Gifts are unwrapped and the excitement is over. Holiday décor is tucked back into boxes for next year. Gatherings with friends and family that once felt lively and overwhelming disappear, leaving you feeling lonely and somber. Post-holiday depression is a real phenomenon that affects people even if they didn’t experience the “winter blues” beforehand.
Sadness during the holidays
Holiday depression, or the “winter blues,” hit many individuals who are struggling to cope with the stresses of the season. The pressures to shop and entertain, coupled with pervasive family traditions and old memories, can cause sadness around the holidays, especially for those who are experiencing grief or social isolation.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a major depressive disorder, also affects millions of Americans every year during the Fall and Winter seasons due to genetic, neurological, and biological reasons. Some people experience lethargy, exhaustion, and even lack of motivation, only bouncing back when the days start getting longer in the Spring.
Whether you are suffering from major depression, holiday doldrums, or nothing at all, post-holiday depression can take hold after the ball drops on New Year’s Eve.
When the holidays are over, many people feel deflated. After weeks of excitement building up, parties and gatherings left and right, exchanging gifts, eating indulgent meals and more, it can be anti-climatic to experience it all ending overnight. After a period of extensive socialization, we sometimes find ourselves feeling alone, which can be jarring. Expectations of having a perfect family holiday may not have panned out, or your hopes of a dazzling New Year’s Eve might have fizzled. In short, the holidays are filled with anticipation, and whether or not your wishes were fulfilled, a fast and finite end to climatic events can leave you feeling disappointed.
Licensed psychologist Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker says after-holiday depression is “not that unusual.” She clarifies, adding that “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 … For those who are prone to depression anyway, the weeks after a holiday can feel like the emotional rug has been pulled out from [under] them.”
Coping with depression after the holidays
Despite feeling deflated, there are meaningful ways to deal with post-holiday depression—a mix of looking outward and inward.
- Take a “clean slate” approach. You don’t have to reinvent yourself, but try to envision the new year as a clean slate—a time full of potential and opportunity unfettered by obstacles.
- Set realistic resolutions. If you set New Year’s resolutions, keep them simple and achievable. If you try to take on too much or make goals that are too unrealistic, you’re likely to experience a sense of failure.
- Plan things to look forward to. Whether it’s a few extra minutes in a hot shower, a walk in the park, or planning a mid-Winter get-away, even the most minute plans can be a source of joy.
- Start an exercise routine. While high-intensity exercise releases endorphins—the “feel-good” brain chemicals—sustained, low-intensity exercise is strongly correlated with relieving depression.
- Declutter your spaces. Pick one area and make it neater. Make your bed, straighten up the mail pile, or take on the kitchen and find a place for all your gadgets while getting rid of things you don’t use.
- Get back to nature. Get outside more often. Take in the sunlight, go for a walk or jog, or just bring fresh flowers into your home.
- Volunteer. Giving back is almost guaranteed to lift your spirits, whether it’s volunteering at a local pet shelter or simply performing a random act of kindness for a stranger.
Self-care is critical during periods of post-holiday depression, and it’s not limited to simple relaxation. Meditation can be a great way of cultivating mindfulness, which often soothes anxiety. Going to therapy is a form of self-care, and can open new pathways for personal growth and acceptance. Taking your medication is another way to practice self-care if you’re currently under medical treatment for depression. Although the new year can spark a desire to make changes, it’s likely not a good time to discard any current depression treatments or therapies.
As the holiday season winds down, know that you are not alone. Many others are likely experiencing the same deflation you are. Remember to be kind to others, and also to yourself.
If you ever have thoughts of hopelessness or potential self-harm, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Hope Fragrances donates 100% of its profits to depression research, and if you’re exhibiting signs of seasonal depression this winter, we encourage you to talk to your doctor.