The holidays can be a cheerful, festive time of busy schedules, family reunions, and celebrations. As the calendar reads January and the holiday decorations are put back into their boxes, we may feel our mood and energy levels dip and experience feelings of sadness or “post-holiday blues.” Is this common? Why do we feel “blue” once the holiday season comes to a close?

Feelings of sadness or boredom are actually quite common following the end of the holiday season. Why is this? One study found that this syndrome may be caused by social demands, unmet expectations, and biological stressors, like lack of sleep (Baier). The holidays may be one of the few times we are able to visit with our family members or friends who may live far away. The excitement and joy of reuniting with our loved ones can be difficult to replicate after the holiday season. Additionally, we may experience loneliness as we recognize the stark difference in social engagements between December and January. The holiday season is often filled with parties, weekend shopping, enthusiastic planning, and family time. These fun activities and celebrations quickly come to a close as we return to work and resume our daily routine.

Another reason we might experience the post-holiday blues is the difference in schedules and how we perceive how busy we are. Our January calendars seem bare compared to the hustle and bustle of the holiday festivities of November and December. This difference in schedules can contribute to not only loneliness, but also our self-worth and how we perceive ourselves. Sadly, we often link our self-worth or importance to how busy or hectic our schedules are. Lastly, post-holiday blues may be connected to our perception of the holiday season and our expectations. If the holiday season was not as exciting or encouraging as we anticipated, we may be left with feelings of disappointment or regret.

How do we cope with the post-holiday blues?

  1. Create new traditions.

The period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s is often filled with annual traditions and things we can easily look forward to and anticipate. Why not create new traditions to implement into the first month of January? My friends and I have just started a book club designed to be a special time we can all get together. Planned social gatherings can help combat the loneliness or sadness some may experience post-holidays. Perhaps identify what you miss about the holiday season and focus on incorporating more of those activities in the New Year whether it be family time, good food, or travel.

2. Create New Year’s resolutions.

As the clock strikes midnight, we welcome a brand new year full of possibilities and hopes.

New Year’s resolutions can be a helpful way to accomplish goals and improve your life. If you find yourself feeling down after the holidays, it may be a natural inclination to do things as you’ve always done and remain passive. Unfortunately, this creates a vicious cycle of impassivity and low energy. To end this cycle of low motivation, we must find a way to get moving and change our state from passive to active. It is similar to the idea of inertia: an object at rest will stay at rest, and an object in motion will stay in motion. We can combat the post-holiday blues by taking one little step toward a goal, or resolution.

3. Make time for family.

The holiday season is often a time spent catching up with loved ones, seeing family who may live far, and connecting with others. As the season ends, we may feel isolated as we go back to our daily work routine or our family flies back home. Making time for family or friends is just as important in the New Year as it is during the holiday season. Consider planning a night out with your family in January or connecting with friends over the weekend. These social connections can help combat the post-holiday blues.

4. Practice mindfulness, including non-judgmentalness toward self.

Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukah, and New Years are holidays often known for indulgence and fulfillment in food and drink. Mindfulness is the practice of staying in the present moment with intention and without judgment. It is not helpful to judge or criticize yourself for what you ate during the holiday season. Practice self-compassion and gratitude for your body and mind.

5. Take care of your health.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a mood disorder characterized by symptoms of hopelessness, depression, low energy, and social withdrawal that occur around the same time every year, often during the winter months. SAD has many possible biological causes, including reduced serotonin and melatonin levels. It is important to keep your physical well-being in check during these months. This may include getting the right amount of sleep, eating healthily and not restricting, exercising, and getting enough sunlight. Your physical well-being plays a large role in your mood.

The post-holiday blues are very common due to possible unmet expectations, biological stressors, and societal demands. There are many ways to help acknowledge and manage these feelings of sadness or disappointment. If your “post-holiday blues” linger and become more intense, consider seeking professional help.

