The Christmas decorations have been packed away, the weather is dismal and many of us are feeling the financial pinch following the festive period. It’s little wonder then that we can feel slightly down here on what's been labelled as the ‘Blue Monday’, here today on the 21st of January.
However, despite these factors contributing to us feeling blue, there are two simple things you can do to improve your mood: Get outside, even if it’s not sunny, or sit by a window if you want to avoid the cold and stay indoors.
Bright light reduces symptoms of seasonal affective disorder
Around 5% of the world’s population is, according to the Lighting Research Center in the US, hit by some sort of depression or seasonal affective disorder (SAD)1, characterized by recurrent depressive episodes in the autumn and winter.
While the cause for feeling blue or depressed is unknown, studies the past 20 years have documented how exposure to bright light significantly effects our wellbeing and can help reduce the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder2. Symptoms of SAD can be increased feeling of depression, reduced interest in all or most activities, increased sleep and irritability, and increased appetite with carbohydrate cravings and consequent weight gain3.
A recent population survey by YouGov, carried out across Europe and North America, also revealed that seven in ten (69%) people believe that daylight influences their mood4.
"It is evident that there’s a general understanding that light and mood are closely intertwined. The big question is however, do people get enough bright light during the day to positively stimulate their mood and wellbeing?" says Peter Foldbjerg, Head of Daylight, Energy and Indoor Climate at The VELUX Group.
A daily walk outside can boost your mood
Other studies points at 1-hour morning walks outdoors as an effective treatment of seasonal affective disorder5. A European study comparing artificial light (with a lux level of >2800) and natural light treatment of a group of people experiencing seasonal affective disorder, unveiled that natural light exposure improved the self-ratings of the persons involved in the study6.
"One simple but little, change of habit can be to sit close by a window during work hours or when at school, as studies suggest that the light level at least corresponds with that of an artificial light therapy box, used to treat winter depression" says Peter Foldbjerg, Head of Daylight, Energy and Indoor Climate at The VELUX Group.
But, while spending time outdoors is a great mood enhancer, the reality is that January days are both cold and dark in many countries, limiting the opportunity to get a natural fix of light. In fact, initial findings from the YouGov survey, also revealed that around one fifth of people (18%) are spending almost all day indoors, between 21 to 24 hours. So how do different countries cope with the lack of light and what do they do to make their day’s that little bit brighter?
Norway – Friluftsliv
The expression literally translates as “open-air living” and describes the Nordic value of spending time outdoors for spiritual and physical wellbeing. Today, the phrase is used to explain anything from lunchtime runs in the forest, to commuting by bike (or on cross-country skis when the snow falls) to joining friends at a lakeside sauna (often followed by a chilly dip in the water) or simply relaxing in a mountain hut.
Sweden – Fika & Lagom
The Swedish custom ‘Fika’ is quite simply taking a tea break. At 10am and 3pm, people head to cafés with friends for lattes and cinnamon buns. It’s not just about a sweet treat, though – Swedes say it’s the socialising and the personal connection that is essential for their wellbeing.
The translation of the Swedish concept of ‘Lagom’ is “enough, sufficient, adequate, just right” and is all about moderation. It advocates living a frugal life with just enough possessions, where everything is functional, and life is in balance. It encourages us to create a happy life by choosing to live a balanced and fruitful existence.
Netherlands - Gezellig
The Dutch ethos of embracing everything cosy and creating a sense of belonging and togetherness, reminds people to slow down, live in the moment and spend time with loved ones in a relaxing environment.
Wherever you are this Blue Monday, why not take inspiration from one of these countries that are used to the darker, colder days? Snuggle down, get cosy and give yourself a much-needed mood boost, for a brighter blue Monday and beyond.
Facts and research sources
1. Norman E. Rosenthal, Lighting Research Center: https://www.lrc.rpi.edu/programs/daylighting/dr_health.asp
2. Wehr et al. (1991). https://www.lrc.rpi.edu/programs/daylighting/dr_health.asp
3. Wirz-Justice et al. ”Natural’ light treatment of seasonal affective disorder” (1995). https://www.lrc.rpi.edu/programs/daylighting/dr_health.asp
4. The YouGov survey, conducted on behalf of The VELUX Group in March and April 2018, asked 16,000 people across Northern European and Northern America (Great Britain, USA, Canada, Denmark, Germany, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Italy, Austria, Switzerland and Spain) if daylight influences their mood.
5. Wirz-Justice et al. ”Natural light treatment of seasonal affective disorder” (1995). https://www.lrc.rpi.edu/programs/daylighting/dr_health.asp
6. Peiser, “Seasonal affective disorder and exercise treatment: a review” (2008), Biological Rhythm Research, Vol. 40, No. 1, February 2009
7. Light therapy: The light level used for treatment in so-called light boxes are around >10 000 lux. The US National Institute of Mental Health: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/seasonal-affective-disorder/index.shtml
8. Typical light levels: 300 lux indoors, >3000 lux indoors next to a window, 10,000-100,000 lux outdoors. (Lux is a SI unit of illuminance, equal to one lumen per square metre).
Research for The Indoor Generation Report was carried out by YouGov on behalf of The VELUX Group in March and April 2018 surveying around 16,000 people across Northern European and Northern America (Great Britain, USA, Canada, Denmark, Germany, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Italy, Austria, Switzerland and Spain).
About The VELUX Group
For more than 75 years, the VELUX Group has created better living environments for people around the world; making the most of daylight and fresh air through the roof. Our product programme includes roof windows and modular skylights, decorative blinds, sun screening products and roller shutters, as well as installation and smart home solutions. These products help to ensure a healthy and sustainable indoor climate, for work and learning, for play and pleasure. We work globally – with sales and manufacturing operations in more than 40 countries and around 11,000 employees worldwide. The VELUX Group is owned by VKR Holding A/S, a limited company wholly owned by non-profit, charitable foundations (THE VELUX FOUNDATIONS) and family. In 2017, VKR Holding had total revenue of EUR 2.5 billion, and THE VELUX FOUNDATIONS donated EUR 170 million in charitable grants. For more, information, visit www.velux.com.