Whether the holidays are something you look forward to every year or something you dread, when they’re over, they tend to leave a void. The whirlwind of plans, gatherings (in person or virtually), gifts, and celebrations can whip us into a frenzy that ebbs once January arrives.
This feeling can be intensified if the holidays didn’t match your expectations, if your holiday plans didn’t work out at all this year, or you’re stressed out by returning to work, school, or a more typical routine.
If you’re in a bit of a funk at the close of the holiday season, you might be experiencing the post-holiday blues—so what are they, and what can we do about them?
Like post-wedding, post-vacation, or post-birthday blues, post-holiday blues occur when something we’ve been looking forward to or something we’ve enjoyed (or built up in our heads that we should enjoy) is over and the mundanity of everyday life sets in, leaving us feeling a bit bummed out.
Even if we weren’t looking forward to the holidays or we didn’t have a good time, the pure ubiquitousness of the holiday season and the downward spiral after a period of stress or overwhelming events can still have an effect and leave us feeling down.
Whether you’re feeling disappointed by a holiday that didn’t live up to your expectations or you’re mourning an enjoyable holiday that has come to an end, the post-holiday blues can be marked by fatigue, sadness, loneliness, difficulty concentrating, irritability, and a generally low mood.
First of all, know that having a bout of the post-holiday blues is totally normal—and there are a few things you can try to get yourself out of your funk.
It’s okay to feel blue after the holidays are over. Instead of telling yourself to snap out of it or minimizing your feelings, lean into them. Sit with the emotions you’re experiencing and explore why they might be coming up.
Maybe you’re feeling bitter because you had high hopes for how your family gathering would go down, but it didn’t go exactly as planned. Maybe you’re in mourning because COVID-19 upended your plans. Maybe your holiday was way better than last year and you can’t believe you have to go back to “real” life. Whatever the reason, it’s totally valid to feel your feelings. And acknowledging them is the first step to moving forward.
When my family decided to cancel our Christmas plans this year, we were all devastated. I had already vowed to go hard celebrating Christmas for the entirety of December to make up for 2020’s sad Christmas, and now I wasn’t going to have much of a 2021 Christmas either.
Instead of giving up, my husband and I rallied to stay Christmas-y. We decorated gingerbread cookies, drank mulled wine, and made a Christmas roast. And when Christmas was over, we kept the spirit alive by hunting down all of the remaining eggnog in Brooklyn to keep having eggnog in our coffee well into January. I even have a package of chocolate chip cookies in the fridge ready to go—we might have a Christmas movie night in our February future. Why not? There are no rules!
In addition to cheering you up, planning your next holiday can give you something to look forward to. After my family canceled our Christmas plans this year, I immediately booked a car so my husband, daughter, and I could do local, physically distanced trips together during the holiday week. It wasn’t our full family holiday, but pivoting and planning new activities took our minds off of the plans that we had to cancel.
And when we got on the family Christmas Zoom, we had fun talking about and planning my brother’s wedding next year—my family even decided to tack on a week of vacation after the wedding so we could make up for our lost Christmas time together.
But be kind to yourself! It’s hard to break out of the post-holiday blues, but one of the best things you can do is get back into the swing of your routine. Whether that means making New Year’s resolutions, digging into a big project at work, hitting the gym, or simply walking your dog, your routine can help un-funk you.
A growing body of evidence indicates that greater exposure to natural environments (such as parks, woodlands and beaches) is associated with better health and wellbeing. Getting outside—even if you live somewhere cold and grey—can boost your mood. Combined with healthy eating habits and exercise, you’ll be well on your way to breaking out of the post-holiday blues.
While exercise is great for your mental health, it doesn’t just mean going to the gym. Check out free yoga or workout videos on Youtube. Dance around your apartment. Walk to the grocery store or stroll around your neighborhood. When it comes to exercise, doing what you enjoy is what is most important for building healthy habits.
When the party season ends, it can feel incredibly lonely. Staying connected to family and friends can be beneficial when it comes to beating the post-holiday blues. Send each other photos, remind one another of fun holiday memories, send presents, cards, or letters even after the holiday has passed, or do any other activity that strengthens your community and provides you with social support.
If you’re still feeling the post-holiday blues for more than two or three weeks, your feelings might be something more serious, like depression.
While seeing some of your experiences in a list of symptoms or taking a screening is not a diagnosis, they can help you see if your symptoms are having enough of an impact that you should seek help from a mental health professional.
Despite being one of the most common mental health conditions, only about a third of those suffering from severe depression seek treatment from a mental health professional, either because they don’t think that what they’re experiencing is serious enough, they think that they can treat it themselves, or they believe that it’s a sign of personal weakness.
Even if you’re suffering from the post-holiday blues, you deserve to be well and to get support when and where you need it. If you think you might benefit from therapy (spoiler: if you think you might then you probably will) and you’re not yet working with a therapist, use our form to get matched and find the care you need today. With the right tools and strategies, you’ll be able to break out of the post-holiday blues and start looking forward to the future.
Caitlin is an organizational change strategist, advisor, writer, and the founder of Commcoterie, a change management communication consultancy. She helps leaders and the consultants who work with them communicate change for long-lasting impact. Caitlin is a frequent speaker, workshop facilitator, panelist, and podcast guest on topics such as organizational change, internal communication strategy, DEIBA, leadership and learning, management and coaching, women in the workplace, mental health and wellness at work, and company culture. Find out more, including how to work with her, at www.commcoterie.com.