Is the midwinter weather wearing you down? Are you sinking in debt after the holidays? Angry with yourself for already breaking your New Year's resolutions? Wish you could crawl back under the covers and not have to face another day of rain, sleet, snow and paperwork? Probably. After all, it's Jan. 24, the “most depressing day of the year,” according to a U.K. psychologist.
Dr. Cliff Arnall's calculations show that misery peaks Monday.
Arnall, who specializes in seasonal disorders at the University of Cardiff, Wales, created a formula that takes into account numerous feelings to devise peoples' lowest point.
The model is: [W + (D-d)] x TQ
M x NA
The equation is broken down into seven variables: (W) weather, (D) debt, (d) monthly salary, (T) time since Christmas, (Q) time since failed quit attempt, (M) low motivational levels and (NA) the need to take action.
‘Reality starts to kick in’
Arnall found that, while days technically get longer after Dec. 21, cyclonic weather systems take hold in January, bringing low, dark clouds to Britain. Meanwhile, the majority of people break their healthy resolutions six to seven days into the new year, and even the hangers-on have fallen off the wagon, torn off the nicotine patches and eaten the fridge empty by the third week. Any residual dregs of holiday cheer and family fun have kicked the bucket by Jan. 24.
“Following the initial thrill of New Year's celebrations and changing over a new leaf, reality starts to sink in,” Arnall said. “The realization coincides with the dark clouds rolling in and the obligation to pay off Christmas credit card bills.”
The formula was devised to help a travel company “analyze when people book holidays and holiday trends,” said Alex Kennedy, spokesperson for Porter Novelli, a London-based PR agency.
It seems that people are most likely to buy a ticket to paradise when they feel like hell.
“People feel bleak when they have nothing planned, but once they book a holiday they have a goal, they work toward having time off and a relaxing period,” Kennedy said.
“When you imagine yourself on the beach it makes you feel positive. You will save money, go to the gym and come back to the optimism you had at the end of 2004,” she said.
In U.K., up to a third get SAD
Research shows an escape to the sun can have real health benefits.
Up to a third of the population, in Britain at least, suffers from seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, also known as winter depression, according to MIND, a leading mental health charity in England and Wales. Furthermore, nine out of 10 people report sleeping and eating more during the darker months.
While most cases of the winter blues are not severe, 2 percent to 5 percent of those with SAD cannot function without continuous treatment.
However, it's extremely rare to find anyone with the disorder within 30 degrees of the equator, where days are long and the sky is bright year-round, according to MIND.
Although their findings appear to support a key factor in Arnall's research for Porter Novelli and its client, Sky Travel, the charity warned against overemphasizing the psychologist's claims.
“These types of formulae, if anything, probably serve to oversimplify the complexities of real-life experience,” a spokesperson said on customary condition of anonymity.
Others in the medical field were less skeptical.
“I’m sure it's right,” said Dr. Alan Cohen, spokesperson for the Royal College of General Practitioners, referring to Arnall's equation.
However, “it is postulated that there are a number of different causes of depression,” he said.
“It may be something about one’s personality, genes or external events. For those who suffer from external events, [Jan. 24] would be the most depressing day,” Cohen said.
While travel companies hope to turn gloom into gold this date, for those unable to book a last-minute tropical getaway, Arnall might want to consider a formula for the “happiest day of the year.”