Most of us wait for the holidays with a lot of enthusiasm and hope. We look forward to this season of cheer and spend happy moments imagining the delightful and cozy times full of family gatherings and traditions that await us. However, this experience is not the same for everyone. For many people, loss, grief, and the overall stress of the holidays take a toll on their mental health. For many others, this may happen after the holidays finish and all the beautiful red and gold decorations have been put away, marking the time to return to work. This is known as the post-holiday blues and it can quickly make your life miserable if you don’t know how to deal with it. If you are feeling down with the holidays coming to an end, here’s everything you need to know about how to deal with the post-holiday blues.
What are Post-Holiday Blues?
Often known as a post-vacation syndrome, depression, or just stress, post-holiday blues is the period of a slump that hits some people after going through a period of extreme happiness and emotion. The fact is that post-holiday blues share many of their symptoms with those of a mood or anxiety disorder, including low energy, anxiousness, irritability, and difficulty focusing. The difference between post-holiday blues from clinical depression is that the stress is short-term instead of long-term.(1, 2, 3, 4)
There are hardly a handful of studies that have been done with a focus on holiday emotions. An older survey carried out in 2006 by the American Psychological Association (APA) found that nearly 78% of people felt happy, but 68% of the participants felt fatigued either frequently or sometimes during the holidays.(5) Similar to holiday emotions, the concept of post-holiday blues also has not been studied much, though many experts today believe it is a fairly common phenomenon.
Simply put, post-holiday blues is the intense sadness and loneliness you feel once the holiday season gets over. One feels a feeling of being let down after being so busy with the holiday season and meeting family and friends. This feeling of emptiness is similar to what happens after being busy with events like weddings or vacations.
- A deep feeling of regret thinking about things that you did or did not do or say.
- A feeling of emptiness due to suddenly being free with no or fewer celebrations.
- Feeling of loneliness as there are fewer people to meet and celebrations to attend.
- Experiencing trouble sleeping due to stress of disturbing emotions.
- A feeling of sadness that the holidays have come to an end or that they did not turn out to be as good/fun as they thought they would.
What Are the Triggers for Post-Holiday Blues?
A study published in 2011 found that there was a decline in people being admitted to psychiatric emergency services, attempting to commit suicide, or engaging in self-harming behavior in the time period before Christmas. However, the same numbers were found to go right back up after the holidays.(8)
Experts believe that there are many triggers for why some people experience post-holiday blues. Some of these include:
- Alcohol abuse or binge drinking during the holidays
- Feeling that everyone else is having a great time with their loving families during the holidays
- Having family problems
- Pre-existing mental health conditions
Isolation and loneliness are two of the most common triggers for the development of post-holiday blues. This is believed to be because of a factor known as epigenetics.
It is known that the stress of feeling alone and isolated can switch on certain genes responsible for causing mental illness, especially in people who have a family or personal history of mental illness.
On the other hand, people who enjoy being with their family and friends are more likely to receive a huge boost of feel-good chemicals or neurotransmitters like oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine during the holidays. And when the holiday season comes to an end, this high or boost also ends, followed by the setting in of the post-holiday blues.
A survey done on 1000 Americans found that about 40% of women and 47 percent of men engaged in binge drinking on the occasion of New Year’s Eve as compared to any other holiday. The survey defined binge drinking as having four or more drinks for women and five or more drinks for men in a span of two hours.(12)
However, according to the definition provided by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, binge drinking is having four drinks or more on a single instance for women, and five or more drinks on one occasion for men.(13)
A 2020 study done on people living in Singapore found a close connection between binge drinking and mental health conditions, as well as reduced quality of life.(14)
How To Deal With The Post-Holiday Blues?
The fact is that it is never too early to start thinking about how you can avoid post-holiday blues. It is always better to have certain plans in place for preventing such a surge of emotions after the holidays finish. Here are some tips that can help you be prepared for dealing with post-holiday blues or avoid them altogether.
Have Some Boundaries In Place For The Holidays
Post-holiday blues are often triggered by your past experiences during the holiday period. One often feel obligated to attend holiday events with family members that you may have difference with, or you might feel forced to take part in traditions you don’t enjoy or believe in. All these are bound to create strong feelings of frustration over a period of time.
In the world of social media, when you are feeling frustrated with your own family’s celebration, you are bound to feel envious seeing your friends’ happy posts on social media.
This is why it is important to have some boundaries in place, especially if you find it difficult to say no to people or if you are a people pleaser.
Boundaries may mean you reach a compromise with your family about which family functions you will attend and which you will sit out. Setting these boundaries can be important in safeguarding your own mental health.(15)
Take A Re-Look At Your Thinking Pattern
People who are used to experiencing post-holiday blues are likely to go through this season dreading what is to follow once the festivities come to an end. This is why it can be helpful to look into cognitive reframing that helps change the way you think, pushing these negative thoughts away and making way for more positive and productive thoughts.
For example, try to reframe the thought that after the weeks following New Year’s Eve is going to be terrible and I am going to be left alone with nothing to do. Instead, try to focus on thinking that though you will miss the holidays, you are going to focus on what is more important to you and remember all the love and fun you experienced during the holidays.
