The packages are all open, the cookies are all eaten, the stockings are gone from the mantel and the ornaments have been packed away for another year. Collectively, we’ve moved onto the new year, and that’s supposed to bring peace and a sense of renewal.
So why do you feel so lousy?
It just might be the post-holiday blues. Similar to any other kind of depression, the post-holiday blues can leave you feeling exhausted, uninspired, out-of-sorts and anxious.
Because this particular “blue mood” arrives right at the start of the new year when we’re supposed to be focused on making goals, keeping our resolutions and working toward a better year than the last, it’s hard for a lot of people to admit that they’re down — yet it’s a surprisingly common phenomenon.
What Causes Post-Holiday Depression?
Here’s an interesting fact: 64% of Americans report that they end up feeling blue during the winter holidays. Social, financial and physical pressures alike tend to combine during the winter holidays to stress everyone out.
All those rough feelings, however, tend to be offset by the distractions and demands of the season. There’s no time to be depressed when you have cookies to bake, presents to buy, decorations to put up and parties to attend.
Then, suddenly, everything comes to a crashing halt. A day or two after the champagne glasses are set back down on Jan. 1, we head back to the dreary routine of our classrooms, jobs and homes. The adrenaline drop is tremendous, making it hard for our minds and bodies to handle even the mundane struggles of daily life. (People experience the same problems right after a long vacation.)
So how do you snap out of the post-holiday blues? We’ve got a few suggestions:
1. Accept that this is totally, completely, 100% normal.
If you’re mentally beating yourself up for feeling down, you’re not doing yourself any favors. Stop the internal lectures you’re giving yourself about being grateful and happy for everything you have. Recognize that your brain is trying to reset itself after a period of unusual activity, so your struggle is real — and it isn’t a moral failing.
Even better: Use this time to look carefully at your regular routine to see what bothers you the most about it — and what you can change. Reactive depression can be a gift if we use it as a tool to recognize that something about our lives is making us unhappy.
2. Give yourself something new and exciting to focus on.
Challenge yourself to make some positive changes to your life. If you haven’t already made some New Year’s resolutions or set some goals, grab a pen and some paper and get started.
If you could wave a magic wand and change your entire life, what would be different? Is it time to learn a new skill that you can leverage into a better career? Is it time to repaint the bedroom? Do you want to lose weight, start exercising more or build your savings account?
During the holiday season, everything we did had a goal in mind. After the holidays, the lack of a clear destination can leave us feeling lost and directionless — and that’s depressing. Make a few (reasonable) goals for the future and set some milestones you can use to mark your progress as you go. That can give you a renewed sense of purpose in life that will help overcome the ennui and lethargy you’re feeling right now.
3. Give your body a little extra attention.
Self-care is always important, but you need to be extra-gentle with yourself when you’re feeling low. All that holiday sugar and the adrenaline rush that comes from constantly being on the go can take a serious toll on your physical well-being. The physical malaise you’re feeling may be more than just depression.
Give yourself permission to go to bed a little earlier. Drink more water. Take a walk outside so that you can reconnect to the earth and get a little natural sunlight. Get a new haircut or a manicure. Cut back on the artificial stimulants (including that caffeine you’ve been chugging down every day for the last month).
Doing a few small things for yourself can give you a much-needed respite from the humdrum of work, errands and chores, and help you physically adjust to the post-holiday hormonal changes your body is experiencing.
4. Plan an outing or some other kind of social event with your family or friends.
One of the things we enjoy the most about the holiday season is that we get a chance to slow down and reconnect with our family and friends after a busy year. Once the holidays have passed, however, there’s a vague sense of longing for more. Loneliness can set it.
It doesn’t have to be that way. The holiday season gives us set times we’re expected to gather with our loved ones, but there’s no reason you can’t be “that person” that organizes family events and get-togethers with friends throughout the year.
If you miss your siblings or parents, schedule a lunch date for the weekend for the whole brood. If you wish you could see your friends more, set up a Zoom date where you all watch a movie together in the sanctity of your own homes. Gatherings don’t have to be elaborate (or full of cookies) to positively affect our emotions.
There’s no magic trick when it comes to beating the post-holiday blues. There’s no perfect prescription that will guarantee a happy new year. You can, however, take charge of your emotional state and find ways to balance out the “blahs” that have you in their grip.