Recovering from the Post-Holiday Blues

Recovering from the Post-Holiday Blues

You’ve opened all the presents, recovered from all the rich foods, and sent out your thank you notes. But now that the trimmings are gone and parties are over, are you feeling down? It might come as no surprise that seasonal blues often reach their peak once the festivities have ended.

As joyous as the holidays can be, the stress and expectations associated with the holidays can overwhelm us and switch our brains into overdrive. Think about it: Days and weeks of socializing, cooking, shopping, visiting, and tying up loose ends at work—all of which amplify our stress level and leave little room for our usual routine of self-care like exercise and healthy eating.

Then, once everything’s over, there’s a reckoning—we crash. Fatigue sets in, our motivation to get to the gym dwindles, our drive to tackle unanswered emails is zapped, and our bodies reel from overindulging in food and drink. Luckily, it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are some tips for kicking the post-holiday blues so you can get through the rest of winter happily.

Staying constantly connected

“People expect to feel refreshed when they come back from a holiday,” says Amanda Itzkoff, M.D., a psychiatrist at Manhattan’s Mount Sinai Hospital. But the reality of a world where emails and texts follow us everywhere: Holiday vacations aren’t always restful.

We need a break from constantly checking our devices in order to decompress and bring down our cortisol levels. I recommend setting up periods of tech-free times—say, at the dinner table, where a “no-phone zone” enables you to reconnect with family and practice being present. Or try scheduling some hour-long breaks in your day to disconnect, take a walk, call a friend, or meditate.

Food-frenzied festivities.

We overindulge either because we feel pressured to put everything on our plate or because we feel we’ve blown it anyway—it’s the holidays, I’ll get back on track after the holidays.

When we relinquish this self-control, we set ourselves up for failure. Not only do we feel a wave of post-binge guilt, but we spike our insulin levels when we overeat. The higher those insulin levels go, the more drastically our blood sugar crashes in the hours after a meal. And that leaves us tired, moody, irritable, and hankering for even more sugar. Do this for too many days in a row and you risk resetting your palate to crave extra-sweet items, rather than appreciating the taste of healthier foods, like fruits and veggies.

Not cutting ourselves some slack.

After weeks of indulging in sugary, fatty desserts, skimping on fruits and veggies, and forgoing the gym, it will take some effort to resume a healthier regimen. The key: be patient with your expectations.

Your first week back from the holidays should be about readjusting and resuming your regular routine. Try not to set expectations unreasonably high. If you don’t like exercise or you’ve always craved sweets, you can’t expect to magically be able to cut carbs and hit the treadmill six days a week. In other words, keep your expectations realistic.

Instead of limiting yourself at each meal, try adding something healthy like a fruit, vegetable or salad. It is easier to accept “adding” rather than “eliminating”.

Fast-forwarding past holiday cheer.

A huge part of keeping our spirits up after the holidays relies on tweaking our attitude toward the positive. Instead of wallowing under the weight of obligation, such as cleaning, cooking, putting decorations away; remember the good experiences you had during the holiday. Focus on the beauty of the lights and decorations, the smell of evergreens, the taste of special seasonal foods, and the joy of those persons you saw over the holidays.

Try your hand at reviving the lost art of thank-you notes to express gratitude. Choose a few of your favorite holiday photos to print out and frame. Or keep one of your favorite holiday decorations around for a few extra months as a positive memory trigger. Doing these activities will let you savor the festive spirit a little longer.

Facing a blank January calendar.

Scheduling some fun activities for the New Year can be a helpful boost to our mood. Research shows that having things to look forward to keeps us happy. Why not host a President’s Day party and invite guests to come dressed as their president from the past. Host a Ground Hog Day or a Valentine’s Day party. A movie night with friends, a nice dinner out, a relaxing massage, or just a winter-blah get-together may be all it takes. It’s the anticipation of fun that counts.

If your blues don’t lift for more than two weeks, consider reaching out to a mental health professional. Call us at Rochester Counseling Associates to schedule a confidential and timely appointment.

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