One of the core symptoms of major depressive disorder is anhedonia; the inability to experience pleasure from activities that are usually found enjoyable. People who experience anhedonia have either lost interest in activities they used to enjoy, or they have an overall decreased ability to feel pleasure in general, as if their pleasure circuits have completely shut down. While it is one of the classic symptoms of depression, some people who experience anhedonia don’t have a mental health disorder and experience this symptom as a standalone.

There are two main types of anhedonia—social and physical anhedonia. With the social type, a person loses interest in all or most social contact and experiences displeasure in social situations. With physical anhedonia, a person is unable to feel tactile pleasures such as eating, touching or sex. Some major symptoms of the condition include social withdrawal, a lack of relationships or withdrawal from previous relationships, negative feelings toward oneself and others, reduced emotional abilities (such as having less verbal and/or nonverbal expressions), difficulty adjusting to social situations, a tendency toward showing fake emotions, a loss of libido or lack of interest in physical intimacy and  persistent physical symptoms (such as being sick often).

As stated previously, anhedonia can be a symptom of depression, but it can also be experienced without having clinical depression. An alternative theory poses that anhedonia comes not from an inability to experience pleasure, but rather from a reduced ability to sustain good feelings over a period of time.  Pleasure may be experienced, but only briefly, and then disappears. This can be explained by the different ways that nerve impulses travel in the brain to maintain reward and motivation. “Feel good” signals travel upward to the prefrontal cortex (PFC) and nerve fibers from the PFC also send signals downward to the nucleus accumbens (NA, deep inside the “primitive brain”). In a normal brain, the nerve impulses travel along this pleasure pathway from the PFC downward to the NA to sustain interest in a pleasurable activity, whereas the depressed brain experiences some difficulty.

Not everyone who’s depressed will experience anhedonia. In fact, some medications used to treat depression, such as antidepressants and antipsychotics, can actually cause anhedonia. Other chief causes are schizophrenia and recreational drug use. After that, risk factors include a recent traumatic or stressful event, a history of abuse or neglect, an illness that impacts your quality of life, or an eating disorder. Overall, females are more likely to experience anhedonia. Medically speaking, anhedonia can be difficult to treat because, to treat anhedonia, you will most likely need to treat the underlying disorder that’s causing the symptom, such as depression.

One group of doctors, however, has produced a report with multiple significant insights into this area. Aaron Heller and his colleagues at the University of Wisconsin and the University of Reading (UK) have developed a new functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) procedure to study brain activation patterns in depressed and non-depressed people. In this study, the volunteers look at pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral pictures over a 37-minute period. The volunteers were instructed to actively try to enhance the mood the picture produced, whether happy, sad, or indifferent. The insights delivered were as follows:

  • The depressed brain didn’t sustain NA activation to positive images as the normal brains did
  • The difficulty in sustaining activity in the NA was caused by lower activity in the PFC
  • The depressed people who couldn’t sustain NA activity reported less positive emotional responses to the pleasurable pictures
  • The depressed people who were better able to sustain activity in the NA also reported more pleasure in their everyday lives
  • The difference in sustaining NA activity between depressed and normal brains was specific to positive emotions.

If you believe you are experiencing symptoms of anhedonia, it is best to seek the help of a mental health professional. They will best be able to help you cope with your symptoms and perhaps seek medical treatment.

If you are interested in meeting with a behavioral health care provider to support mental health and wellness, try online videoconferencing through Inpathy

References

Brynie, Faith. “Depression and Anhedonia.” Psychology Today. Sussex Publishers, 21 Dec. 2009. Web. 21 Apr. 2017.

Heller, A. S., T. Johnstone, A. J. Shackman, S. N. Light, M. J. Peterson, G. G. Kolden, N. H. Kalin, and R. J. Davidson. “Reduced Capacity to Sustain Positive Emotion in Major Depression Reflects Diminished Maintenance of Fronto-striatal Brain Activation.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 106.52 (2009): 22445-2450. Web.

