Blue Monday isn’t a real thing. It was just a light-hearted formula conceptualised in 2005 to predict the gloomiest day of the year, and has since been criticised by the MIND charity for being a marketing ploy. However, Seasonal Affective Disorder has been proven scientifically, considered to be triggered by the wintry days and lack of sun. Also, it has been shown that ‘January blues’ affect a large majority of the population as we get back to work and normal routine after the holidays, and there is pressure to achieve our new year resolutions.
Whether Blue Monday is real or not, if you’re feeling the effects of dark mornings and evenings, cold weather and the ‘January Blues’, the feelings will be very real for you.
There are ways in which you can make the Blue Monday brighter.
Creativity is one such way in which we can create a happier, and a more fulfilled life. It is a form of mindfulness, as engaging in some form of creative activity creates focus, a state of ‘flow’ which is a complete immersive-ness in an activity, and results in a state of clarity, and a sense of serenity. A recent research study also showed that creativity creates happiness and a higher positive effect. The study also found out that the participants were more energetic the day after having carried out a creative activity, and it was like a domino effect, inspiring more creativity.
Not just making art, but researcher and art historian Jonathan Fineberg also discusses the evolutionary and neurological benefits of looking at art in his latest book ‘Modern Art at the Border of Mind and Brain’. Fineberg discusses that engaging with art can increase the plasticity and connectivity in our brain. The Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Cultural Value Report states ‘there is clear evidence of an association between arts and culture participation and self-reported subjective wellbeing even when social, economic and lifestyle factors are taken into account’. Although engagement with visual art even as a viewer can help sense of well-being, research has also shown that this can be massively enhanced by active engagement.
So, you can create a brighter blue Monday for yourself by engaging in some creative self-care. Self-care is all about making yourself a priority and doing whatever you need to do to be happy and healthy. There’s no right or wrong way to practice self care, but it is essential for surviving winter blues, lifting your mood and investing in your mental wellbeing. However, we feel guilty to take any time out for self-care. I know, I do.
At The Art Tiffin, we advocate the use of creativity to counter the stresses of everyday life, and to make creativity a habit. No one is born un-creative, and creativity is certainly something that can be developed with just 5-10 mins of me-time everyday. We are so surrounded by technology that we do not have time to what is going on inside our heads, to have that serendipitous moment where suddenly a brilliant idea pops up.
Ester Buchholz, a psychologist, psychoanalyst and author of 'The Call of Solitude', emphasised the need for some alone time to let our thoughts wander, to figure things out, and to arrive at innovative solutions. Artists and writers such as Bergman and Hemingway have waxed lyrical about the need for this time where you can confront your emotions head on, grapple alone with the feelings and thoughts, live with them without being able to ignore them to create something beautiful and original. Einstein talked about long walks where he could listen to what was going on inside his head, Kafka about sitting still and letting the world unfurl itself at your feet, and Picasso stressed that without loneliness, no serious work is ever possible.
Being alone doesn’t mean being lonely. Instead it is about putting technology away, engaging with the world around us directly and seeing it with fresh eyes, and doing something tactile and creative with our hands. It is giving ourselves the freedom to daydream. Join a creativity challenge to guide you through some simple creativity exercises or find some artistic inspiration to create some time for yourself this Blue Monday.
Here are five ways in which you can improve your mental well-being around this time of the year.
1. Go on an Artist Date with yourself: Artist Julia Cameron advocates going on an artist date with yourself. It doesn’t have to be anything planned. It is just doing things that interest you, going and sketching in your favourite spot, or just looking at the latest art exhibition and being inspired by it.
2. Find Inspiration in Nature: Go outside and find something from nature that inspires you. It might be a sound, texture, pattern or a feeling you get from being outdoors. Take a sketchbook or camera with you to capture it, or just enjoy being mindful in the moment and drawing inspiration from our surroundings. The act of trying to find something inspiring will help you focus your mind and notice the little details that we often miss in the hustle and bustle of daily life. Plus fresh air is always a good thing!
3. Be a Narcissist: Draw a self portrait which celebrates the things you love about yourself. You can draw yourself surrounded by your favourite things, or write out things that you like about yourself, and create some positivity. It is a really powerful exercise to re-connect with your inner self. You can also create a past, present and future portrait.
4. Draw unintentionally: Sometimes when I am feeling anxious or overwhelmed, it helps to just take a crayon or pastel, close my eyes, and starting moving it on a blank piece of paper. Try and not let your thoughts control this movement. One way around this is to use your non-dominant hand, or close your eyes, because then we are not focussing on creating perfection, but letting ourselves express our anxieties on paper.
Everyone is creative. If you can hold a pen (or even not!) you can draw. It is about letting go of the fear. Drawing can help immensely in calming down, and repetitive motions can help too.
Make simple lines across the page, in any direction that you like. I find this exercise really helpful when I want to draw but feel uninspired, unfocused, or overwhelmed. Watch the lines appear across the page. Give yourself permission to draw as fast or slow as you like. You will find that even if you start quite erratically, after a few minutes your breathing slows down, and you can think straight again. I find this very grounding. Let me know if this is working for you.
5. Draw your feelings: Sketch the shape of how you’re feeling. Trust me. Patterns will emerge. This is a good exercise to reflect and be aware of your own emotions. Think about what certain colours make your feel. And, just paint spontaneously without thinking about what you are creating. Paint something abstract, but let the feelings drive it. Dabbing paint can be very therapeutic too. Painting with your fingers let you play like a child, and the tactile expression helps in keeping our emotions grounded.
Art and creativity is a great way to express the worries in a non-verbal manner. Why not try this today and let me know how you get on?
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