For many of us, the holidays are a time of mixed feelings. Whatever our family situation looks like – whether we’re surrounded by loved ones, celebrating with friends, or in solitude – most of us tend to revisit our feelings about ourselves and our families of origin this time of year.
If we live in the northern hemisphere, nature supports us to spend time indoors, as well, through colder weather and shortened daylight hours. As we know, time spent indoors and in darkness tends to bring out the blue notes.
Paused in our normal routines, we might be eating more, exercising less, suddenly more or less social than we’re accustomed to, as well.
The activity of the holidays leads inevitably towards an afterward time of interiority and pause. Reflection on what has come before, and preparation for what we imagine or hope will come next.
Whether our feelings during the end of the year are positive or painful, it’s a good idea to remember and validate for ourselves that the holidays are a big deal. Even joy, togetherness, connection, and celebration can be a lot to hold. When they’re over, we end up with a lot to process.
What Are Post-Holiday Blues?
There’s a phenomenon called the “post-holiday blues”. Post-holiday blues are temporary feelings that set in after the holidays are over, triggered by returning to normal life and starting a new year after a period of holiday intensity.
Post-holiday blues can include loneliness, sadness, flare-ups of low self-esteem, and a desire to check out of reality. Self-destructive, distracting patterns of behavior can show up. We may realize we’re avoiding our feelings.
These January blues can easily spread to one’s thoughts about the upcoming year, giving us a false expectation of what’s to come based on feeling depleted, let down, or moody now.
If you find yourself with a case of post-holiday “meh” this January, don’t worry. You’re not alone – it’s just the blues. Like all symptoms and struggles, your feelings are knocking at your door, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing.
Times of melancholy are always an invitation to greater self-intimacy – some valuable get-to-know-you time spent with yourself.
What Triggers Post-Holiday Blues?
For some people, post-holiday blues kick in when we start missing the positive feelings associated with the holidays. If you tend to look forward to and enjoy the energy of the holidays, you might simply be feeling disappointed and let down that they’re over.
The inner child, the one inside us who gets excited about celebrations, presents, sweets, magic, and fun, can easily be a source of sadness once the holidays have concluded.
If this is you, the cure lies in connecting with your inner child nature, helping her understand how life works, and that there will be other positive experiences coming soon in the future. Reassurance that it’s perfectly natural and okay with you (speaking to the inner child from the point of view of the inner parent inside you) to feel like this now is sometimes all that’s needed.
On the positive side, the inner child is easily cheered by small pleasures of human life – going for a sloshy walk in rain boots, collecting leaves and pebbles, and getting out into the momentum of life is often enough. Knowing that it’s your inner child who’s sad about the end of a bright time and that all she needs is some cheering up, may be enough to turn the tide.
Love, Guilt, and Frustration: Those Family Feelings
For many of us, the holidays bring up very complicated feelings that we aren’t able to fully process until we’re back in our lives again. Once we have space, time, and enough privacy, the feelings we couldn’t afford to feel in the moment come to us to be felt.
Things like seeing family members who for whatever reason have the effect of making us feel bad about ourselves, re-exposure to triggering family dynamics and old roles, being around alcohol or other drugs, and the pressure and stress to join together as a family unit again without too much friction can create a lot of tension in the body.
Pent-up, suppressed frustrations about even little petty family squabbles can easily turn inward into depression. We start telling ourselves there’s something wrong with us, rather than listening to the small but important voices within who are still feeling angry, hurt, or upset about all the “little things” that happened during the holidays.
If this is you, validate that you have every right to feel anger. As long as you don’t lash out at people, anger is just information and boundaries, it’s not anything bad about you. Women especially often need help knowing anger is normal, and that we are not alone in feeling irritation or even anger when having contact with family members.
If we don’t understand anger, we feel guilty. Anger isn’t the opposite of love, and doesn’t mean we’re bad people. Anger is just information about the edges of ourselves, where we need help having healthy separateness.
We’re all in the same boat ultimately. Everyone feels anger and frustration when needs aren’t met, and when boundaries are crossed, intentionally or unintentionally. Most of us also feel bad about it because we don’t want to hurt our loved ones or make them feel bad either.
If you’re experiencing that guilt-anger-love hangover this season, see if you can be kind to yourself about the fact that you’re angry, and don’t make a negative self-image out of it. Instead, try a “just like me” statement to soothe yourself.
