How to Deal With Post-holiday Depression

Disheveled and miserable man with a cup of coffee and a Happy New Year banner in the back

Post-holiday depression is not an uncommon experience in a “normal” year filled with parties, activities, and many things to get done before the big day. Some studies show that an estimated 25% of Americans suffer from some degree of depression after the holiday. The let down from all the hype is frequently an unpleasant experience.

But these are not “normal” times. Our experience of the holidays may have been wildly different from years past, filled with more stress, tension, and quite notably a lack of social interaction with family and friends.

Last year we may have had family to visit, meals to cook, parties to attend, and then all of the sudden it’s back to reality the day after New Years’. But this year, many of us lacked these festive activities. So, what should we anticipate for January 2021?

At the beginning of the pandemic, researchers were looking at the sudden drop in happiness just 6 weeks into the pandemic. And the research revealed some striking realizations. Americans were wildly unhappy. In fact, collective happiness dropped so substantially that it was comparability similar to the collective happiness level of Uzbekistan.

Since April, many of us have found ways to acclimate to pandemic life, but we may still be suffering from the letdown of post-holiday blues and wondering what to do about it.

Here are 4 Recommendations:

Acknowledge your feelings – Some of us may have promised ourselves that 2021 would be different and need to face the disappointment that the future is still uncertain. Most of us don’t like uncertainty and giving ourselves the space to acknowledge that unpleasant experience is an important way to cope with disappointment.

Set a new goal – One of the main reasons why we have post-holiday blues is that we suddenly lack something to look forward to. In fact, feelings of depression are common at the end of most joyful events like a wedding, vacation, or long-awaited activity. Research suggests that we may have more dopamine released during the anticipation of a positive activity than in the actual activity itself. So setting a new goal, or planning for something new is a great way to roll through post-holiday blues.

Be social in a safe way – The need to socially distance has left many of us feeling more isolated and lonely. Yet, without adequate social support, we may be more susceptible to feelings of depression and dysphoria. Taking the effort to connect with friends in safe ways may be one of the most effective ways to stave off post-holiday blues.

Move your body – Many New Year’s resolutions include some form of exercise with the intent to lose weight. However, exercise for the purpose of mental health may create an entirely different experience. When we have a goal for weight loss, we may be inundated with negative thoughts about our body and frustration with the process of losing weight. The result is that exercise may not produce the same kinds of stress relief. Yet, when the goal of exercise is to “clear our head” or relieve feelings of anxiety, the outcome is much more positive.

The holidays may have been a big disappointment this past year and January may not be looking much better. But don’t forget, to be kind to yourself and take great pride in the fact that you are surviving through a pandemic with courage and strength.

Happy New Year and fingers crossed 2021 will bring a bit more hope and joy!