The After-Christmas Blues

antidepressant and Christmas BluesPsychologists say that after-Christmas Blues (or post-holiday depression, in their nomenclature) is a fact of life for an increasing number of people each year.  The reasons for this include:

  • Unmet expectations
  • Deflation
  • Guilt for over-indulgence
  • Unfavorable realizations
  • Anxiety over impending normalcy

Unmet expectations result from not getting something you want.  It may have been a single extravagant item or hoping for a bevy of techno gadgets and receiving socks and underwear instead.  It can also be a less concrete expectation: perhaps you hoped that, this year, the whole family would get together in the spirit of love and peace and no fist fights would break out.

Deflation comes after a time of excitement, especially something like Christmas that builds up momentum over weeks or months then ends suddenly.  In some households it seems Christmas is something to be endured, then ended as hastily as possible so normalcy can resume.  Even before Christmas day is over the tree is stripped of ornaments and kicked to the curb.  The day after Christmas, carols are banned from the radio and holiday spirit is hauled out with the torn wrapping paper.   But for others the build-up of “good-will toward all” and “peace on Earth” is enjoyable and when it is suddenly boxed up for another year, it leaves them empty and disappointed.

Guilt can come from gluttony that results in belly ache and clothes that don’t fit or it can come with the credit card bill.  Or perhaps it’s that once again you drank too much, tripped over a hassock and took the Christmas tree down with you at the Christmas eve party.

Unfavorable Realizations happen when you’ve built an image in your mind of how things will go, only to find that others don’t share your vision.  Again, this is often predicated on the behavior of friends and family who don’t spend much time together — sometimes for good reason.

Impending Normalcy.  Anxiety often occurs at the end of a special time: be it Christmas, Thanksgiving, or a vacation, when you contemplate going back to your day-to-day routine.  The more you enjoyed this special time, the more anxious you may be about leaving it behind and moving on.  Fatigue often plays into this as well: especially if you are a main facilitator of the festivities, you are likely worn out and need a rest before going back to your normal work duties.

How to Deal with After-Christmas Blues

If you are feeling depressed, anxious, or deflated after Christmas here are some pointers to help get you through.

Rest.  If you are tired, leave the clean-up for later — or better yet, assign it to someone else.  No one is going to haul you off to jail if you have Christmas debris in your home for a few days.  If you are feeling put-upon by the amount of work you put in to host the festivities, take the opportunity (while you are feeling this way) to pass the baton to someone else for next year.  Or at the very least recruit help for the next time.  If there is some twisted part of you that insists on doing everything yourself, recognize this martyrdom as self-inflicted and move on.

Socialize. If you are lonely because the house that was ringing with excitement and activity now seems huge and empty, get out and see friends or family.  Do not sit at home feeling abandoned.

Be Rational.  If you are feeling guilty over weight gain during the holiday season, be realistic about setting new years resolutions.  Keep it real, or you will be doubly disappointed when you fail to meet these resolutions.  If you are now racked with anxiety of the credit card bills you will be seeing, recognize that your generosity comes with a price.  Sit down and examine your normal spending.  Find ways to cut back on personal spending and dedicate those funds to paying down those credit cards as fast as possible so they don’t eat you alive with interest.  Then set a budget of what you can realistically spend on Christmas next year and dedicate yourself to staying within that budget.

Think Healthy.  The gluttonous holidays are over and it’s time to get back to healthy living.  Don’t obsess over weight gain.  Don’t starve yourself — that never works.  Eat light meals of healthy foods. Suitable foods containing tryptophan (the building block for mood-enhancing serotonin) include bananas, poultry, dairy, produce, and peas.[1] Exercise too.  Be reasonable about it: keep within your abilities.  If walking around the block a coupe of times a day is all you can do, start there.  Add more as you build strength and stamina.  Don’t over-do and hurt yourself, but don’t give up either.

Assess.  Take this time to realistically look at your relationships, responsibilities,  and responses to this holiday season.  What aspects are you feeling most anxious or depressed about?  Change those for next time.  Resolving to make it better next time will help you get over the problems this time.

Moving on

Look back over the holiday just past and focus on what you enjoyed.  Identify what caused you anxiety and resolve to do what it takes to prevent that next year.

If you thoroughly enjoyed the holiday and are now feeling empty because it is over, look forward to the next one and enjoy the memories you have of this one.  Don’t be in a rush to end it all.  Just because Christmas Day has past does not mean it has to end with finality; like the thunk of a guillotine blade.  Leave the tree up a while, gaze at your cards, enjoy the memories.

In our house we’d leave the tree up until Easter, if it would last that long, for what was begun on Christmas day culminates on Easter.

Choose to be happy.  Maintain relationships.  Whittle away the guilt and plan to do better.  Hold to the good memories and push the unpleasant ones aside, then step out in confidence as you walk into the new year.   A new year: a new start.  Decide to make the best of it.

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