The holidays can be a cheerful, festive time of busy schedules, family reunions, and celebrations. As the calendar reads January and the holiday decorations are put back into their boxes, we may feel our mood and energy levels dip and experience feelings of sadness or “post-holiday blues.” Is this common? Why do we feel “blue” once the holiday season comes to a close?
Feelings of sadness or boredom are actually quite common following the end of the holiday season. Why is this? One study found that this syndrome may be caused by social demands, unmet expectations, and biological stressors, like lack of sleep (Baier). The holidays may be one of the few times we are able to visit with our family members or friends who may live far away. The excitement and joy of reuniting with our loved ones can be difficult to replicate after the holiday season. Additionally, we may experience loneliness as we recognize the stark difference in social engagements between December and January. The holiday season is often filled with parties, weekend shopping, enthusiastic planning, and family time. These fun activities and celebrations quickly come to a close as we return to work and resume our daily routine.
Another reason we might experience the post-holiday blues is the difference in schedules and how we perceive how busy we are. Our January calendars seem bare compared to the hustle and bustle of the holiday festivities of November and December. This difference in schedules can contribute to not only loneliness, but also our self-worth and how we perceive ourselves. Sadly, we often link our self-worth or importance to how busy or hectic our schedules are. Lastly, post-holiday blues may be connected to our perception of the holiday season and our expectations. If the holiday season was not as exciting or encouraging as we anticipated, we may be left with feelings of disappointment or regret.
How do we cope with the post-holiday blues?
- Create new traditions.
The period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s is often filled with annual traditions and things we can easily look forward to and anticipate. Why not create new traditions to implement into the first month of January? My friends and I have just started a book club designed to be a special time we can all get together. Planned social gatherings can help combat the loneliness or sadness some may experience post-holidays. Perhaps identify what you miss about the holiday season and focus on incorporating more of those activities in the New Year whether it be family time, good food, or travel.
2. Create New Year’s resolutions.
As the clock strikes midnight, we welcome a brand new year full of possibilities and hopes.
New Year’s resolutions can be a helpful way to accomplish goals and improve your life. If you find yourself feeling down after the holidays, it may be a natural inclination to do things as you’ve always done and remain passive. Unfortunately, this creates a vicious cycle of impassivity and low energy. To end this cycle of low motivation, we must find a way to get moving and change our state from passive to active. It is similar to the idea of inertia: an object at rest will stay at rest, and an object in motion will stay in motion. We can combat the post-holiday blues by taking one little step toward a goal, or resolution.
3. Make time for family.
The holiday season is often a time spent catching up with loved ones, seeing family who may live far, and connecting with others. As the season ends, we may feel isolated as we go back to our daily work routine or our family flies back home. Making time for family or friends is just as important in the New Year as it is during the holiday season. Consider planning a night out with your family in January or connecting with friends over the weekend. These social connections can help combat the post-holiday blues.
4. Practice mindfulness, including non-judgmentalness toward self.
Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukah, and New Years are holidays often known for indulgence and fulfillment in food and drink. Mindfulness is the practice of staying in the present moment with intention and without judgment. It is not helpful to judge or criticize yourself for what you ate during the holiday season. Practice self-compassion and gratitude for your body and mind.
5. Take care of your health.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a mood disorder characterized by symptoms of hopelessness, depression, low energy, and social withdrawal that occur around the same time every year, often during the winter months. SAD has many possible biological causes, including reduced serotonin and melatonin levels. It is important to keep your physical well-being in check during these months. This may include getting the right amount of sleep, eating healthily and not restricting, exercising, and getting enough sunlight. Your physical well-being plays a large role in your mood.
The post-holiday blues are very common due to possible unmet expectations, biological stressors, and societal demands. There are many ways to help acknowledge and manage these feelings of sadness or disappointment. If your “post-holiday blues” linger and become more intense, consider seeking professional help.