The top 8 tips for overcoming the post-Christmas blues
The post-Christmas period can potentially be a deflating and lonely time when all the fuss of the build-up to the holidays is well and truly over. The decorations are put away and the Christmas tree is eventually tossed on the recycling heap. Your mood can feel empty and lonely.
In January, the days are still short, but it can feel like there is no longer anything to look forward to. Worse still, the credit card bills begin to arrive through the letterbox and the repayment schedules loom. January is also a time of self-assessment deadline for a lot of people and springtime can seem like a long way off.
It is tempting to compare Christmas against the perception of others having a seemingly perfect holiday period (perhaps through the fake lens of social media). Or we compare our own past Christmases, maybe the ones that represented the magic of Christmas as a child, or the one before our relationship breakup, or when our loved one was still around and we weren’t going through a period of grieving. There are constant reminders of past times through songs, films and memories.
There is little solid research behind post-Christmas blues but adrenaline comedown could be a factor. The sudden withdrawal of stress hormones that follows a significant social event, such as a major family occasion, an important milestone at work, or a holiday period such as Christmas and New Year, can have a compound negative effect on our biological and psychological well-being.
Post-Christmas blues can share similar symptoms with other conditions, but unlike clinical depression and certain anxiety states, the distress associated with this period is typically short-lived rather than long-term. However, if you are worried about your mental health it could do no harm to arrange to speak to your GP so that anything organic affecting your mood may be investigated. Speak to your GP also if you think you might have seasonal affective disorder (SAD). They can help you to decide if you need any further investigations, such as potentially considering medication, arranging for blood tests, or getting a SAD lightbox which can help reduce the negative effects caused by the lack of natural light during this dark season.
January is the ideal time to review and boost your positive self-care regime and social support structure. It is also an excellent time to remind yourself that you need to have fun and to schedule recreation time into your daily routine.
Here are eight top tips for beating the post-Christmas blues:
1. Prioritise to-do lists
The brain exaggerates the realities of day-to-day life during a holiday period, meaning the return to one's normal routine may seem disproportionately more anxiety-inducing and depressing than it actually is. Therefore, it is important to get active with to-do lists. The vacuum caused by the return to your normal routine needs to be filled with forward planning. ‘Action’ should be your mantra as you seek to return to your previous state of positive well-being.
To-do lists should comprise of short, medium and long term goals. Make them attainable and enjoy the positive feelings associated with ticking them off as being complete.
2. Plan a holiday
It is important to have things to look forward to. Tell yourself that these low feelings are a temporary phase and that they will pass. Once you shift your focus to a future event, rather than something in the past, your energy levels will be invigorated. It need not be a luxurious holiday. It could be just visiting a friend at a point in the future where you can do something new. The key is that you have something in the diary to look forward to.
3. Increase your physical exercise regime
High impact exercise is sometimes referred to as being one part of the holy trinity that underpins physical health, along with good sleep and a good diet. Good physical health in turn boosts good emotional and mental health. High impact exercise helps boost neurogenesis, the process by which new neurons are formed in the brain. Aerobic activities such as running, cycling, swimming, and even sex, are effective ways of boosting neurogenesis.
With boosted levels of neurogenesis, you have a better chance of maintaining stable mood regulation. Christmas is probably the worst time for overindulging, with negative consequences for sleep, so a targeted plan to boost physical exercise is crucial to lift your low mood.
4. Do things differently - “what fires together wires together”
Donald Hebb's axiom reminds us that every experience, thought, feeling, and physical sensation has the potential to trigger thousands of neurons, which together can form a neural network. When you engage in repetitive behaviour, the brain learns to trigger the same neurons each time.
Hebb, often considered the “father of neuropsychology” because of the way he was able to merge the psychological world with the world of neuroscience, suggested that when our brains learn something new, neurons are activated and connected with other neurons, forming a neural network. Therefore, seek to learn something new post-Christmas and do things differently. New behaviour can shift your mood by creating a new neural network.
5. Increase your social network
Feeling down and being socially isolated can often be bedfellows. This is your opportunity to boost your social network. Perhaps people in your current network are too busy with their families or with work (or with themselves). Find a group to join whereby you will have similar interests with like-minded people.
There is a big distinction between aloneness and loneliness. Some people prone to introversion embrace their aloneness and don’t feel lonely whereas people who are more social-focused tend to feel lonely when alone. The key is to do what feels right for you.
6. Practice mindfulness and meditation
Regular meditation practice produces a response in the body that activates the parasympathetic nervous system and can also bring about a larger hippocampus, increased blood flow, and an increase in positive feelings, empathy as well as reduced anxiety. Persist in your practice and you will feel better. The benefits are greater energy levels and productivity, more personal power, higher levels of self-esteem, more perseverance, decreased feelings of anxiety and more self-confidence.
There are many resources online to get started. But be careful you don’t set yourself up to fail. You should not be aiming to empty your mind of all thoughts. That is an impossible task. Simply concentrate on your breathing and sit with whatever thoughts you have. Accept you have a racing mind and negative thoughts, rather than frustrating yourself in believing that your mind needs to be emptied. Real mindfulness is those moments when you realise you have drifted away.
This could be a great opportunity to declutter your home and reorganise your possessions. You could donate old clothes, or unwanted gifts, to a charity shop. If you have children, perhaps you could filter your child’s toys, there might be some that they don’t play with anymore? Getting busy with these tasks will shift your thinking away from regret and loss towards solution-focused behaviour.
8. Have fun
Build-in fun things to do in your daily life. Your brain, and therefore your moods, will be better for it. Fun things need not be extravagant events but can be very simple things that shift the focus from your cognitive function for a time.
How can counselling and psychotherapy help with post-Christmas blues?
Counselling and psychotherapy can offer you the opportunity to explore how you deal with endings and uncover the sources of your unprocessed grief. The end of Christmas, and the holiday season, can represent an ending that could be triggering some unconscious discomforts.
The therapeutic work could involve identifying which part of you is sad, and what historical wounding is associated with these feelings of sadness. Transformation could entail integrating troublesome parts, such as your sadness or your inner critic, so that you can embrace your life more meaningfully.