No doubt, the holidays can be stressful — a lot of traveling, crowd-managing, gift-buying and credit-card-maxing. But for many people, despite all the grumbles about being overscheduled and under-rested, the bustle of parties and family is a definite mood-booster. Once the festivities are over, a sense of loss sets it.
“You feel fatigued, or just a general sense of malaise,” says Jennifer Hartstein, a psychologist in New York City. “There’s been this incredible build up, where everyone is really ‘on,’ and suddenly the focus is back on real life, which is just not as much fun.”
Even for people who don’t love the holidays, busy schedules this time of year can be helpful for boosting our mood. “It distracts us and exposes us to people and activities that provide positive reinforcement,” says Colleen Carney, director of the Sleep and Depression Lab at Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada.
“Doing less can have negative consequences, including rumination. Also, the less you do, the less you feel like doing — a situation that can create a cycle of inactivity, fatigue, negative mood and sleep problems.”
These negative feelings can be compounded by what is generally a challenging time of year for people physiologically, Carney points out. Fewer daylight hours confuse the body’s internal clock, leaving people feeling sluggish when they should be awake, and wired when they should be resting. “Keeping a consistent sleep schedule and engaging in regularly timed activities can help to regulate the clock and your mood,” she says.
There’s also the cruel fact that once December is over and the new year has been rung in, there isn’t another extended holiday until spring — still several months in the offing. This in itself is a downer. “The thought of facing the rest of the winter without a break is depressing for some people,” says Carney.
That doesn’t mean you can’t plan your own mid-winter holiday. And don’t overlook secondary winter holidays: Martin Luther King Day, President’s Day, Chinese New Year and Valentine’s Day are all opportunities to celebrate with friends and family.
Most importantly, re-establish a routine to decrease post-holiday blues. This is especially key for children and teens, who can be susceptible to their own bout of post-holiday blues.
“Children may get to spend more time with parents or have adventures that they don’t normally have during the holidays,” Hartstein points out. “Then they are faced with the pressure and intensity of going back to school, along with the fact that the ‘fun’ is coming to an end.”
Kids might not verbalize these feelings, but watch for complaints about physical discomfort (stomach aches are common cues) — possible stand-ins for emotional pain.
“It’s very important to get kids back into a routine,” Hartstein stresses. “Children and teens respond best to structure. It helps them regulate their emotions.”
Finally, letting go of unrealistic expectations can go a long way toward easing the post-holiday blues, according to the American Psychological Association. After all, if you haven’t been getting along with your sister’s family for years, no amount of eggnog or pie-sharing is likely going to change that.
“Thinking ‘I should be happy’ is a common ingredient in a recipe for sadness,” says Carney. “It sets up an expectation that leads to the question, ‘What’s wrong with me?’ afterwards if things aren’t perfect. Adjusting expectations can take some of the pressure off. Remember: There is nothing inherently happy about the holidays.”
Four simple ways to get your mood back on track
- Volunteer. Experts agree one of the easiest ways to lift your spirits is to spend time doing something helpful for people less fortunate. Visit your local food bank or Red Cross, and check out upcoming activities at a Habitat for Humanity near you (habitat.org).
- Eat healthy. The cookies and eggnog were good, but if you find yourself suffering from a case of PHIR (otherwise known as post-holiday indulgence remorse) it’s time to clean up your act. Don’t wait for New Year’s — turn things around now by preparing yourself a healthy dinner, or slicing some colorful veggies for snack (store them in air-tight bags in the fridge). Take care of your body, and your mind will follow.
- Plan something special. Having something concrete to look forward to keeps your mind from dwelling on the past. Make a lunch date with friends, or plan a weekend getaway (airline and hotel prices drop significantly in January) so you’ll have a reason to feel optimistic for the future.
- Get moving. Exercise is the antidote to a lot of things, including the blues. Studies show that just 20 minutes of moderate daily activity, like going for a walk, can elevate mood and reduce anxiety. Too cold for a stroll? Check out the classes at your local YMCA — a good chance to make new friends, too.
Original article found at usatoday.com