Blue Monday might be pseudoscience – but feeling negative at this time of year is real. Here's how meditation can help

Meditation has been found to help with depression and reduces symptoms of anxiety, stress and loneliness

Will Williams
Monday 20 January 2020 13:11
What is Mindfulness?

Blue Monday is the name given to the day in January believed to be the most depressing of the year. It came into use in 2005, and factors such as weather conditions, debt levels and time since Christmas have been put together to explain it. The idea has snowballed ever since.

But there’s a problem. It’s pseudo science. According to Stephen Buckley from the mental health charity Mind, Blue Monday is not only a myth, it trivialises depression by suggesting it is a one-day event.

And of course, he’s right. Depression can happen at any time. However, as Buckley acknowledges – and as we all know from our own experience – there can be many reasons for feeling negative at this time of the year. It’s bitterly cold, the days are short, and after all the gift giving, we’re often short on cash as well. Perhaps that’s why the Blue Monday myth seems believable. This combination of factors can easily produce a lot of stress, anxiety and pessimism.

But there are simple, cheap and highly effective ways to stand strong against this wave of negativity, and first among them is meditation. I teach Beeja meditation, inspired by the Vedic school of meditation. It works at such a profound level for a technique so simple, easy and enjoyable. While rebalancing every system in our body, it can also be an exceptionally powerful healing tool.

The benefits vary depending on what you’re seeking. From improving relationships, to conquering an addiction, or coping with a chronic illness, meditation can help us flow through life and thrive in the modern world.

But don’t just take my word for it. Research has shown that a regular meditation practice – as little as 20 to 30 minutes a day – can be highly effective in addressing feelings of despondency and a useful tool in fighting depression.

It reduces symptoms of anxiety, stress and loneliness by inducing a rise in alpha waves in the brain of the meditator, which then induces a corresponding, and dramatic, fall in levels of the stress hormone, cortisol.

Meditation also balances out the rest of our neurochemistry, which can be knocked out of kilter if, for example, we feel financial strain. The anxiety about money many people feel at this time of year is a response which activates the limbic system — the part of the brain responsible for triggering survival behaviours such as finding food, shelter or resources. By meditating, we can both prevent and treat the disequilibrium in our brain chemistry that comes about as a result.

What’s more, we can use meditation to connect with our deeper sense of self. Surrounded by friends and family over the festive period, we often find that we feel we have to please others — a symptom of low self-esteem. Through a process of self-inquiry and awareness of our thought processes, meditation internalises the feeling of self-actualisation that comes at the top of Abraham Maslow’s famous hierarchy of needs.

We’re better able to live our lives according to our values, and not only does this manifest as greater self-esteem, but as more energy and motivation and clearer thinking. Our self-confidence rises, and our emotions begin to come into balance. We do things for others because we want to be kind — not because we want them to like us. The idea is that we develop self-compassion and self-love, which is a natural prerequisite to being compassionate towards others.

At the same time, the sense of loneliness and isolation that is so prevalent at this time of year, especially among the elderly but, increasingly, among young people as well, can be counteracted by this process of self-connection. After all, without a deep sense of connection with ourselves, we long for connection with others who, in the case of many people experiencing loneliness, are not there.

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When you feel down, it’s difficult to know how you’re going to get out from under life. Even small tasks can seem overwhelming. And that’s partly why meditation is so powerful: it’s empowering. All it requires of us is the initial decision to enact change in our lives and a willingness to sit for as little as 20 minutes a day. Meditation isn’t an instant cure but it can have a quick impact. Eight weeks of mindfulness meditation has been shown to have a dramatic difference on memory, empathy, sense of self and stress.

And that can be all it takes to give us the boost we need to lift ourselves out of the winter gloom and begin another year feeling optimistic about what’s ahead.

Will Williams is the founder of Beeja Meditation and author of The Effortless Mind

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