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Psych: Good-Bye, Post-Holiday Blues

Maybe it’s the lack of sufficient light in winter that gets you down. Or the poorer eating and drinking habits we fall into at holiday parties and celebrations. Maybe you experience financial stress with the increase in spending, or suffer from feelings of comparison, internalized pressure or isolation in the midst of a hectic season.

Most people have to recover from the family get-togethers, extra social activities, gift exchanges, decorating, music and extra spending that leave them feeling drained as they enter the new year. Expectations of happiness are often overshadowed by a sense of guilt, feelings of stress, dissatisfaction, worry and fatigue.

The “holiday blues” are real

In 2014, The National Alliance on Mental Illness reported that nearly 64 percent of people with mental illness say holidays make their conditions worse. According to the American Psychological Association, 38 percent of people surveyed in 2006 reported that their stress increased during the holiday season. Statistics collected from 2017 as reported by the CDC say that January, February, and December are the months with the highest average daily number of deaths, with June, July and August being the lowest. It is common in the field of mental health for treatment needs to artificially decrease November through January with a swift uptake in February and March.

So, how does someone recover from feelings that are all too common this time of year? Here are four ways to bounce back from those holiday blues:

Restart your routine

Don’t hesitate to restart good habits or get into a routine. Looking back over the last month it might feel like it was all a blur and you have no idea the last time you opened your Bible, laced up your gym shoes or took the dog for a walk. In a poll by the American Psychological Association, 69 percent of people said they are stressed by the feeling of having a “lack of time.” In times of stress our bodies produce more cortisol, a stress hormone that impacts our ability to feel at ease, peaceful and content physically and emotionally.

Having a routine puts us at ease and gives a sense of satisfaction.

In your routine, include time outside as daylight becomes more limited. Sunlight can help improve mood and increase your energy level. Even opening the blinds and sitting near the window lets you soak up those golden rays on days when the sun is out and shining.

It might be tempting to skip that walk, that trip to the gym, quiet time or meditation in light of other obligations. However, prioritizing those regular aspects of the week will help you feel more stable. Try a “30-day challenge” with some friends, whether it’s eating healthier, moving your body or diving into Scripture.

Monitor what you put in your body

The holidays are often a time for indulgence. In 2019, Fox News reported that in a survey of 2,000 people, nearly 50 percent of Americans who celebrate the holidays planned to abandon their healthier eating habits during celebrations. While the average amount of calories consumed per person per average day is usually between 2,000 and 2,500, one Christmas meal can weigh in at 3,000 calories — not including other foods and drinks consumed that day.

Pay attention to the use of food or drink as a coping mechanism for the post-holiday slump.

Even though holiday parties are over and the leftovers might have seen their last microwave, the bad habits of overeating can stick around. After the holidays, opt for smaller portions and limit alcohol and sugar consumption. It was probably easy to overeat when holiday meals were served buffet-style or celebrations went on for hours. Take note if you are eating past the point of being full or still reaching for that extra glass of wine.

Additionally, pay attention to the use of food or drink as a coping mechanism for the post-holiday slump. Consumption releases dopamine in the brain which causes a sense of pleasure, so it is often used as a comfort tool. If you find yourself grieving, stressing or worrying and turning towards intake as a way of compensation, try a few alternatives like talking with someone, journaling, praying or exercising.

Make a budget for next year

The holidays are expensive, there’s no doubt about it. However, gifts and meals shouldn’t give us reason to overspend or go into debt. If money is tight, plan to normalize lower-cost gifts with your friends and family. Give homemade items, second-hand purchases or quality time.

Saving up throughout the year is the best way to plan for the increase in spending next year, so take a peek back at what you spent and start setting aside money now for holidays 2022. Saving $150 per month January through October means you’ll have $1,500 by November to start your holiday shopping — with no debt required!

Stop comparing

Getting Christmas cards from family and friends with their yearly updates, and seeing their latest and greatest news on social media, can be fun and exciting, but beware of the trap. His new car, her looks, their kids, the new house, the better job — it’s natural to look at what others have and compare that to what we perceive we lack.

According to some studies, as many as 10 percent of our thoughts involve comparisons of some kind.

President Theodore Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Maybe you don’t compare yourself to others, but maybe you’ve struggled with comparing right now to “back then” or “next year.” Those thoughts and comparisons draw us away from the moment and steal our ability to be present and grateful for the here-and-now.

Psychology Today reported that according to some studies, as many as 10 percent of our thoughts involve comparisons of some kind. That might not seem like a lot, but I suspect that number to be higher. In 1954, Leon Festinger put forth the idea that individuals determine their own social and personal worth based on how they stack up against others. Research on his social comparison theory has shown that “people who regularly compare themselves to others may find motivation to improve, but may also experience feelings of deep dissatisfaction, guilt, or remorse, and engage in destructive behaviors like lying or disordered eating.”

Enjoy the successes and news of others, but don’t let it be any kind of basis for how you think of yourself.

Ultimately, the best way to overcome holiday blues is to avoid them in the first place. As you look back over the last few weeks, refocus on the meaning of Christmas; the celebration of the birth of our Savior. We love because he first loved us (1 John 4:19) and the gifts of the season are a reflection of that love. May we all learn to be content in any circumstance. In the words of Paul to the Philippians, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11-13).

Have a happy, blues-free new year.


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