Today is apparently Blue Monday, the so-called most depressing day of the year. It began life as a marketing ploy, an effective one at that, given the amount of coverage it usually gets. The idea is that, in the UK at least, people are most depressed on the third Monday in January due to a combination of factors – being back at work after xmas, having no money [pay day is more than a week away], the weather, the fact it’s dark a lot of the time, etc, etc.
I’ve had a load of press releases about it in the last week, mainly about stress at work. This follows Mental Health Awareness Day/Week, Stress Awareness Day/Week, etc. These are generally set up to, as it says on the packet, raise awareness about mental health, at work and at home.
Clearly, mental health is a huge issue and one which we should be more aware of. But awareness alone is only the start. A vast industry has grown up around mental health in the last years with all sorts of products and ‘fixes’ being marketed at people. I’m sure good nutrition, exercise, mindfulness and all the rest make a difference to people coping with the multiple stresses that life throws at them.
But surely the main one when it comes to work is workload and having to cram too much into any given day. No amount of drinking ‘natural’ smoothies is going to help much if your workload is unmanageable and continues to be so.
The problem is that every day is a mountain to climb for many people these days and then having climbed it they have minimal time to recover before they have to do it all over again. The pace of life is so fast and the expectations so great that it is hard to keep up.
The weekend, if you’re lucky enough to have it, offers a breathing space, but if you have kids it is very temporary or non-existent. You have to cram all the stuff you need to do into Saturday and Sundays are mainly reserved for getting ready for Monday and often that means working as well as all the other stuff like ironing, getting the kids’ homework done, doing school admin, working out who is picking up the kids on any given day etc.
So how do you get through it all?
The only way, I think, is to work on the things you can control. That may or may not involve changing jobs or careers; it may or may not involve negotiating with managers about workloads [and making a positive case for tasks being streamlined] or about flexible working [particularly if working flexibly could save you much needed time and energy spent on commuting]; it may involve having regular duvet weekends where you have no deadlines, no rush, etc – there’s a lot to be said for pottering; it may involve regular time set aside for having a laugh with friends or something else you can look forward to; it may involve having a hobby on the side, if you have the time and energy, which can offset the stresses of the week; it may involve clubbing together with a friend to do the school pick-up so you don’t have to do it every day; whatever might make your life easier.
Life often goes by so fast that you have little time to think about anything much except getting to the next thing, and potentially doing all manner of other chores en route to that thing, to save time. Small changes can sometimes make more difference than you think, though. Of course, bigger, infrastructural ones like affordable breakfast and after school clubs, would make a bigger difference, but in the darkness of January, with another whole year ahead of who knows what, it’s good to regroup and think about what you can do to keep putting one foot in front of the other.