Just like me, people all over the world struggle with loving their families and also needing to have a separate self
Just like me, people all over the world feel angry and guilty around their families sometimes
What Are Some Facts About Individuals Experiencing Post-Holiday Blues?
As a seasonal, time-specific kind of depression, post-holiday blues haven’t been extensively studied, but some studies on the effects of the holidays do exist. One review of holiday-related studies concludes that while the holidays themselves aren’t associated with a change in mental health status for most, the season is followed by a noticeable rise in people experiencing dysphoria, or low moods.
It is also very likely that seasonal affective disorder is at play in the phenomenon as well, at least in the northern hemisphere, as the holidays mark the start of the winter season.
Those who experience post-holiday blues may be able to link them to the after-effects of stress, related to weeks of seasonal shopping, preparation and managing of group gatherings, increased eating and drinking, disruption of normal routines, the impacts of air travel and driving, being a guest or hosting guests, and in general, revisiting family dynamics.
When Are Post-Holiday Blues Considered Serious?
The post-holiday blues are most likely a passing, temporary mood disorder. You can expect that you will regulate and reset your normal mental health status within a few weeks. Your body, emotions, and mind just need some time to process everything that happened, feel the feelings, and make space for the next thing.
On the other hand, for people who already struggle with depression, the post-holiday blues can set off a bout of more serious blues. If you tend towards depression to begin with, it’s important to look out for the possibility of post-holiday blues turning into a more serious episode.
If you have a self-care program that normally helps you stay well in your heart and mind, such as an exercise regime, regular contact with loving friends, and so on, it would be wise to get that program back in place sooner rather than later after the holidays.
For women with a history of addiction, it’s important to take the post-holiday blues more seriously as well, for the simple reason that they can represent a relapse trigger. As women who didn’t feel good in our skins without substances to help us cope, we’re always a little more vulnerable than most to getting sucked back into negative patterning.
Proactively going to meetings, refreshing our commitment to sobriety, and making sure we connect with other people who will understand and accept us for exactly how we feel is key during this time.
Tips for Managing Post-Holiday Blues
1. This, Too, Shall Pass
The post-holiday blues too shall pass. Even if your wholehearted goal was to stay depressed, one day you would still wake up feeling different – a little more lively, awake, curious, and lighthearted. It’s just how we are.
Remember that the animal within you, the child within you, who loves life and wants to find out what happens next, will most likely get you through this phase once you’ve had a chance to feel the feelings and process everything you need to process. It’s a natural thing and you’ll get through it.
2. Stay Connected With People Who Get It
If you can think of anyone in your world who will get what you’re going through and be nice to you about it without encouraging you to stay stuck in victimization, call them and tell them how you’re feeling. Hear their holiday stories as well. If you speak it out (to the right people), you can send your suffering gently on its merry way.
Exercise is nature’s antidepressant. You can’t stay depressed and have a good exercise routine at the same time. If you choose to exercise, the blues will have a hard time sticking around.
4. Go Outside
Go outside every day, no matter what the weather is, and whether you feel like it or not. Just 20 minutes a day walking outside will suffice. If it helps, set a short-term goal that’s easily achieved, like “Every day for 7 days straight, I will walk for 20 minutes in my neighborhood” rather than worrying about it forever. After the first 7 days, you may want to extend but don’t evaluate until you complete the 7 days.
5. Green Time Not Screen Time
If you can, get out in nature. If no nature is accessible, get to the greenest freshest zone you can find. The natural world lifts our spirits, reminds us of our belonging to all of our lives, and restores our liveliness. The beneficial impacts of nature have been documented by studies galore, but also you can just feel it for yourself. This is opposed to screen time, which has documented negative effects on mental health, which you can also feel for yourself.
6. Sleep It Off
Get enough sleep, and if you need it, let yourself sleep in when you can. Do less, and lower the expectations just for now, if you can do that without swinging into too much self-indulgence. Moderation is key, but don’t make war on the body for showing the symptoms of depression. If you need to be soft and slow, find ways to do that comfortably, cozily, and kindly. (This might seem like it runs counter to the exercise recommendation, but it doesn’t. Do both. Get tired through exercise and then rest fully).
7. Stay Away From Social Media
As everyone knows by now, social media makes people feel terrible. Stay off it. Consider something like a social media fast for 12 days straight. As a trade-off, allow other forms of (non-screen time) entertainment, like reading paper books.
May your New Year come with many gifts, dear reader. Sending you all our love for a bright and healthy 2024!