16 January 2023

How to Keep Positive in Challenging Times - Busting the Blue Monday Myth

This Blue Monday, we caught up with Health and Wellbeing Officer Callum Neil to find out more about the myth behind the ‘Blue Monday’ campaign and how we can all stay positive during challenging times.


Firstly, there is no such thing as ‘Blue Monday’ – the idea that the third Monday in January is the most depressing day of the year is a myth.

This idea was first proposed by Dr Cliff Arnell and then popularised by a 2005 marketing campaign with no scientific evidence to back up its claim.

As we know, feeling ‘blue’, having lower levels of mood, energy and motivation can fluctuate and happen at any time of the year. Yet, when returning to work, post festive holidays with shorter days and longer dark nights (often windy and wet in Edinburgh!), as well as the very real pressures of dealing with the cost of living, work and personal responsibilities, many find it harder than usual to be enthusiastic, positive and energised at this time of year.

Dr Arnall has since debunked his own idea and said that it was never meant to be about how bad things are, rather it was supposed to inspire people to use this time of year positively as an opportunity for new beginnings - setting goals and making changes. 

So, let’s do that instead. Let’s aim to shift our focus from the negative – not ignore it or pretend it doesn’t exist – and instead look to the brighter, more optimistic and positive aspects of our life… because behind the grey clouds you’ll find blue sky and a yellow sun.

There is no one size fits all when it comes to being more positive, improving your mood and motivation. Everyone is different and can approach it in a way that suits them to find out what works best – the only thing is to try!


Below you’ll find some suggestions, tips and tools for you to explore and try out.


Positive thinking

The idea of positive thinking is nothing new nor may it be easy for everyone to tap into. Just like muscles in our body, it requires a bit of a regular workout to be effective and isn’t like a light switch that you can just turn on or off. 

Does it work? Whilst definitions and research are mixed, positive thinking appears to impact both mental and physical health positively. Positive thinking about the ‘self’ and having optimistic thoughts are generally thought to be good for wellbeing. Optimistic thinking tends to help people feel better, have more positive social relationships, and cope better with stress.  However, people who are more ‘naturally’ pessimistic should not try to force positivity or optimism as this can lead to feeling pressured and anxious.  Rather, it may be more helpful to explore whether negative thoughts are functional, useful, and beneficial.


There are three forms of positive thinking:  past, present and future-focused positive thinking. 

Past-focused positive thinking

This involves shifting our past negative thoughts to a more positive perspective which can help us move beyond bad things that happened in the past (e.g. “That job interview went badly, but at least I learned what to do differently next time”).

Present-focused positive thinking

Present-focused positive thinking can help us cope more effectively with our current challenges, decrease our stress, and potentially improve our life satisfaction (e.g. “I’m so lucky to have my friend, Mary, who really cares about me”).

Future-focused positive thinking

Future-focused thinking that is negative or pessimistic may contribute to greater worry or anxiety. Shifting these thoughts to be more positive can help us stay more present and stop generating negative emotions about things that haven’t even happened yet (e.g. “It’s all going to turn out fine”).


Here are some resources to help you learn more about positive thinking and build positive thinking skills.

Reverse the rabbit hole - Those of us with anxiety know that thoughts take on a mind of their own and take us along for the ride. Grab the Reverse the Rabbit Hole worksheet to consider positive outcomes and start derailing this process.

Dysfunctional thought record - Use the Dysfunctional Thought Record Worksheet to help explore negative thought triggers and practice making thoughts more adaptive.

Paying attention to positive events- It’s human nature to pay more attention to the negative than the positive. But if we’re always just focusing on the bad stuff, we never get around to noticing and appreciating the good stuff. Use Skills for Regulating Emotions worksheet to learn about paying attention to the positive in life.

I’m great because… - Sometimes we are self-critical because we just haven’t spent the time to think about what is great about us. Reflecting on our good qualities can make positive thinking easier. Check out our I’m Great Because… worksheet for some prompts.


Physical activity

The benefits of physical exercise to our mental health and wellbeing are well known and the evidence undeniable.

When we exercise, an array of mood enhancing hormones are released, including endorphins, serotonin and dopamine. My advice is to find an activity, exercise or game that you enjoy doing, either by yourself or with others, that you can easily access and can do regularly. 

There are so many different ways to get physically active - walk, jog, cycle, swim, play badminton, tennis, football, and more - whatever it is, get moving to help change and improve your mood, reduce stress and anxiety, and help foster a more positive outlook.


Listen to music - that fits your mood!

Music can have a profound effect upon our emotions and our mood. According to research, people who face mood swings and dismay can uplift their mood by listening to music within two weeks. Their feelings of gloom and sadness can change into happiness after listening to music.

Interestingly, a study also found listening to sad music can also actually help people connect with and feel a sense of sharing negative emotions when expressed through art, which may actually help boost your mood. So, listening to sad music might just lift your mood during or after a long, tough day. 


Gratitude – Start a gratitude journal.

There’s a lot to be grateful for in life, and it’s a powerful tool for mental health to remind yourself of that on a daily basis. 

A gratitude journal is a great way to stay positive every day.  At the end of the day, before going to sleep, take a moment to stop and reflect on three things that you are grateful for. These can be anything, major or minor, that you consider being grateful for - like being thankful you have a bed to go to sleep and wake up in, having toes you can wiggle or arms you can move, fresh air to breathe, or being grateful you have people in your life who love you.

When you wake in the morning, before reaching for the phone, before getting up and pushing on, take a moment again to appreciate three things that you are thankful of, and then read the three things you wrote in your journal the previous evening.

Whatever you want to write and be thankful for is up to you. All that matters is that you’re remembering to feel grateful every day. By retraining your mind to think about the good things in your life, you can develop a more positive outlook. 

Breathe. Let go. And remind yourself that this very moment is the only one you know you have for sure.
Oprah Winfrey
People deal too much with the negative, with what is wrong. Why not try and see positive things, to just touch those things and make them bloom?
Thich Nhat Hanh