Purdie, Jennifer. “What Is Anhedonia?” Healthline. Healthline Media, 05 July 2016. Web. 21 Apr. 2017.

As the world becomes more digital, many of us are working from home. Some of us freelance, others telecommute, and still others have dedicated themselves to full-time caretaking. While working from home has many advantages, if you have depression, anxiety, or both, they can turn into disadvantages quickly if you are not careful. Working from home can be lonely, and it makes overworking or turning your whole life into your work-space very real problems. While the solutions below are essential for those with depression and anxiety, they are good solutions for anyone struggling with a stay-at-home lifestyle.

Problem: Isolation

Working from home, even if you’re telecommuting for one company, can be a lonely gig. Working as a full-time caretaker gives you company, but not necessarily companionship. Without peers and colleagues to bounce ideas off of, gripe with, or share successes, working from home can become isolation and add to symptoms of depression. Without measuring your work against regular benchmarks, it’s easy to become anxious that you’re not doing enough, as well.

Solution: Create your own social group.

If you telecommute, maybe some of your co-workers live nearby. Even if not, creating a social group with them online where you can talk to each other without discussing work is an easy way to develop friendships and build camaraderie among your colleagues. Look into and take advantage of community events;. public libraries often host a variety of events for business-minded adults, for instance. As a writer, I was delighted to discover that our library hosted write-ins during the month of November in support of National Novel Writing month – and I didn’t miss a single one.

Stay at home parents can join mommy and me workout groups, or take their children to music or tumbling classes. Once the kids are in school, parents can volunteer for field trips or school events. Additionally, attending PTA meetings or community events for full-time caretakers is a great way to find out how others deal with the same daily struggles and triumphs that come along with that role. If leaving the house is a struggle, then turning to online communities can be a good way to get that same interaction.

When making social commitments, keep track of them as though they are a part of your job. If you have to cancel, then try to reschedule as soon as possible, or at least make sure you acknowledge the cancellation. Nurture the relationships you already have instead of adding to your isolation.

Problem: Overworking

When your office is your home, it’s easy to keep working as long as you’re awake. If you don’t set limits on your workday, then you can easily become consumed by your work obligations and start ignoring other elements of your life–time with family or friends, and taking care of yourself and your home can easily become low priority when you’ve got a million deadlines looming. Suddenly you’re not taking care of yourself, you may even forget to take your medications or go too long without showering. It’s also very easy to neglect your sleep schedule and/or skip meals when you’re not paying attention.

Solution: Create a Work Schedule

Treat work like you would if you HAD an office – that is, create a work schedule and stick to it. Personally, I work better if I sleep a little later and stay up past the conventional work day. That means my workday lasts from 10am-7pm. Sometimes I take a break when my fiancé comes home from work, but that means I stay up later and work to make up for lost time. I do my best to disconnect from social media during those hours, and leave my phone out of arm’s reach, just like I would if I were working in an office. If I get up a little late and have to make breakfast “during work”, I eat at my desk instead of watching television, as my work day has already begun.

I have to admit I’m guilty of skipping meals every now and again. In order to combat this, I make sure we have meal bars or easy-to-make food in the house so that I minimize that risk. And no matter where I am when my fiancé comes home from work, if he’s making dinner, I take a break and join him.

While working from home, no matter your role, self-care must become part of your job. Whether you struggle with a mental illness or not, self-care is essential and should be part of your daily routine, making it easier to integrate into your stay-at-home schedule.

When you break away from your job that means no work tasks are allowed. Lunch breaks, even when working in an office, are proven to help with socialization and productivity. Stepping away from a nagging task or just the monotony of the work day and giving your mind time to rest will help you reset for when you return. Breaks can be anything from watching an episode of your favorite show to taking a walk around the block to going to a coffee shop and treating yourself to a Frappuccino. Just make sure you treat it like a lunch break and give yourself a set time to return to your desk.

