For many parents, the holiday season can be an overwhelming experience. We try to ignore that nagging feeling that there should be more peace and enjoyment during all the party planning, shopping and traveling, but there is so little time to stop and relax. There’s still all that food to prepare! Should it be ham or turkey this year? Did Aunt Sarah have a nut allergy or was it gluten sensitivity?
For many, the holiday craziness can feel a bit like being trapped in a snow globe, an uncontrollable flurry of activity swirling around us. But the storm does settle, the calendar rolls into another year, and we look back at the holidays wondering if all the effort and expense were really worth the supposedly “most wonderful time of the year.”
Most of all, we just feel . . . blah.
The majority of people who get the after-holiday “blahs” are experiencing a very normal reaction to the frenzied pace of the previous month. Like a child having too much sugar, our tendency to overspend and overindulge results in a sort-of crash once the season ends. We’ve done too much, eaten too much and neglected sufficient sleep and exercise. It’s no surprise that January finds us with low energy and turbulent emotions.
The winter blues are a consequence of abandoning the patterns that keep our bodies and minds healthy and stable. To cope, we need to return to healthy routines. It’s also helpful to identify what caused us to depart from those patterns and plan ways to avoid those mistakes in the future. Here are some suggestions:
Healthy eating after the holidays
The parties are over, but there are plenty of leftovers. When we consume too much fat and sugar, we experience a temporary spike in energy followed by a much longer period of lethargy. This contributes to a cycle of more sitting, less exercise and more snacking. There is often a correlation between these unhealthy choices and depression. Wean yourself off those fats and sugars by reducing portions and the frequency that you dip into that massive canister of holiday treats still sitting on the counter. Eat healthy, well-balanced meals. And perhaps most importantly, stay hydrated throughout the day. Water helps fill our stomachs, diminishing the itch to snack, and it also helps our bodies digest food.
Rest and restoration
If you’re not getting seven to nine hours of sleep per day, aim to get to bed earlier. Avoid caffeine in the afternoon and turn off those tablets and smartphones by early evening. This helps quiet down the brain and prepare for better sleep.
You need about 30 minutes of rigorous exercise per day. Whether a brisk walk, climbing stairs or jumping rope, aerobic exercise is known to increase the level of serotonin (a chemical that boosts one’s mood). And get outdoors when the weather permits. Sunshine produces Vitamin D in our bodies, promoting serotonin production. Use sunblock as needed to protect from burning, but find the right balance to reap some of the benefits of natural sunlight.
Gratitude and growth
Remember the song “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music? There’s a profound truth behind this little song. Expressing gratitude for the things that bring us joy in life greatly contributes to our health. An attitude of gratitude leads to improvements in sleep and in our cardiovascular and immune systems.
Scripture admonishes us to thank God “always and for everything” (Ephesians 5:20). This includes the things that bring us happiness, but also the challenges that God allows in our lives. This attitude of gratitude is a major part of our mental health because it increases serotonin, dopamine and melatonin — natural brain chemicals known to improve our mood.
Wisdom for the future
A major source of the post-holiday blues is facing those inevitable bills from budget-busting purchases. Make a reasonable plan for paying off those bills before purchasing anything else, and if overspending is a chronic problem, research local classes that can help you develop good financial habits. Many employers and churches offer programs, such as Financial Peace University, to help families learn strategies for wise financial decisions.
We must develop a mindset that can help us make better choices about how we spend our money over future holidays. Consider this past year’s purchases. What was the motivation for the purchase? How was the gift received? How is it being used now? The gift of your child’s dreams lasts only as long as that gift has value to the child, which may end long before the bills are paid. Consider that most kids really want quality time with their parents more than gifts and that the memories of the season will last much longer than the material possessions.
Why do the good and healthy parts of the holiday season have to end so quickly? If you don’t do well with abrupt endings, feel free to gradually back away from the reminders of the holiday season. Take down decorations a few at a time, or plan a special family dinner for early in the new year and reminisce by looking at photos and videos from the past year. No, you’re not trying to create new sources of stress. You’re just reserving a little time for the peace and relaxation that you’d wished you had time for over the actual holidays.
Joannie DeBrito is a mental health professional with over 30 years of experience working with individuals, couples, parents and families, and is the current Director of Parenting and Youth at Focus on the Family.
Danielle Pitzer is a freelance writer.
If the blues seem to be a yearly winter ritual, consider whether you may have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). This mental health condition tends to begin and end at the same time each year, usually during the months of shorter daylight hours when the sky is darker for longer stretches of time. For some people, SAD can occur in the spring and summer as well.
The disruption of a person’s internal body clock and lowering levels of serotonin and melatonin can cause seasonal depression. Those who have SAD feel depressed most of the day and show many of the symptoms of depression, such as a loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities, low energy, disrupted sleep, distraction and changes in appetite or weight, as well as feelings of hopelessness.
The symptoms are felt for a season of the year rather than on an ongoing basis. Typically, the suggestions to return to healthy routines and habits do little to alleviate the symptoms of SAD. Therefore, if you notice this pattern in yourself or someone you love, you should seek help from a licensed medical or mental health professional.