Combatting the Post-Holiday Blues


A woman experiences the post-holiday blues. | Photo credit to Aleteia.

For many, the Christmas holiday season, dubbed in one popular song as “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” is buzzing with activity and excitement. However, some people may experience the “post-holiday blues” as the season winds down.

Gina Moffa, a licensed clinical social worker and psychotherapist, described the post-holiday blues as a series of emotions that occur after the emotional whirlwind of the holidays.

“This can be akin to feeling sad, anxious, or depressed with the characteristics of seasonal affective disorder,” Moffa said, referring to the shorter days and longer nights during winter that deleteriously affects some people’s mood.

For some, returning to the daily routine after the holiday break can feel distressing and anxiety-provoking, according to Moffa.

For others, the holidays themselves can be difficult, especially for those that may not have a relationship with their family, a subject heavily emphasized throughout the season.

A study titled The Christmas Effect on Psychopathology, published in the National Institute of Health National Library of Medicine, found a decrease in the “overall utilization of psychiatric emergency services and admissions, self-harm behavior, and suicide attempts/completions” during the holidays, but saw an increase, or rebound effect, in January.

A medically reviewed article on Psych Central identified several factors that can cause the post-holiday blues, including over-indulgence in holiday food and alcohol, exhaustion from excessive “busyness” during the holidays, lack of sleep, financial strain, and loneliness.

Weight gained during the winter season may also contribute to feelings of depression.

A study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed a bidirectional relationship between depression and obesity. Persons who were depressed had a 37% increased risk of being obese, and people who were obese had an 18% increased risk of being depressed.

The prevalence of comorbid depression was 24% among obese women and 21% among obese men, according to the study. Obesity and depression are among the leading causes of disease worldwide, the study reported. Fortunately, many of the lifestyle changes recommended for obese patients are also beneficial for those suffering from depression. 

As previously reported in The Dallas Express, Texas, along with much of the rest of the country, is amid an obesity epidemic that has only been picking up steam in recent years.

Seasonal affective disorder, characterized by feelings of sadness and depression triggered by the changing seasons, is also prevalent during the fall and winter months. The signs and symptoms of the disorder — such as sluggishness, lack of interest in activities, inability to concentrate, changes in appetite or weight, and sleep problems — are the same that one might experience with any other type of major depressive disorder.

Lack of sunlight is thought to be a contributing factor to winter-time depression. The shorter days of winter mean less exposure to sunlight, which the body needs to synthesize Vitamin D. Vitamin D plays an essential role in the body as a regulator of the neurotransmitters related to mood.

To combat seasonal affective disorder, experts recommend getting more exposure to natural light by sitting next to a sunny window or going outdoors. Alternatively, light therapy using a specialized lighting box is considered effective for the disorder.

Light therapy has been shown to reduce the production of melatonin — the hormone that causes sleepiness — and increase the production of the hormone serotonin, which affects mood.

Exercise is another excellent antidote for the blues. Physical activity releases endorphins, which enhance mood and have an antidepressant effect. Adults should aim for about 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week.

It is also essential to maintain a consistent sleep schedule, getting up and going to bed at about the same time each day, to ensure sufficient restorative slow-wave sleep each night.

A balanced diet, rich in lean proteins, vegetables, and fruit, can contribute to better mental health, as these types of food have nutrients and compounds that affect mood.

For example, omega-3 fatty acids, found in fatty fish, seeds, and nuts, have been shown to relieve the severity of depressive symptoms.

Make a plan to do something fun in the near future. This can give one something to look forward to and help ease the “after-Christmas let-down.”

Make connections with friends in person or through Zoom, a phone call, or a text. Such social interactions can help alleviate loneliness, not just for you but for the person you reach out to. 

Indulge in some self-care, which can be anything that makes you feel happy and relaxed — watch a funny movie, read an uplifting book, take a warm bubble bath, wear cozy clothes, play with your pet, get a manicure, or practice meditation.

And finally, reach out for professional help if the post-holiday blues persist. Make an appointment to see a doctor or therapist who can provide support, or consider online therapy, which can be done from the comfort of home.

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