Margaret Wehrenberg Psy.D.

Depression Management Techniques

7 Tips to Beat the Post-Holiday Blues

Bring light back into your life after the holidays have passed.

Posted Jan 04, 2020

Recognizing the “Post-Holiday Blues”

This weekend, the holidays are officially over. For many people, Wednesday was the last day of children being home from school, and Monday resumes the full regular workweek.

Today, though, instead of happily resettling into “normal” life and enjoying the weekend, you may be feeling some post-activity depression that so many descend into. With the intense level of holiday activity behind you, instead of feeling at peace, the emotional result is not delight but depression. You may feel as empty as the refrigerator that was previously filled with a feast of food or the guest room that your out-of-town visitors stayed in.

Why get blue after such a time? It may make more sense to you when you consider how your brain uses mood as the entry into a network of other similar thoughts and moods. Our brains store memories in neural networks—connections of related events or categories of information. One of the most powerful triggers to open a network of memory is emotion (i.e., “How do you feel?”).

A specific emotion opens the network that holds memories of other times when you felt that same feeling. You do not have to get trapped in a network, though. You can deliberately walk down memory lane, or you may just feel the emotions flow through you, as many of us do when listening to music. You can also walk out of the network by choice. In the case of the “post-holiday blues” network, knowing what the mood is about makes it much easier to escape.

Although it may feel like depression, it is more likely this mood is one of loss. Most people have high levels of activity in the stretch from Thanksgiving through New Year’s. The high point could be the four-day Thanksgiving weekend or the New Year’s Eve party you anticipate all year. Often, the activity has intense moments of fun, delight, or joy, even if the entire experience was not so great. But even if your holidays were a more stressful excitement than fun, you most likely had a lot of activity—the preparations, the socializing, the travel, the family visits: four or five weeks with lots to do.

Then—suddenly—it's over. It's done. Overnight, you lose the sense of excitement, you lose the activities filling your time, you lose the involvement with other people. The highly anticipated moments are done. (So are the dreaded moments, for that matter.)

So, now what? Guests filled spaces in your home that are suddenly empty, the smells of cooking sweet and rich foods have dissipated, and the need to return back to a normal life schedule is staring you in the face. Feeling loss as holidays end can open the memory network of other losses: other times when you felt alone or bereft, sad without company, or deflated over something you hoped for that didn't happen.

For many people who suffer from depression, the stretch of time over the holidays offers enough diversion to help them ignore depressed feelings for a while. Then—bam!—the holidays are over, and the feeling of depression is felt even more intensely. You may have the same dilemma—the diversion of the holiday is done, and the post-holiday blues set in. Loss feels very much like depression, and depression makes it harder to get out of that network. But if you define this feeling as loss, you can find a way to correct it and resolve this unhappy feeling.

Walking out of the Holiday Blues Memory Network

One of the first steps in beating the post-holiday blues is realizing that this mood of loss is really an adjustment to less stimulation. What you have “lost” is the high level of activity you have become accustomed to. Even if you haven't been depressed, you may experience this sudden letdown. Have you ever felt odd and at loose ends after you finish a project at work? Maybe you have been surprisingly depressed at the end of the semester at school when you thought you would be so glad the work was over. Maybe you have felt empty at the end of a vacation, even if you were glad to be home.

The biggest challenge from the holiday blues is feeling alone or bereft. Here are three ways to dispel that:

1. Talk to somebody verbally, not by texting. Think about someone that you enjoy being around, talking to, or care about, and call that person on the phone. Rather than complaining about your mood, ask them about the best part of their holiday or the most fun moment that they had. If you feel that someone won't bother to answer their phone, you could send a text message saying, “Please pick up. I want to chat with you for a few minutes.”

2. Go out of the house. Cut the atmosphere that comes from being in the rooms that are bereft of activity or company or tantalizing aromas by getting out of your home. Even on a gray day, letting yourself have some time outside raises your energy.

You can even combine this with the possibility of interacting with someone by meeting the mail carrier at the mailbox or going through the cashier line instead of self-checkout at the store. Even just parking your car far away from store entrances, so you have to walk several yards, could interrupt the blues mood.

Martin Lopez/Pexels
Getting outside can help you fight the blues
Source: Martin Lopez/Pexels

3. (Re)read greeting cards. Greeting cards are a tradition on the way out of fashion, but if you got any, especially the “boring” kind with yearly newsletters, read them. Doing so will help you get into somebody else's memory bank for a while, instead of ruminating in your depression.

Don't have greeting cards? Look at old letters or e-mails from friends and family from years past! It could be fun to reread about someone's vacation to Peru or about the birth of a niece or nephew back-in-the-day.

Another challenge is to shake off the mood itself. Try these tips to help yourself progress:

4. Get some exercise. If you're feeling the blues, it's likely that you will feel like sitting and staring into space or turning on a show to binge-watch. Before you give in to that, go for a run or use your body vigorously. You will be pleasantly surprised at the mood shift.

5. Look forward, not backward. Contemplate one thing you would love to happen this year. Not a giant “life goal”—this could be daunting, with your exhausted brain already feeling blue. But think about one thing you would like to happen in 2020 and then make a plan to bring it into being.

6. Start cooking. Try cooking something that doesn't remind you of a holiday food, so you get a new aroma in the house. Better yet, try to cook something from scratch, as it is creative and active—two ways to stimulate different thinking.

7. Slide-out of the holidays. If you're going to watch TV or do another activity, pick something that is nothing remotely holiday-like so that you won't inadvertently go down the network of what you just lost.

Taking charge of your mood is the fastest way to close the door on that negative network of loss and get out of the post-holiday blues. May you have a truly happy new year!