The festive season often evokes positive emotions, related to having more days off, meeting our loved ones and relatives, pre-Christmas shopping, as well as the overall atmosphere of lights, decorations and abundant delicious food. However, once the holidays are over, these sentiments can take a turn, leading to a sudden drop in mood and we may start feeling depressed, tired or unhappy.
Meaning of Post-Holiday Blues:
Post-holiday blues or post-holiday depression is commonly known as the period after the end of the Christmas and New Year’s celebrations, which is characterized by an increased feeling of melancholy, lethargy, negative mood, sadness and demotivation. It’s essential to clarify that the term “depression” here does not denote a clinical condition but is rather used as a noun for the condition described above. But why does this occur? Why do we feel like this? There is a good explanation of this phenomenon.
Factors Influencing Post-Holiday Blues:
Now that we have defined post-holiday depression as distinct from clinical depression, let’s explore why it occurs. What are the so-called risk factors that can contribute to its onset and worsen our mood in January? Here are some of them:
- End of the holiday season and the days off: The events during the holidays, along with the extended break from work commitments, have an impact on our bodies by releasing more “happiness hormones” such as adrenaline, serotonin, oxytocin, and dopamine. These hormones induce euphoria and uplift our spirits, but once the holidays are over, the serotonin levels gradually return to normal, resulting in a decline in our mood.
- Financial aftermath of Christmas shopping: Selecting and giving gifts may bring us joy during the holiday season, but it can also lead to concerns about our budget. The strain on finances during these times and the subsequent financial challenges are linked to anxious feelings about the months ahead and to future budget planning.
- Cold Weather and Lack of Sunlight: The winter season, the cold weather, and the reduced sunlight can influence our mood. Due to the decreased daylight, vitamin D levels in the body decrease, affecting our emotional well-being.
- Biochemical Processes: Lower vitamin D levels, caused by sunlight deficiency, can influence biochemical processes in the body. Vitamin D is linked to the “happiness hormone” serotonin, and reduced vitamin D levels can lead to diminished serotonin activity, resulting in feelings of depression and lethargy.
- Unfulfilled or Unfinished Goals from the Previous Year: Looking back at all of the good and bad from the past year, we tend to draw our conclusions and be too hard on ourselves. If we have failed to achieve the goals set at the beginning of the year, this can induce feelings of dissatisfaction and stress in the new year.
- Return to Work Routine: During the holidays, thoughts about the future are often set aside to enjoy the present moment. Transitioning from a “vacation” mindset to a “work” mindset may elevate stress levels, impacting overall well-being.
- Getting your Diet Back on Track: Alcohol consumption, heavy meals, lack of physical activity, and imbalanced nutrition during the holiday season can affect not only our mental but also physical well-being. All those can lead to feelings of guilt and may make our way to our normal diet more difficult.
- Reduced Social Contacts: After the holiday season, people often withdraw from social life to “recover” from the festive gatherings, which may impact our overall mood in January.
- Social Comparison: During this period, many influencers share content related to adopting a healthy lifestyle, setting goals for the year ahead, and goals achievement. While this can be beneficial, it may also evoke feelings of dissatisfaction due to social comparison.
- Feelings of Guilt: Another factor related to social comparison is the absence of actions taken towards a “new and better lifestyle,” leading to feelings of guilt, intensifying anxiety and depression.
How to Overcome Post-Holiday Depression?
As we delve into the heart of the matter, the key question arises: How can we cope with post-holiday blues? What is advisable to do during this time of the year? Today, I present to you seven fundamental strategies for dealing with this state, emphasizing the importance of practicing them as acts of self-care, rather than feeling obligated or pressured to do so:
- Set action-oriented goals rather than focusing solely on results. If you aspire to make a change in your work environment or even want to adopt healthier eating habits in the new year, it’s crucial to formulate specific goals. For example, tasks like preparing your CV and actively monitoring the job market can be initial steps if you’re considering a career change. Similarly, finding meaning in changing your dietary habits may involve creating a new and healthy meal plan. Utilizing the “SMART” approach in goal-setting—making them Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound—provides a solid foundation for clear objectives.
- Eat wholesome and diverse meals. During the holidays, we often indulge in certain foods or disrupt our routines. Detoxifying the body from holiday excesses and returning to a regular eating pattern is essential during this period. It’s important not to impose strict diets or restrictions, as our bodies are not prepared for such drastic changes, potentially leading to a counterproductive effect and intensified feelings of guilt. Regular and varied consumption of foods from different groups aids the body in normalizing energy levels. Emphasizing foods rich in B vitamins, crucial for various brain processes, enhances optimal food absorption and provides a sense of control over appetite.
- Don’t neglect social contacts. In January, the relatives with whom we spent the holidays return to their own homes, financial or work commitments stay in the way of making social arrangements, which contributes to increased feelings of loneliness. It’s crucial not to neglect social contacts during this period, understanding that sometimes action can precede motivation. Regardless of preferred communication channels, interacting with loved ones is an energy exchange that helps balance hormonal levels and provides the emotional support needed. Communication with trusted individuals fosters empathy, care, and gratitude, reducing emotional distress.
- Engage in physical activity. Despite the challenge of being active when in a low mood, exercising is crucial for overall well-being. Physical movement releases hormones that impact our brain’s biochemistry, strengthening emotional well-being, elevating mood, and boosting energy levels. Whether you prefer dancing, home yoga, walks, group activities, or gym workouts, any form of movement contributes to improving your overall state. And remember, it is important not to overload the body suddenly, but to gradually adapt our body to the movement.
- Plan your work commitments. Returning to a work routine after the holidays can be challenging as we step out of our routines, and there may be a need to catch up on tasks from the previous year. It’s essential not to overwhelm yourself in the first days back at work—prioritize tasks, set achievable daily goals, and take regular breaks. Remind yourself of why you chose your career path and evaluate whether your goals still align with your needs. Incorporate creative activities into your workday, share holiday experiences with colleagues, and explore new courses or programs of interest. Balancing professional and personal life during this time is crucial for your body and mind to adapt to your daily rhythm once again.
- Become self-motivated. Even if we believe there are genuine reasons for our melancholy and negative emotions, it’s essential to remind ourselves that we have control over our thoughts, not the other way around. Regardless of the situation, we shape our perception of events, not the events themselves. Therefore, it’s crucial to reframe the ways we think about what’s happening around us if we find it no longer serves us. For instance, if thoughts of past holidays sadden us, we can reconsider them as moments of satisfaction for the experiences, gratitude for our loved ones, and joy in having lived through them. Mindfulness techniques, such as meditation, breathing exercises, engaging in artistic activities, or creating a gratitude list, can aid in cultivating awareness and staying present.
- Filter Social Media Information: In our efforts to help ourselves or “become a better version of ourselves,” we often encounter various information on social media about how someone else achieves this. Regardless of the source of information we consume, it’s crucial to pass it through our personal filter before deeming it true or applicable to us. It’s easy to be tempted to accept advice from people we identify with or who share similar struggles, but it’s always good to keep in mind that what works well for someone may not always be beneficial for us. Question the information you receive and observe its impact on your mind and body. Remind yourself how much of their lives people don’t showcase there and limit your time online if you notice such thoughts emerging.
End of Post-Holiday Blues:
Post-holiday blues and going back to your work routine can be challenging at the beginning of the new year. However, this challenge also carries immense potential for changing ineffective coping techniques and building new, adaptive ones. So, by following these seven strategies to overcome the decreased mood in January, not only will you conquer post-holiday blues, but you’ll also succeed in establishing new habits that give a positive start to the new year.