How to Manage the Post-Holiday Blues—And When to Seek Help
Feelings of sadness or disappointment after the holidays aren’t uncommon—but pay attention to how long those feelings last.
By Alyssa Hui
Fact checked by Nick Blackmer
- The post-holiday blues refer to feelings of sadness or disappointment following the holiday season.
- Though not much research exists on the post-holiday blues, experts say the feelings are not uncommon.
- To help manage or prevent the post-holiday blues, experts advise connecting with friends and family, scheduling activities in advance, and maintaining healthy habits.
The holiday season—from Thanksgiving until New Year’s Day—can be a joyful and relaxing time for many people, but once the festivities wind down, sadness and loneliness can creep in. It’s an idea known as the post-holiday blues.
“After an exciting event like the holidays, there is often a feeling of disappointment or let-down,” Naomi Torres-Mackie, PhD, a clinical psychologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City and head of research at The Mental Health Coalition, told Health.
“Looking ahead to something like the holidays can feel exciting, but when the event has passed, the loss of that excitement can feel bad,” said Torres-Mackie. “There can almost be a sense of emotional withdrawal from the holiday cheer.”
Here’s what you need to know about the post-holiday blues—and how you can cope with those feelings.
What Are the Post-Holiday Blues?
The post-holiday blues refers to the short-term feelings that individuals experience after the holidays, including sadness, loneliness, fatigue, disappointment, sluggishness, mental distress, or even dread of the upcoming winter months.
“The holidays offer most people a time to focus their energy on the task of decorating, baking, planning, and gift giving,” Nicole Hollingshead, PhD, a psychologist and clinical assistant professor of Family and Community Medicine at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, told Health. “After the holidays are over, people may feel lost or empty without having a goal-driven activity to help them to focus.”
Though the concept of post-holiday blues hasn’t been studied much, the feelings are still a fairy common occurrence.
“It is important to recognize that this phenomenon is not uncommon,” said Torres-Mackie. “The more you talk about this with friends and family, the more you’ll find that you are not alone in the experience of post-holiday blues.”
What Can Trigger the Post-Holiday Blues?
The triggers for the post-holiday blues can vary from person to person, according to Paul Nestadt, MD, co-director of the Johns Hopkins Anxiety Disorders Clinic and assistant professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, told Health.
Some people may have trouble with the holidays themselves—the grand expectations, reminders of lost or estranged loved ones, difficult family dynamics, financial burdens.
Others who enjoy the holiday season may receive a boost of dopamine and serotonin—two feel-good hormones—after spending time with friends and family. But, according to Dr. Nestadt, when the holiday events end, so too does the mood boost.
The abrupt end to the holiday season can also feel disorienting, and may trigger the post-holiday blues.
“There is exhaustion from hosting, travel, or any of the aspects of disrupted normalcy that the holidays bring,” said Dr. Nestadt. “These can all be hard to cope with.”
Because these holidays also tend to happen during the winter months in the United States, they also overlap with the time of year when seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is most prominent. The change of seasons, reduced daylight, decreased physical activity levels, and increased isolation can all contribute to the post-holiday blues, said Dr. Nestadt.
When Are the Post-Holiday Blues Something More Serious?
The symptoms of the post-holiday blues—including sadness, lack of motivation, sleep disturbances, or irritability—can be similar to those of clinical depression, according to Torres-Mackie, so it’s important to keep track of how long you’ve been feeling low after the holidays.
“Depression involves low mood for most of the days for a period of two weeks or more,” she Torres-Mackie. “Post-holiday blues will be shorter in duration and not as detrimental to your daily life. They will also be specific to the post-holiday time period.”
If any feelings of post-holiday blues begin impacting your daily functioning, like making it hard to get out of bed, go to work or school, leave the house, spend time with others, or accomplish small tasks, it may be worth checking in with a healthcare provider.
“We expect with the blues for people to have a string of bad days that remit, but if you are feeling down and depressed more days than not for two weeks or more, then you may consider reaching out for additional help or support,” Hollingshead said.
How to Manage the Post-Holiday Blues
If you are experiencing the post-holiday blues—or want to prevent them from happening in the future—some basic lifestyle interventions can help, according to Dr. Nestadt. Here are some ways to get out of a funk after the holidays:
Get enough sleep
It’s important to get enough sleep every day, not only to maintain mental health, but also to prevent chronic conditions such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, and mental distress.
Adults ages 18 and older are recommended to get at least seven hours of sleep each night.
Eat a balanced and nutritious diet
Additional stress during the holiday season can cause people to reach for higher-fat and higher-sugar foods—which can then cause even more stress or anxiety.
In order to maintain healthy eating habits during the holidays—and in the days after—try to add or substitute healthier foods, including fresh fruits and veggies, to your meal plan.
Avoid alcohol and drugs
According to Dr. Nestadt, people who feel sad or anxious may benefit from abstaining from drugs or alcohol, since both substances can make negative emotions feel stronger or harder to manage or interpret.
Get in some physical activity
The stress of the holiday season can lead people astray from their workout routines—but exercising regularly can benefit symptoms of depression or anxiety.
To maintain motivation—or begin working out again—enlist family members or friends to exercise with you, or choose activities you enjoy doing to stay busy.
Connect with friends or family
Leaning on your friends and family can help you continue to feel connected and not alone. Close connections could also be useful in helping you navigate what you are going through.
“It’s likely that someone close to you can relate to this feeling, and sharing it with someone can take away the string of feeling alone in it,” Torres-Mackie said.
Schedule activities in advance
According to Hollingshead, people may be at higher risk of the post-holiday blues if they do not have something to look forward to after the holidays.
“If the last few months have been focused on preparing for the holidays,” said Hollingshead, “then ideally you would have something else, like a trip or activity, that you’re looking forward to after the holiday break.”
Planning something ahead of time—big or small—can help you keep some joyful momentum going after the holiday season.
Try something new
If you plan on making plans for future activities, you can stick to something tried-and-true, like eating at your favorite restaurant or scheduling a game night with close friends. But you could also try a new activity on for size—like trying a new recipe at home or taking a dance class that you’ve been eyeing for a while.
“When we feel blue or depressed, we often lose motivation to do things,” said Hollingshead. “Having something scheduled in advance helps us to remain accountable and do things that ultimately help us to feel better.”
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