Slip on Your Holiday Armor: Combatting Post-Holiday Depression is a Battle You Can Win

Like a deflated balloon dragging behind a child, many meet the post-holiday months feeling lifeless and without the sense of purpose, they had just days before.

October through December homes fill with a bustle of activity. Decorating. Shopping. Baking. Cooking. Wrapping. Party-planning. Gift-giving. Visiting. Hosting. School and work events. Social calendars make even the most introverted look like social butterflies with bullhorns. These social calendars give us moments that lift us up and moments that reminded us why family isn’t always defined by the branches on a family tree. Anticipation. Planning. Excitement. Stress. Joy. Disappointment. Responsibility. The list of words associated with the holidays go on-and-on.

So what happens after the needles start falling from the once scent-filled, luscious Christmas tree and the holiday decorations that were so important to you weeks before now look like one more thing you need to take care of and put away in your already exhausting day? 

For one, January arrives. There’s no way around it. The holidays will end and within weeks those living in colder climates are forced to hibernate. The cold winter months make outside activities undesirable. The long, dark nights encourage sleep to call our name sooner. And on top of the mood, the weather encourages and the about-face our social calendar makes on January 1st, people often face the consequences of letting their self-care (proper nutrition, proper sleep, proper exercise, etc.) take a holiday. Alcohol, sugar, processed foods, and baked goods ransack our insides, taking our physical, emotional, and mental health on a rollercoaster ride that isn’t worth the admission ticket.

January often finds people:

  • missing those they caught-up with over the holiday season
  • upset with those who disappointed them over the holidays
  • exhausted from their list of holiday commitments and self-imposed responsibilities
  • longing for the weeks when holiday cheer and lights filled the room and street corners
  • overwhelmed with the consequences of their poor self-care
  • letting the colder and darker days dampen their spirits

According to the Center for Anxiety Disorders, post-holiday depression or post-holiday blues is a period of time that closely resembles full-blown depression: headaches, insomnia and trouble sleeping, anxiety, weight gain or loss, and agitation. And according to How to Manage Post-Holiday Depression, a PsychCentral article published in 2018, “as many as twenty-five percent of Americans suffer from low-grade to full depression after the holidays.”

So how can people be proactive about lessening post-holiday depression or avoiding it altogether? For one, many health specialists say to expect to be let down. By acknowledging that the holiday moments you envision in your mind and you see portrayed on television and the big screen are not likely to happen, you give yourself permission to feel let-down. This permission helps you remember that the feeling of being let-down is temporary and normal. 

Not placing self-imposed deadlines on yourself is another way to fight off post-holiday blues. There is no law that says your Christmas tree must cease to exist come December 26th. No one will be upset with you if you burn your pine-scented candles until the wax runs out. Your house doesn’t have to be dusted, swept, mopped, and perfectly organized the same day you take down and store your decorations. Don’t deal with the end of the holiday season abruptly. 

Finding meaning in your post-holiday nights is advised as well. Renew your excitement for a long-forgotten hobby or take up a new one. Set a date to visit someone after the holidays, so you have it to look forward to as the post-holiday blues knock on your door. Start planning a future vacation or long holiday. Make an intentional effort to look forward to something.

And finally, rest. Halloween came at you with pumpkin patches, fun-size candy bars, and costume coordination. Thanksgiving asked you to sit among the pies and vats of cheesy, crockpot concoctions all day without returning for multiple servings. Christmas cradled you with scents of warm candied nuts, homemade sugar cookies, and peppermint mocha lattes and then, it insisted you attend every holiday party and event your social calendar allowed. 

Lack of sleep is not martyrdom. Lack of proper sleep affects a person’s stress level. This, in turn, affects a person’s energy and patience level. When someone has a high level of stress and low level of energy and patience, depression takes that as it’s invite to visit.

The holidays are meant to be a time of joy but so, too, are the rest of the days of the year. So slip on your holiday armor. It’s time to enter the next couple months with a heart ready to make memories and a mind that knows that the holiday season will eventually pass and the decisions made during that time, from nutrition to the number of commitments and self-imposed responsibilities, will determine the mindset in which we greet the post-holiday months.

Author: Evelyn Lindell
Certified Health & Wellness Coach