While there are no studies that show how cognitive reframing can help deal with post-holiday blues, research done in 2018 on 201 participants who had severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and mental illness found that cognitive reframing can significantly help reduce the symptoms of PTSD.(16)
Have A Strict Self-Care Routine In Place
We all know how difficult it is to follow a routine during the holiday hustle-bustle. However, even amidst this busy time, it is important to take out some time for yourself. Having some alone time can help you make the transition from one season to the next more smoothly.
It is but natural that the holiday festivities and parties are going to affect your self-care routine. So even once the holiday hustle is over, try to make time for your self-care routine as this can help you sail through the post-holiday blues.
There is no need to have an elaborate self-care routine in place. Even just going for a ten-minute walk every evening or catching up with friends over coffee over the weekend can be the much-needed self-care you need.(17)
Remember To Be Grateful For The Small Things
Practicing gratitude can go a long way in helping you remain grounded in the period after the holidays end. Be grateful for the small things during the whole holiday season as this will enable the good and positive feelings to wash over you and carry you over the remainder of the year. Remember to think of at least one thing you are grateful for every day. And continue doing this even after the holidays are over.
A study from 2019 showed that gratitude is something that may even increase your overall quality of life.(18)
Keep Some Events On The Horizon After The Holidays
While most of the gatherings and parties take place during the holiday season, it might be a good idea to have some events planned after the holidays as well to keep yourself busy. Making plans for something after the holidays will keep your mind occupied and it will also give you something to look forward to even after the festivities are over.
Most mental health professionals agree that post-holiday blues is a very real and normal response in many people to try and adjust to life after the high of the festive season. This happens for several reasons, but being prepared for facing post-holiday blues can go a long way in preventing the occurrence and also help you tide over the period after the festivities come to an end. Having a support system in place, establishing a proper self-care routine and planning interesting events for after the holiday season ends can all keep you occupied and help ease the transition without the onset of post-holiday blues.
- Shattell, M. and Johnson, A., 2017. Three simple mindfulness practices to manage holiday stress. Journal of Psychosocial Nursing and Mental Health Services, 55(12), pp.2-4.
- Wiescher, M., 2021. Holiday Stress and Other Sorrows. In Arthur E. Haas-The Hidden Pioneer of Quantum Mechanics (pp. 327-340). Springer, Cham.
- Talbott, S.M., Christopulos, A.M. and Richards, E., 2006. Effect of a lifestyle program on holiday stress, cortisol, and body weight.
- Nawijn, J., Marchand, M.A., Veenhoven, R. and Vingerhoets, A.J., 2010. Vacationers happier, but most not happier after a holiday. Applied Research in Quality of Life, 5(1), pp.35-47.
- Holiday stress (no date) American Psychological Association. American Psychological Association. Available at: https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2006/12/holiday-stress (Accessed: January 7, 2023).
- Brooks, B.A., 2019. Managing Holiday Stress, Starting the New Year Well. Nurse Leader, 17(6), pp.483-484.
- Baier, M., 1987. The” holiday blues” as a stress reaction. Perspectives in psychiatric care.
- Sansone, R.A. and Sansone, L.A., 2011. The christmas effect on psychopathology. Innovations in clinical neuroscience, 8(12), p.10.
- Ma, D.K., Marchetto, M.C., Guo, J.U., Ming, G.L., Gage, F.H. and Song, H., 2010. Epigenetic choreographers of neurogenesis in the adult mammalian brain. Nature neuroscience, 13(11), pp.1338-1344.
- Jiang, Y.H., Bressler, J. and Beaudet, A.L., 2004. Epigenetics and human disease. Annu. Rev. Genomics Hum. Genet., 5, pp.479-510.
- Rozanov, V., 2017. Stress and epigenetics in suicide. Academic Press.
- Booziest holidays (2022) Alcohol.org. Available at: https://alcohol.org/guides/booziest-holidays/ (Accessed: January 7, 2023).
- Excessive alcohol use (2022) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/resources/publications/factsheets/alcohol.htm (Accessed: January 7, 2023).
- Lee, Y.Y., Wang, P., Abdin, E., Chang, S., Shafie, S., Sambasivam, R., Tan, K.B., Tan, C., Heng, D., Vaingankar, J. and Chong, S.A., 2020. Prevalence of binge drinking and its association with mental health conditions and quality of life in Singapore. Addictive behaviors, 100, p.106114.
- Henderson, J., 2004. The challenge of relationship boundaries in mental health. Nursing Management (through 2013), 11(6), p.28.
- Mueser, K.T., Gottlieb, J.D., Xie, H., Lu, W., Yanos, P.T., Rosenberg, S.D., Silverstein, S.M., Duva, S.M., Minsky, S., Wolfe, R.S. and McHugo, G.J., 2015. Evaluation of cognitive restructuring for post-traumatic stress disorder in people with severe mental illness. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 206(6), pp.501-508.
- Barnett, J.E. and Cooper, N., 2009. Creating a culture of self-care.
- Unanue, W., Gomez Mella, M.E., Cortez, D.A., Bravo, D., Araya-Véliz, C., Unanue, J. and Van Den Broeck, A., 2019. The reciprocal relationship between gratitude and life satisfaction: Evidence from two longitudinal field studies. Frontiers in Psychology, 10, p.2480.