How to Manage Post-Holiday Depression
It’s a let-down for many.
After weeks, maybe even months, of decorating, shopping and wrapping, baking, visiting and being visited, the whole thing is over in a day or two. Suddenly, the display that seemed so essential to get up on the house looks just wrong. The tree is dropping needles. The house that was so sparkling clean before Christmas now decidedly needs a good vacuuming. How’d that happen? Yeah. Kids and dogs and visitors are a household demolition derby. If that weren’t enough, you’re trying to make peace with the fact that your sister gave you soap when you gave her a lovely sweater and the uncle you spent so much agonizing time making a vegan dish for decided not to even stop by. It’s hard to stay in that twinkly holiday mood when it feels so over.
It’s not that unusual. Some studies show as many as 25 percent of Americans suffer from low-grade to full-blown depression after the holidays. The hype and excitement and, yes, expectation, for jolliness buoy up many in the buildup to the Big Day. But then expectations hit reality. Relatives aren’t always kind. Gifts aren’t given and received in the spirit intended. The fantasy that maybe this year will be different is dashed yet again. It’s hard for even the most resilient not to feel a letdown. For those who are prone to depression anyway, the weeks after a holiday can feel like the emotional rug has been pulled out from them.
Yes, there are some things to do about it.
If you are taking antidepressants: This is not the time to stop. You may feel they aren’t doing their job but it’s also possible that things would be much worse if you weren’t taking them at all. Confer with your psychiatrist.
If you are in therapy: Make sure you talk about what is bothering you. Your therapist can’t help you if you skirt around issues or if, in some misguided attempt not to bother the therapist too much, you don’t tell her how bad you feel. If things are feeling really grim, you might want to ask for an extra appointment.
Whether in treatment or not:
Take care of yourself. From Halloween to New Year’s, Americans tend to redefine the basic food groups to sugar, fats, sugar, and sometimes alcohol. “Enough” is redefined as “stuffed.” Get back to a healthy diet with reasonable portions. Add a walk at least once a day and a more regular bedtime. Regular routines of self-care may have disappeared over the past month but you can reclaim them.
Take a meditative few minutes a couple times a day. Focus on what did go right over the holidays. It’s an old-fashioned idea but “counting your blessings” is an antidote to the blues.
Kids home for the week? They may be exuberant. They may be demanding. Kids are. Often their overactivity is a bid for attention. If you give them attention in a way that is pleasant for you as well, they may well settle down. Get down on the floor and enjoy kid time. Play with the blocks and Legos. Help the kids make a fort or tent with the couch cushions. Read together. Mostly be grateful that they are OK and want to play with you.
Call a friend. Steer the conversations away from a festival of complaints and commiseration to a lively conversation of what has been going well and what you can laugh about. Sharing humor is a great way to lift the spirits.
Make a pact with yourself to do something small but positive for yourself at least five times a day. Stay in that hot shower a few extra minutes. Get nicely dressed and comb your hair. Make the bed up clean. Straighten up your kitchen. Make yourself a cup of tea and let yourself have 10 minutes to savor it.
Give yourself the gift of giving to someone else. It’s transformative to do those random acts of kindness. Whether it’s a call to one of the older relatives who doesn’t get much attention or taking food to a shut-in, focusing on someone else’s needs has the paradoxical effect of helping the giver.
Arrange things to look forward to. The holidays aren’t the end of life as we know it. They are only the end of the holidays. It’s time to shift the focus to everyday things that give us pleasure. Make a coffee date with a friend or a movie date with your spouse. Turn the kids’ thinking to what will happen in school over the next few months.
Give yourself an attitude transplant. If being one of those who looks at the world through mud-covered glasses has never worked for you, why continue it? Take charge of your life and your mood by doing any number of the ideas listed above and adding some of your own.
Still grieving the holidays? Wait a week or two. The stores will be filling up with Valentine decorations and candy. Start planning a Valentine’s blowout now.
Hartwell-Walker, M. (2013). How to Manage Post-Holiday Depression. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 4, 2015, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/how-to-manage-post-holiday-depression/