Keeping Your Spirits Up When the Holidays End
Medically reviewed by Karin Gepp, PsyD — By Cathy Cassata
When the holidays pass, you might feel a wave of sadness taking over. But it can be reassuring to know that there are ways to cope.
For some, the hype of the holidays can bring excitement, joy, and a sense of nostalgia. For others, the holiday season can bring up past trauma, estranged relationships, and feelings of loneliness.
No matter where your feelings fall regarding the holidays, it’s possible to feel sadness or post-holiday blues after the holidays pass.
What are the post-holiday blues?
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) describes the holiday blues as feelings of anxiety and stress that come up around the holidays and may be due to unrealistic expectations or memories connected to the holiday season.
In a 2015 survey, 64% of people report experiencing the post-holiday blues.
Gina Moffa, a licensed clinical social worker and psychotherapist based in New York City, says post-holiday blues are temporary and encompass a series of emotions that occur after the emotional whirlwind of the holidays is over.
“This can be akin to feeling sad, anxious, or depressed with the characteristics of seasonal affective disorder,” Moffa says. “Your sleep may be affected, energy levels, and even your ability to concentrate, because after all, the holidays also give us a break from our everyday life and work monotony.”
After the holidays, going back to the day-to-day routine can feel distressing and anxiety-provoking, she adds.
What causes post-holiday blues?
There are many reasons you might experience the holiday blues. Some of them include:
Time of year
Given that Daylight Saving Time falls closely before Thanksgiving, turning the clocks back 1 hour can have effects on the body. It may take time for you to adjust to the time change.
Drinking alcohol is often part of holiday celebrations, and alcohol has been shown to contribute to symptoms of depression.
Indulging in your favorite foods and desserts are often part of holiday gatherings. However, a 2019 study shows that eating unhealthily can leave you feeling down.
Turning down parties and outings during the holiday season can feel like you‘re being a grinch, but overextending yourself by saying “yes” to everything can feel stressful and overwhelming.
Lack of sleep
Whether from busyness, the stress of paying for gifts and activities, or excitement from festivities, the holidays can mess with your sleep.
Financial strain and more
Also, the following can cause holiday blues:
- financial trouble
- current events
- grief over death of a loved one or loss of a relationship
Can you prevent holiday blues?
Some people might feel relief after the holidays pass because they have more time, energy, fewer emotional triggers, and less need to spend money, Moffa says. But for others, not having anything to look forward to other than a long, cold winter can cause sadness.
“The key to preventing the post-holiday blues is knowing that you get them,” she adds. “Prevention is about understanding our seasonal rhythms and working with them, leaning into them, and then finding a way to work with them instead of fighting the feelings when they arise.”
As you prepare for the holidays, she suggests:
- planning down time to read a book or watch a movie you’ve been wanting to see
- arranging a small family weekend away
- reorganizing how you spend your weeknights after work, so they include things you enjoy doing
“No matter what you decide, planning ahead is key in working with the post-holiday blues,” Moffa says.
Coping with post-holiday blues is like coping with anxiety, says Moffa.
Some ideas to help you cope might include:
Engage in self-care
Moffa says consider prioritizing daily needs that make you feel good. She suggests trying these tips:
- getting the proper amount of sleep
- drinking enough water
- creating or maintaining strong boundaries as needed
- connecting with nourishing people around you
- embracing moments of solitude and quiet
- moving your body
- not doing more than your energy level allows
Stick to a routine
Try to wake up and go to bed at the same time, as well as eat meals around designated times. Keeping to an exercise regime daily can also bring structure to your day.
Turn down invites
Approach RSVPing to invitations as opportunities to engage in something you enjoy rather than something you‘re obligated to do. This might mean learning when to say no.
Set a budget
Before the holidays approach, try creating a budget for gifts and activities. This way you can decide where you want to spend your money, and where you need to cut back.
If it helps with sticker shock, consider buying gifts throughout the year rather than in 1 or 2 months.
Know the feelings will pass
Although it might feel as if your blues won’t go away, Moffa says accepting and knowing you may feel the post-holiday blues, preparing for the feelings and experiences that may come up for you, and taking extra special care of your physical and emotional health is the best course of action.
“Remember that you’re not alone,” she says. “The holidays are a recipe for complicated emotions. Understanding how they will affect you is the way through.”