If parenting or caretaking is your full time job, then you absolutely must make time for yourself. Pick up a new hobby, or dedicate yourself to an old one, and request that you get time to yourself while working on it. If you have a partner, ask if they will take care of the kids while you enjoy a hot bath, some quiet time to read, or an hour at the gym. If you don’t have that option, then you’ll need to be a bit more creative. Finding “me” time as a single parent is a bit more difficult, but certainly possible with a few adjustments to your daily schedule. Parents should also do their best not to overbook themselves – especially in a multi-child household. Don’t be afraid to say no! You can’t help anyone if you’re down for the count.

Problem: Work/Life Imbalance

Working from home can also mean that you treat the whole house like your office. It’s easy to stay in pajamas, drag your feet to the couch and sit down with your computer in the same space where you lounge at the end of the day. If this is the case, you’re more likely to keep working well past your “work day” schedule (because now you’ve created one) and lose track of time. If you don’t separate your workspace from your life space in some way, it can affect everything from your mood to your sleep schedule, making depression and anxiety even worse.

Solution: Create a Designated Work Space Separate from the Rest of the House

In a best case scenario to this problem, you will have an office with a door that you can close for your work hours. Being in this space will signal to you and to others that you’re at work, and it will help you focus and be more productive. If you don’t have a whole room for working, then creating a work “space” separate that isn’t used for anything else is a close runner-up. Maybe there’s a desk in the kitchen where only your work files go, or a corner of the living room where you keep your computer and books related to your job. If you absolutely have to improvise, then almost everything can be compromised on but one thing: get out of your pajamas. Getting dressed in the morning signals to your body that sleep time is over, and work time is up next. This doesn’t mean you have to sit at your dining room table in a suit, but you should at least put on jeans and a clean shirt.

If your home is not conducive to work, then take your computer to a local coffee shop or diner and work there – either with or without headphones. Local libraries also offer quiet places to work and, once you get a library card, you can often access their computers and digital files if you don’t have one of your own. Separating your workspace from the rest of your life helps signal to your mind and body that there are still different modes in your life, and keeps you from getting distracted when you’re trying to relax or spend “me time”.

If you’re the caretaker, then get out of the house when you can! I can’t overemphasize the importance of your local library enough, as they will likely have programming for kids or elderly members of the community.

Local playgrounds and parks are also great distractions, or ways to get out and get fresh air. Create somewhere in the home that is just for you, whether it’s a meditation space or a reading nook, and make sure the family knows not to bother you while you’re there.

If you are working from home and struggling with depression or anxiety, the best advice is to always talk to your doctor first. While there’s plenty you can do to combat these illnesses, a medical professional will have more information on the symptoms and what may be causing them. As Telepsychiatry becomes more popular, it is certainly a viable option for those of us who work from home. Talking to a medical professional over skype or on the phone is a very easy way to take care of ourselves without sacrificing our workday. Talk to a doctor today if you think telepsychiatry is the right option for you.

If you are interested in meeting with a behavioral health care provider to support mental health and wellness, try online videoconferencing through Inpathy

Sources

Bratskier, Kate. “Eating Lunch at Your Desk is Terrible for You and Your Work,” Huffington Post; http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/eating-lunch-at-your-desk_us_56d0847fe4b0bf0dab31debd.

Gray, Sherry. “How to Work From Home Without Losing Your Mind,” Entrepreneur; https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/253800.

The National Sleep Foundation. “5 Things You Should Not Do in Your Bedroom,” Valley Sleep Center; http://valleysleepcenter.com/5-things-you-shouldnt-do-in-your-bedroom-2/.

Stanger, Melissa. “10 Tips for Working Effectively At Home,” Business Insider; http://www.businessinsider.com/how-to-be-more-productive-working-from-home-2012-9?op=1/#-leave-work-at-the-end-of-the-day-10.

Wolf, Jennifer. “Me Time For Single Parents,” About Parenting. http://singleparents.about.com/od/singleparentlife/tp/me_time.htm.

If you are in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a free, 24-hour hotline at 1.800.273.8255. If your issue is an emergency, call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room.