in your pyjamas unable to communicate with others. And yes, some of my days are spent like that – spending all day crying, cancelling plans, not sleeping at all or sleeping too much, and distracting myself with unhelpful habits just to avoid feeling anything.
But, actually, most days I’m functioning pretty normally – I get up, I go to work, and I do normal things.
In some ways, carrying on as normal adds to the low mood, because I might look and act okay, but inside, this huge black cloud is overwhelming me. It makes me feel isolated from others. How I come across is such a contrast to how I actually feel, which makes me feel disconnected and distant.
The most frustrating part of it all is that I have no idea why I always have this overarching low mood. It’s not like anything has gone particularly wrong in my life recently, but I just can’t “snap out of it”. As a chronic perfectionist and someone who is often naively optimistic, when I have a period of low mood, I get so frustrated at myself that I’m not making the most of life and being as good as I can be.
I’ve been through tough times and have always been resilient. So, the fact that there doesn’t seem to be a reason for my low moods at this point in my life is deflating.
It’s hard for my family and friends too – they want to help, and they try to understand it, but it’s difficult to put into words. Plus, I still have good days and spend time with my family; I just don’t necessarily feel as bubbly or as full of energy as I once did, but I don’t let them see that. So it’s hard for them to understand how my mental health actually impacts me.
Which brings me to that numbness and emptiness. I prefer not to think or even try to make myself feel better, because I don’t want to feel anything. It’s too much. When I first started experiencing low mood, it was exhausting. A constant battle of trying to resist it. I spent hours trying to find a fix for the way I was feeling, but it just led me to a cycle of overthinking and mental exhaustion. From this, I would become numb and empty, trying to avoid even thinking so that I don’t have to feel anything. It was too much.
This cycle happens again and again, and it gets to the point where the problem is so big, I don’t even know where to start.
I’ve learnt that this pattern really doesn’t help me in any way. For some people with low mood, it’s about going to that trusty support tactic like journalling or meditation, or it’s about confiding in someone.
For me, I’ve learnt in the past few years that it’s about complete and utter acceptance. The sooner I accept that I am heading into a downward spiral of overthinking and low mood, the quicker I can get out of it, usually.
Letting it come and go without questioning it requires way less energy than fighting it. And, actually, learning to just accept that it is what it is, my thoughts are just thoughts, and my feelings are temporary, makes the low mood much more manageable. I know that it will end, I know that it’s not abnormal for humans to feel low, and I know that resisting it does nothing helpful for me.
Having bouts of low mood is something that I will always have with me, but that doesn’t mean I can’t have periods of feeling good, too.
It’s not about trying to hide from the big black cloud anymore. It’s about putting on a raincoat, gearing up in wellies, and grabbing an umbrella to weather the storm, knowing that one day soon, the sun will come out, and the seasons will change.
How you cope with low mood depends on your situation, how long you’ve been feeling like this, and how you are experiencing it. Everyone is different, and it’s important to seek professional help if you are struggling, perhaps from a therapist or from your GP. This may help to find you an explanation and discover your own coping mechanisms.
It may feel so hard to put into words how you are feeling. You might feel like nobody else understands you, or that you are alone in this. Connecting with others who are feeling a similar way may provide you with some comfort and help you feel reassured and less isolated.
By Milly Bennett-Day, clinical content writer at Kooth