Blue Monday: the day of reckoning

Unhappily married? Sick of your job? Or just suffering the winter blues? Yesterday was the day the nation faced up to its problems. By Jerome Taylor and Jonathan Brown
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Get divorced

On the 14th day of Christmas my true love gave to me ... divorce papers. If you didn't spend yesterday booking a holiday or looking for a new job there's a fair chance you may have booked an appointment with your divorce lawyer. Over the past decade, the period after Christmas has become the most likely time for couples to seek a marital split; many divorce lawyers said yesterday was their busiest day of the year. Vanessa Lloydplatt, a divorce specialist in London, said: "It's been absolutely manic; we've been completely inundated with enquiries and bookings. I really felt as if we were competing with the sales. The ratio has been approximately 3:1 women to men." More than 1.8 million couples will have contemplated divorce over Christmas, the Family Mediation Helpline said. The counselling specialists Relate say calls are up by 50 per cent, and increase a further 60 per cent for the first few weeks of January.

Throw a sickie

If the extended Christmas break seemed to drag on for ever, spare a thought for those for whom it wasn't enough and who still couldn't face going back to work. It is estimated that 21 million working days are lost each year to people pulling sickies. The most popular duvet days remain Mondays with 70 per cent of respondents to a recent CBI survey admitting to taking a day off to extend a weekend or a holiday. And if that wasn't depressing enough, it seems that shirking colleagues are costing the economy £1.6bn a year, with 12 per cent of all lost working days now thought to be due to fake illness and rising. Which means that everyone else has got to work that little bit harder each year to make up for it ... unless you decide to throw a sickie yourself.

Beat the booze

After what seems like weeks pickled in booze, referrals for alcohol-related problems soar 40 per cent in the first weeks of the year. It is estimated there are eight million problem drinkers in the UK, of whom 1.1 million are physically dependent on alcohol. "This is totally the time of the year people pick up the phone and try to sort their problem out. They may feel they have overdone it in recent weeks or it may be a spouse telling them they have had enough," said Don Shenker of Alcohol Concern. The first step for most people wrestling with the demon drink is to contact their GP or a specialist helpline. The worst sufferers may need in-patient treatment or medication to help their nervous systems cope with the sudden absence of alcohol. Drinkers wanting to cut down should start an alcohol diary to see where and when they consume too much.

Ring the samaritans

Officially, 21 January is the most depressing day of the year a time when New Year's resolutions have failed and the true cost of Christmas comes home to roost. But the first Monday in January runs it a miserable second. The Samaritans expected to handle nearly 9,000 calls yesterday many from people feeling suicidal. Scotland remains the suicide capital of the UK with a self-inflicted death rate of 30 per 100,000 head of population nearly twice the rate in England. Men are nearly three times as likely as women to kill themselves. Kate Redway of the Samaritans said: "We get calls from people about absolutely everything bereavement, relationship breakdowns, exams, financial pressures. What we see in the new year is so many people still trying to recover from the excess. It can be a massive anti-climax after the last week and so many people who have been with family and friends now find themselves backon their own."

Go on holiday

The credit crunch may be on and we may have maxed out our overdrafts but travel companies refer to yesterday as "H-Day", the most popular day of the year to book a vacation. The holiday season may be over but that doesn't stop travel-obsessed Britain dusting off the credit card once more to book a holiday overseas. Every year, 35 million of us go on holiday abroad and an astonishing half a million of those bookings were made yesterday alone, according to Association of British Travel Agents (Abta) and the Home Office. The chief executive of Abta Mark Tanzer said: "Booking a holiday is a great way of beating the post-Christmas blues which is why we find January to be such a busy time for our travel agents." Industry analysts say the credit crunch has yet to have a noticeable effect on the tourism industry because Britons are far more likely to cut down on big ticket items and luxury consumer goods than on their beloved holidays. Travel agents also believe that the appallingly wet summer last year will encourage more of us to head abroad and swap the UK's unpredictable climate for guaranteed sunshine.

Retreats

The Christmas adverts that appear in October, the buy-buy-buy mentality, the 5am Boxing Day sale queues and the cat-fights over those discounted handbags mean more people want to escape the commercialised trappings of the festive season and seek spiritual enlightenment. The Retreat Association's executive officer Paddy Lane, said: "At this time of year people realise how much time, money and effort they have put into the festive season, and a feeling of disillusionment and disappointment sets in. We get many people telling us they cannot face having to organise another Christmas and that they want to go on a retreat next year."

