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Posted on January 6, 2015 at 6:00 am
I grew up in Western Washington where it rains a lot but doesn’t get quite as chilly as here in the Inland Northwest. On the west side, snow was an exciting event that only happened every once in a while. In Spokane, there are years it seems the snow is here forever, getting browner and uglier by the day. So to be completely honest, I still dread cold Spokane winters that seem to last forever. However, I love the holidays. The cold dark days in November and December don’t bother me because I’m busy planning, doing fun activities with my kids, baking and spending time with family and friends. However, I HATE January. All the festivities are over and there isn’t anything to look forward to until spring, which is many cold, snowy months away. January and I are not friends. January always makes me feel a little low. In fact, it is such a common occurrence for me that I already find myself dreading January and the blues to come. Lately, I’ve found myself wondering what I could do to prevent the post-holiday blues and maybe make a little peace with January, my wintertime nemesis. I have a friend who is a counselor here in Spokane, and I decided to pick her brain for information about the post-holiday blues and how I might make this January different from Januarys past. Since I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one to experience post-holiday blues (and an illogical hate for January), I decided to share her expertise…
First, a little about Stacie…Stacie Webb is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Child Mental Health Specialist with over 10 years of experience working with children, adolescents, families and adults. She has advanced training and clinical experience in issues related to anxiety, depression, self-harm behaviors, and trauma. She graduated from Whitworth University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology and also Religion in 2003, then went on to get a Masters of Social Work from University of Nevada Las Vegas in 2008. This same year, she and her family moved back to Spokane. Stacie started her own counseling practice 2 years ago and feels absolutely privileged to be able to serve members of this community. She is happily married and has two wonderful daughters, ages 6 and 3. She enjoys cooking, hiking, gardening and reading a good book while enjoying a cup of tea.
First things first, we hear the term “post-holiday blues,” is this a real thing or a myth?
Now that the presents have all been opened, the trees have been taken down, the Menorah has been put away, the shopping is done, the socializing and traveling is all wrapped up, it’s time to head back to work and school and for some reason you are feeling down in the dumps. Sadly, when all the festive fun is over, the blues often peak. The stress and expectations of the holidays often launch our brains into overdrive and then when it is all over, we crash. Motivation escapes us and fatigue settles in just as we are supposed to be marching back to work and school. Yes, the term “post-holiday blues” does seem an appropriate name for what many of us are experiencing this time of the year. While there are hundreds of articles, pamphlets and websites that address the type of depression that occurs during the holidays, the intense bouts of sadness that many people experience after the holidays is unfortunately often neglected.
Is there a difference between post-holiday blues and depression?
Most people who experience “post-holiday blues” will likely feel the fog lifting within a couple weeks after the holidays and will resume their normal mood and routine. However, for some, the symptoms of sleep difficulties, weight changes, sadness, low mood, lack of motivation, irritability, loss of enjoyment in previously pleasurable activities, anxiety, agitation and headaches (to name a few) will continue and weeks will turn into months. This is when the “blues” have possibly become more of a problem and may be moving into the territory of a depressive disorder. These symptoms can also be compounded by Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a type of depression that occurs in the same season each year, often in the winter. If you are finding yourself struggling with the symptoms listed above consistently for over a month past the holidays, I would suggest talking with your primary medical provider to determine what they might suggest for you. Sometimes we think that just giving things time will make it better, but unfortunately this is not always the case and it may be time to take action so that you can start on the road to feeling better.
For people like me, who know they are prone to being sad after the holidays are over and January hits, are there ways to prevent post-holiday blues?
Probably the most effective way to prevent post-holiday blues is to plan ahead, starting before the holidays even begin. The largest contributors to the crash that comes after the holidays are unmet expectations, unrealistic resolutions, a return of loneliness and guilt about overindulgence. We also often don’t allow ourselves to feel anything other than happiness, gratitude and joy during the holidays. Many of us put on a mask of positive feelings and do all we can to get through the stressful time that can be the holidays without cracking and then when it’s over, we allow ourselves to fall apart. However, in reality, we all know this festive time can be a roller coaster of emotions and experiences. The more we give ourselves permission to feel any emotions we might be having during the holiday season, the less we will feel the need to “fall apart” when the season has passed. As best we can, we should try to approach the season with as much honesty as we can, recognizing we will likely feel moments of intense joy but also intense sadness and every emotion in between and this is all perfectly acceptable. Just be you! Even if that you is not feeling like all your holiday wishes were granted. In fact, I’m sure that many of us could definitely share a laugh with another who feels they are in the same boat during this season.
