The holidays are a special—and unusual—time of year. For up to two weeks, we take time away from work and daily routines to visit friends, get together with family, observe religious holidays, celebrate the start of a new calendar year and relax (in our spare time).
“According to a recent survey, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reports that approximately 24% of people with a diagnosed mental illness find that the holidays make their condition ‘a lot’ worse and 40% ‘somewhat’ worse.”National Alliance on Mental Illness
The Joys and Challenges of the Holidays
The holidays are often an exciting blend of social activities and a bustle of preparations to travel or receive visitors. It’s a high-energy time.
But it can be tiring. We may be much more socially active than usual, and it might be wearing to stay “up” emotionally for two solid weeks. Holidays may involve difficult family dynamics or remind us of past occasions that weren’t terribly happy. We may indulge in more food and drink more than usual. Since alcohol is a depressant, it can drag us down psychologically while rich food drags us down physically.
The stress and the emotional highs and lows of holidays can also be difficult for those already suffering from depression or who feel disappointed by a holiday that didn’t go as planned or expected. Many had a very different holiday this year because of the disruptions of COVID-19. We had to decide whether travel and get-togethers were worth the risk of exposure and illness. People who chose not to travel may have felt a sting of loss at not seeing loved ones.
The Post-Holiday Letdown
Even if your holidays were joyful and you could participate in family gatherings, parties and activities, you may feel deflated after the decorations come down. As fun as they might be, the holidays are a disruption of normal routine. It’s difficult to get back in the groove of work, schedules and responsibilities.
The holidays can be a demanding time physically, emotionally and financially. According to Investopedia, Americans’ holiday spending has increased every year since 2009. In 2020, we expected to spend almost $1,000 on gifts and holiday expenses. Half of us who weren’t traveling because of COVID expected to spend their travel savings on the holidays. Stress can arrive with the credit card bills.
When we come down off the “adrenaline high” of the holidays, we may feel a letdown. A similar phenomenon happens after sustained efforts, such as a big work deadline or planning a wedding. The abrupt end of the stressor—even a pleasant one—may leave us feeling at loose ends. We’ve lost the focus of our effort or the source of positive emotions. Even the house looks blah after the decorations are put away.
Having to adjust to daily life can be a difficult transition. Feelings of letdown and loss and a sudden return to everyday routine can cause symptoms similar to depression, including:
- Feelings of sadness and/or anxiety
- Fatigue or agitation
- Trouble sleeping or sleeping more than usual
- Changes in appetite with weight gain or loss
- Difficulty concentrating
Symptoms must last two or more weeks to be diagnosed as true depression. Post-holiday blues usually don’t last long. But they can be compounded by seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression that appears with a change of season. Winter-pattern SAD sets in as the days get shorter and eases up as hours of daylight increase in the spring. Because the holidays occur near the shortest day of the year, people vulnerable to SAD may experience a double whammy. Winter-pattern SAD in particular can trigger overeating and stocking up on carbohydrates, as well as social withdrawal. Because SAD lasts longer than the blues—usually for an entire season—there is more risk of true depression.
“Exercise improves mental health by reducing anxiety, depression, and negative mood and by improving self-esteem and cognitive function. Exercise has also been found to alleviate symptoms such as low self-esteem and social withdrawal.”Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry
Managing Your Post-Holiday Blues
First, expect the letdown. It’s normal. If you overindulged in food or drink, get yourself back on track with good diet and exercise. Avoid alcohol when you’re feeling down. Get active outside and soak up a little sunshine, which can help if you’re experiencing symptoms of SAD. Light therapy is the traditional way to treat SAD, but there are risks and side effects with some forms of artificial light therapy. Be sure to talk to your doctor before trying it.
You can try several approaches to help yourself readjust after the holidays:
- Gratitude and awareness – Remember the good times of the holiday, even when you’re feeling down. A gratitude journal can help you refocus on the good things in your life.
- Look to the future – Plan upcoming vacations and days off. Make plans for enjoyable activities with friends and family. Give yourself something to look forward to.
- Rest and recharge – De-stress gently with a little healthy self-indulgence like watching an uplifting movie or picking up that book you’ve been wanting to read.
- Hobbies or projects – Start or continue enjoyable activities. It might be a good time to design the warm-weather patio garden you’ve been thinking about.
- Restore your habitat – After you put the decorations away, clean and spruce up your home so it feels good instead of blah.
- Volunteer – Get out and get involved with others. If you can’t do it physically, look for other ways to contribute. Check on your friends and family. Strive for a healthy focus on something or someone else.
The post-holiday blues may not be terribly pleasant, but they’re part of our transition back to regular life. They’re usually temporary, but if the blues persist or feel particularly intense, don’t hesitate to seek our help. The counselors at Best Day are skilled in helping you assess your situation and get you the treatment you need to live a healthy, balanced life.
How We Can Help You?
Best Day Psychiatry and Counseling is here to help you have a better day and find a better way. We treat a wide range of psychiatric conditions for both children and adults. Contact us today, we’re ready to help: