Well, we did it. We made it through the shopping and wrapping, the tree almost falling over, and the antics of 12 Santa-drunk children on the most exciting day of their lives. We said good riddance to 2021, and ushered in a new year. The decorations are down, the baking sheets are stored, and the mood is, well…pretty blah.
After the holidays come the seasonal blues for many of us. And it’s easy to understand why: December is filled with family, presents, and a festive spirit, while the start of the new year is filled with…cold. Feeling a sense of letdown or disappointment is normal after a month of celebrations, as we un-twinkle our homes and get back to our normal routines.
According to Best Day Psychiatry, common symptoms of the post-holiday blues include:
- Feelings of sadness and/or anxiety
- Fatigue or agitation
- Trouble sleeping or sleeping more than usual
- Changes in appetite with weight gain or loss
- Difficulty concentrating
“Symptoms must last two or more weeks to be diagnosed as true depression,” they remind us. “Post-holiday blues usually don’t last long. But they can be compounded by seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression that appears with a change of season.”
If your symptoms last longer than two weeks or become severe, please contact a professional, but if you have a milder case of the blues and need a boost to get you out of the post-holiday funk, here’s how to cope.
According to Margaret Wehrenberg, Psy.D, “although it may feel like depression, it is more likely this mood is one of loss.” Much like finishing a major project at work, a school semester, or a vacation, there can be an unsettling feeling of “what now?” after pouring yourself into something.
“The biggest challenge from the holiday blues is feeling alone or bereft,” says Wehrenberg. To combat the feeling of loneliness, call or see a friend or family member—and talk in person. For a glum-busting level of connection, texting won’t do. Wehrenberg suggests asking them about the best part of their holiday, rather than focusing on how you’re feeling.
Alcohol is everywhere during the holiday season, and it’s fun to partake. Let’s not forget, though, that it’s a depressant that can leave you feeling emotionally low, irritable, and brain-fogged the next day—and it disrupts restorative, REM sleep. Consider trying Dry January if you want, taking up mindful drinking, or giving yourself a mini-break from booze altogether.
As this 2019 study shows, “evidence indicates a strong association between a poor diet and the exacerbation of mood disorders, including anxiety and depression.” You don’t have to change everything you eat (or anything, if you don’t want t0), but adding more vitamin and nutrient-rich staples, and cutting back on fried foods and sweets may help improve your state of mind.
Give yourself something to do or look forward to, like a home improvement project, your next vacation, or a road trip to see people you care about—anything that gives your thoughts and attention another place to land. Even if it’s not something as fun as travel, you can feel a burst of proud productivity even by checking long-awaited tasks off your list. And finishing small tasks will energize you to tackle bigger to do’s. You’ve been wanting to file that errant pile of papers in your office for about a year, haven’t you?
Exercise is always important, but never more than when you’re starting to feel down. According to the Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, “aerobic exercises, including jogging, swimming, cycling, walking, gardening, and dancing, have been proved to reduce anxiety and depression” due in part to increased blood circulation to the brain.
It doesn’t need to be a killer workout at the gym. Something as simple as a walk can have a positive effect. (And we should still try to go outside, even if it’s cold.) Leaving your house is key to shake off the feeling of quiet inertia at home. If you need a low gradient to get started, try one of these exercises you can do in your bed.
It’s easy to think of the first two months of the year as dark, cold, and dreary. And even if the first two are objectively true, assigning a negative descriptor to them can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. With a little willingness and a few perspective changes, you can view these hunker-down months as an invitation to catch up on home organization projects, books, Netflix series, family game nights, or anything else you don’t have time for the rest of the year. Keep in mind: February is short, the days are getting longer, and spring is around the corner.