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Avoid Holiday Blues and Post-Holiday Letdown

The holidays are like no other time of year. During this special season, many of us switch gears mentally and see the world in a different light. Cues and expectations abound that encourage us to get into the holiday spirit of giving, celebrating, socializing, and opening our hearts to a greater awareness of joy and inclusiveness. At this time of year our days are often filled with energizing activity. We bustle around shopping for gifts, decorating our homes, and attending or giving parties.

But not all of us experience this holiday spirit. For those who have few family or friends to share the season with, or who have difficult or conflicted family relationships, the holidays can bring on a sense of being out of synch with the rest of the world. While everyone else is seemingly experiencing peace and joy, you may be feeling down, depressed, and irritable.

Even though it may seem that you are alone in these feelings, you are not alone. A 2012 survey by Think Finance, found that about 45% of Americans would prefer to skip Christmas, if they could.

About Holiday Blues

Feelings of sadness or depression that run counter to the traditions and expectations associated with the holiday season are called holiday blues.

Common causes of holiday blues are:

  • Stress (from over extending ourselves, time pressures, dealing with crowds, trying to create “perfection” in social situations, gift-giving, etc.)
  • Family Conflict (We often have unrealistic expectations that family issues can be set aside at holiday gatherings, but this rarely happens.)
  • Loneliness or grief (For those who have little or no family to celebrate with, or who have experienced the death of a loved one or other significant loss, the juxtaposition of their sadness and emptiness against the joys of the season can cause them to feel their loss even more intensely.)

Post-Holiday Letdown

It is not only during the holidays that sadness or depression can increase. After the holidays, many of us may feel somewhat of a letdown. Common holiday letdown symptoms include:

  • Fatigue (from overextending ourselves, hectic holiday schedules, etc.).
  • Loneliness (from the sudden dip in social contact, fewer get-togethers).
  • Sadness (feelings of loss or emptiness upon the return to “regular” life).
  • Reduced motivation (from the excitement and energy of the holidays that buoyed you up has now disappeared).

The Role of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD):

Another factor in holiday blues and holiday letdown is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), sometimes referred to as the “winter blues.” Lack of sunlight experienced in winter months can lead to reduced chemicals (serotonin, dopamine) in the brain that are associated with positive moods. In addition, many people have a tendency to cut back on exercise and socialization in the winter months, preferring to “hibernate” inside instead. Along with the other signs listed above, SAD may also contribute to the holiday blues or post-holiday letdown.

How to Beat Holiday Blues and Avoid Post-Holiday Letdown

While the potential for experiencing down feelings during the holidays or feeling let down after the holidays is certainly there, by being aware and taking proactive steps to ward off this tendency, you can both enjoy the holidays more and head into the new year with a positive attitude.

During the Holidays…

  • Monitor yourself so that you do not overindulge.  While the season promotes excess in eating, spending, and socializing, you don’t have to follow the cultural norm. Remain consistent in your habits and take the path of moderation in all that you do–eating, socializing, spending, and deferring to the expectations of others.
  • Practice good self-care. Do not let the holidays be an excuse for missing your exercise routine or getting less sleep. With the additional stress and activity of the season, these are more important than ever.
  • Hold onto your recovery mindset. While others may tend to drink or party more during the holidays, if you are in recovery, taking a “timeout” from your program or letting up on your goals and relaxing the strategies that work for you is not in your best interest. Take the long view and remember that while the holidays are here for a brief period, the time and effort required to regain your progress from a slip is much longer and not worth the short-term reprieve from self-discipline.

After the Holidays…

  • Prolong the joy. Extend the positive feelings and uplifting mood of the holiday season by bringing some of the typical holiday experiences into the new year. Break up the winter blahs by planning a party or get-together during the months of January or February. Throw a Super Bowl party or host a Valentine’s event. Planning and preparing for such a social event is half the fun, and since it will not be competing with other activities that crowd the holiday season, you can enjoy making preparations with less stress.
  • Continue the sentiment of gift-giving. Incorporate a “pay-it-forward” attitude into your daily life. Give gifts of time (spend an afternoon with a young relative), assistance (help out an elderly neighbor by plowing snow or shopping for them) or sharing (bring and offer to serve food at a local homeless shelter). Such gifts of self cost nothing and can boost mood and a sense of wellbeing in yourself as well as those who receive your gifts.
  • Reframe your attitude about winter.  Even if you are not a fan of winter, you can choose to view this time of year through a more positive lens. While you may feel more like staying indoors out of the cold, you can still find positive and useful ways to spend your time. Consider working on one or more tasks that you may have been putting off because it was too nice to tackle them in the spring and summer. For example, clean out a garage or closet, or organize those photos that have been stacking up. You will feel a sense of accomplishment and pride when you are done, and this will boost your mood.
  • Capitalize on your inside time to enjoy yourself as well. Have a weekend movie binge; or read a book you’ve been wanting to read. Or bring out your fuzzy boots and warm coat and go outside to do something fun. Go for a walk in fresh falling snow, or set up an ice skating party with some friends. Once you start embracing wintertime activities, you may find that you can enjoy spending time outdoors even when it is cold.

Moving into a New Year

With the right attitude and some proactive planning, you can avoid the holiday blues and post-holiday letdown. You can move into the new year with exuberance rather than reluctance, and this positive perspective will strengthen your commitment to your recovery goals.

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance abuse, take the first step towards a brighter future today. Call to connect with a compassionate admissions navigator today.

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