Find a new job

Our first day back in the workplace after the Christmas period also appears to be the most popular day of the year to look for a new job. After spending much of the past two weeks moaning to friends and loved ones about how much we hate our jobs, many of us put words into action and spend our first day back trawling recruitment websites and job agencies desperately looking for a way to jump ship. According to a survey by the recruitment firm Jobsite.co.uk, two out of five people start looking for new employment in January and the vast majority started yesterday. Keith Potts, chief executive of Jobsite.co.uk, said: "With time off over Christmas to reflect on your current job situation it's perhaps unsurprising that the first Monday back in the office sends most people looking for something more fulfilling." For those currently out of work, this week is also the most popular time of year to start looking to get back into the workplace.

See your doctor

With vomiting and diarrhoea cutting a swath through the population, GPs came to work yesterday to queues of patients beating a path to their door. Yet with more than one million people thought to have visited the doctor yesterday and a further 20,000 ringing NHS Direct, it was merely business as usual. When surgeries were closed over Christmas, the number of patients using the helpline peaked on Boxing Day with 30,000 ringing up for advice. During the 11-day break, staff fielded some 270,000 calls 5 per cent of which were linked to the winter vomiting bug, nearly twice as many as last year. GPs are expected to handle nearly 290 million consultancies in 2008 though a spokeswoman for the British Medical Association said demand to see a doctor remained constant throughout the year though there were "pressure points" in the system. "Mondays are often busy because people will have been storing up their problems over the weekend," she said.

Have cosmetic surgery

With bellies bulging and faces haggard from festive excess, perhaps the post-Christmas period is rapidly emerging as one of the busiest times for a spot of nip and tuck. Britons are expected to spend more than 1bn on cosmetic surgery and treatments this year with more than 577,000 procedures carried out in the UK and some procedures increasing at the rate of 150 per cent. In the recent past, the bulk of those operations were timed to get people looking their best in their summer swimsuit. But the growing pressure in the workplace and the increased number of men wanting to look younger has led to a January spike in demand. Surgeon Simon Withey of the British Association of Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons, said: "There is a peak over the Christmas and New Year period among people who are too busy to fit it in at other times of the year and can't get away from work easily."

Give up smoking

One-and-a-half million people will be trying to quit the weed this year all will be facing an uphill struggle. Just 3 per cent of those who try to tough it out with willpower alone go on to succeed. Using a prescribed nicotine replacement therapy plus counselling will increase your chances fourfold. But with such low success rates, January remains the busiest time of year for the Quitline, the national helpline for smokers who want to give up. According to Glyn Macintosh, most quitters fail within the first four weeks and many may be on their fourth attempt. "When people get withdrawal symptoms they need to remind themselves of what they want to give up for for their health or for their children." The good news is 12 million Britons have already kicked the habit and many didn't experience any withdrawal symptoms at all.

Sort out your debts

The orgy of yuletide spending has left Britons with one of the most serious debt hangovers in years. The Consumer Credit Counselling Service has been fielding 1,000 calls a day from those living with the consequences of overspending. Those seeking help will typically owe 30,000 to 11 different creditors. Nearly half of that is in the form of personal loans and the rest money borrowed on credit cards. But if this week feels bad, wait a few weeks, warned Frances Walker. "We expect this week to be really busy but it is towards the end of January and the beginning of February that the number of calls really goes up."

Go on a diet

After yet another over-indulgent Christmas, that stretched waistline needs to be taken care of in the new year. This period is a bonanza for gyms and health food companies January and February are their busiest periods. Steve Dick, head of sales and memberships at Virgin Active gyms, says: "On average, people see a 5lb weight gain over the sedentary Christmas period and a common New Year's resolution is to get fit and lose weight. Therefore, membership uptake is increased in January and February after the Christmas period." WeightWatchers says the number of people signing on to its weight loss programmes is 30 per cent up on this time last year. WeightWatcher's marketing director Lindsay Reisser-Weston says: "We expect to sell in the region of 1.2 million chilled ready meals in January versus 800,000 packs for a normal month."

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