In addition, trying to create balance throughout the holiday season will go far in helping you to maintain that same balance once January 2 rolls around. Learning to live within our limits can go a long way to relieve some stress during this busy time. Don’t be afraid to say “no” if needed!
These are good things to keep in mind heading into the holidays next year. But what do we do if the blues have already set in? It sounds like letting go of any guilt over how the holidays did or didn’t go is a good starting point, and maybe adjusting any New Year’s resolutions that may be unrealistic could be in order. What else can somebody do to start feeling better?
Many of us will find that in spite of our best efforts we are down in the dumps following the holidays. Here are some tips for what you can do to start feeling better:
1. Self-care. Basic self-care often gets forgotten during the holiday season. We eat too much, drink too much, don’t get enough sleep, consume way too much sugar and don’t have time to make it to the gym or get regular exercise. All of these behaviors start to take a toll on our bodies and then on our moods. Get back to a reasonable diet, add a walk every day or get back to a routine of going to the gym. Set a consistent bedtime for yourself and stick to it. You may be surprised at how these basic strategies can improve your mood, giving you more energy and motivation.
2. Arrange some things to look forward to. The holidays are not the end of life as we know it. You may be looking at a blank calendar when you return to work, so put some things on it! Plan a coffee date with a friend, a date night with your spouse or a fun day with the kids. Having things to look forward to will help to give you some excitement for the months to come.
3. Get Out and Socialize. It’s cold and dark out and spring is months away. This may leave you with the feeling of wanting to hibernate until the flowers begin to blossom. However, getting out and socializing may be exactly what you need to get you out of the funk you are in.
4. Don’t hesitate to get professional help. If you’ve been thinking about finding a therapist or considering starting an anti-depressant or if you just can’t seem to shake the post-holiday blues using the strategies mentioned, don’t hesitate to move forward with this decision. Talk to your primary medical provider or ask a friend for a recommendation.
As somebody who struggles with the blues this time of the year, and as a mom, I often worry my kids will inherit my January doldrums. Do kids experience post-holiday blues?
The weeks leading up to New Years can be full of magic, holiday traditions and family memories, but just like for adults, kids can also be left with feelings of disappointment, sadness and missed expectations after the celebrations are over. So, yes, kids, like adults, can experience post-holiday blues. Also, if you as a parent are struggling with feeling the “blues” during this time, it is more likely that your children will be feeling the same way as well.
I was afraid of that. So, what should I be watching for? What does this look like for kids?
Kids tend to show their feelings through actions and behavior, rather than using words to explain how they are feeling. This is often because they may not have the words or may not understand the emotions they are experiencing. Some commons signs of the blues include a lack of appetite, trouble sleeping, moodiness, poor impulse control, lack of interest in activities that normally interest them, apathy, and tantrums. Kids may go through phases where they feel really sad but then bounce back. If the symptoms last for three or more weeks out of a month, you may want to keep an eye on it and talk to your pediatrician.
OK, let’s say I notice these symptoms in one of my kids. While I keep an eye on their symptoms to see if they persist, what can I do to help them feel better? What are some strategies to help them shake off the “blues” before they turn into something more serious?
If you think your child is experiencing the post-holiday blues, the more you can listen to them and validate their experiences and emotions, the more they will feel supported. As parents, it is hard for us to know that our children are sad, but trying to talk them out of their sadness or “cheer them up” will often leave them feeling more “blue” and can actually make things worse. Show them that you understand their disappointment and sadness and that you will do all you can together to help them to feel better. Many of the tips for adults also hold true for kids. Help them stay active and feed them healthy foods. Maintain a normal sleep schedule. Also, plan some fun outings with family and friends. Continue keeping an eye on their moods and behavior by observation and by checking in with them. If things do not improve, I suggest contacting your pediatrician or seeking out a child therapist.
Thank you for taking the time to share your expertise with us, Stacie. While nobody wants to experience the “blues” it’s good to know there are steps we can take to hopefully prevent them and, if needed, combat them. Anything else you want to share with our readers?
I want to thank you all for taking the time to read about the post-holiday blues and I hope that you find the information helpful. If you have any questions or if you are interested in talking more about pursuing therapy for yourself or a loved one, please feel free to call me at (509) 570-4098. Peace to you all in the New Year!
Stacie J. Webb, LICSW
10103 N. Division, Suite 100
Spokane, WA 99218