The holidays can bring up a lot of emotions, and those feelings are not always positive. While some people might feel excited and upbeat, others may feel down leading up to or during the holidays, or they may feel sad once the holidays are over. Here’s how to recognize the signs of post-holiday blues and how to cope with them.
What are the post-holiday blues?
Holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and New Year’s Eve can be exciting because they are occasions for parties and family gatherings. They’re also times of high activity, whether that means traveling, decorating, cooking or shopping for gifts. When that period is over, some people may start to feel a little down, especially if they had a good time during the holidays.
“The most common experience is a feeling of sadness, emptiness or lack of motivation after the holiday period,” says Dr. Frank Drummond, HCA Healthcare’s national medical director for Behavioral Health.
After the holidays are over, you may also feel anxious or even a little irritable. These feelings can be called “post-vacation syndrome” because you’re navigating how to get back to business as usual after an interruption to your normal routine.
“I consider it a smaller version of the ‘Sunday blues,'” Dr. Drummond says. The Sunday blues are when people start to feel sad on Sunday because the weekend is over. “It bothers them because it interferes with their enjoyment of the remainder of the weekend, just like post-holiday blues bother people because it’s a reaction to a pretty positive experience,” he says.
While holiday depression (depression caused by or triggered by the holiday season and events) tends to be more serious, especially for people who have preexisting mental illnesses, the post-holiday blues tend to be lighter and more manageable. But it’s important to be aware of your triggers, Dr. Drummond says.
“If a person struggles with loneliness, or if they’re unhappy in their day-to-day life, and it’s not been the greatest year, but they’ve had a really good period of holidays, they might anticipate that those feelings will come back even stronger once the holidays are over,” he adds. “If it gets to a point where you have a decrease in sleep or appetite, crying spells or thoughts of hopelessness, that’s when it’s becoming depression, or it’s triggering a physical depression that you might need help with.”
How to cope with post-holiday blues
There are several ways to cope if you feel down after the holidays are over, Dr. Drummond says. One way is to change your mindset with a gratitude practice.
“List the things you are thankful for and make that a daily practice combined with meditation or prayer,” Dr. Drummond says. “That simple act can really reframe the way that you manage your day and manage some of these symptoms.”
Exercise can also help you deal with feelings of sadness after the holidays. Physical activity reduces stress  and stimulates the production of feel-good chemicals called endorphins. You don’t have to make a New Year’s resolution, but it can help to set a reasonable expectation for yourself, such as walking for 20 minutes a day five days a week. Additionally, it can help to seek out humor, such as watching funny movies or TV shows, because laughter releases endorphins.
Finding a trusted person to talk to about your feelings, such as a friend or a therapist, is especially beneficial, Dr. Drummond says. It can be harder to manage sadness or guilt if you keep them bottled up, but talking about those feelings can help validate them. “Making that human connection and getting out of your own head is very important here,” Dr. Drummond adds.