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Monday, Bluesday ..

The most depressing time of year is almost upon us, but you can avoid the post-holiday slump. Hannah Frankel reports.

Brace yourself people: we are fast approaching the dreaded "Blue Monday" - officially the most depressing day of the year. The date typically falls on the Monday of the last full week of January, making January 21 this year's fateful day.

Dr Cliff Arnall, then a part-time tutor at the University of Cardiff, was presumably having a slow day at work when he calculated the date in 2004. His formula takes into account the cold weather; debt accumulated over the festive season; time elapsed since Christmas and since new year's resolutions have been made and broken; low motivational levels and a need to take action of some kind.

Claire Duncan from the Samaritans confirms that January can be a difficult time. "Some of our branches experience more calls near the end of this month, especially from people who are feeling down because of increasing financial burdens after Christmas."

It is worth remembering that all debts are solvable, says Martin Lewis, who runs the moneysavingexpert.com website. "Once you are feeling ready, there are some great non-profit debt counselling agencies that can guide you step-by-step through your problems and suggest possible solutions," he says.

Free advice services include the Consumer Credit Counselling Service (CCCS) and the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB), which reports a surge in new debt inquiries after Christmas. It is already recommending that people who overdid it last year learn from their mistakes and start saving now for this December. The main problems the CAB came across last year were with arrears on loans and hire purchases, catalogue and mail order debts, credit card debts and overdrafts, as well as people looking for information on bankruptcy.

"If the festive period has left you with debt you feel you can't manage, taking control of the situation as soon as you can will help reduce stress levels in the long term," says Julia Lamb from Mind, the mental health charity. It is concerned that as Britain's debt levels increase, more people may suffer from serious mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, self-harm and suicidal thoughts.

Mind has responded by producing a series of booklets on debt and mental health, visit www.mind.org.ukInformationBooklets, while the CAB also suggests ways to avoid the so-called "Christmas debt hangover" at www.citizensadvice.org.uk.

It's not just mental health that can take a nosedive at this time of year; so can road safety. Research from Privilege Insurance shows that January, complete with its shorter days, a lack of money and the return to work, can cause drivers to become lethargic. Overtiredness, irritability and loss of concentration are not ideal for driving, so teachers who drive into work should make an effort to be happy on Blue Monday and beyond.

BOUNCE BACK

Exercise: It will get your heart pumping and can be a more effective anti-depressant than prescribed drugs.

Diet: Replace sweets and chocolates with carbohydrates, fresh vegetables and oily fish to combat lethargy.

Get planning: Book a holiday, pursue an interest or plan a treat - anything that you will look forward to.

Sleep: Try to get eight hours a night and avoid caffeine or alcohol before bed.

Natural daylight: Walk to work or eat your lunch outside to boost serotonin levels.

Spring clean: De-cluttering your life will give you a sense of well-being.

Resolutions: Teaming up with others who share your goals will help keep you motivated.

Visit www.cccs.co.uk or www.samaritans.org.

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