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.

The holidays are here. For many, if not most, this means the season of gift giving. And with gift giving comes a unique opportunity to express ourselves. The motivations to our gift giving range from the purest altruism to the self-serving appreciation of a job well done and the way we give gifts is reflective of our personalities, sometimes even our gender. Typically, the more we care about someone, the more time we spend thinking and worrying about getting just the right gift, that perfect gift that will delight! Gift giving is a universal way of showing that we care and are appreciative. It also serves as a means of strengthening bonds.

Psychologist Karen Pine writes: “Gift giving is a social, cultural and economic experience; a material and social communication exchange that is inherent across human societies and instrumental in maintaining social relationships and expressing feelings.” (Psychology of Gift Exchange Mayet, & Pine).

Throughout many societies, the requirement to give may be ingrained as a religious, moral or social necessity. Our motives for giving can include obligation, a desire to give or an obligation to repay. Advertisers are especially good at creating a culture of gift giving, often guilting us into it with imagined reactions from our loved ones when they see that “perfect” gift.

And while it would be ideal that all gift giving was done with selfless intentions, that is not always the case. For some people, especially those who are nervous, anxious, or overly worried about how others see them, tensions are created in both giving and receiving a gift. However, most of the time, the giving of gifts are motivated by the altruistic intention of providing the recipient some joy and pleasure.

Gift giving may cause no little anxiety, as we want to make sure that the gifts we give reflect what we feel about the receiver. We don’t want there to be a disconnect between how the giver and receiver view the gift. The fear is that the reflection of the gift is a mirror or the relationship it represents. When misinterpretations do happen it can be uncomfortable, even embarrassing, for both giver and receiver. When the gift is much more or much less than was expected, negative feelings will accompany the exchange.

Gender plays a role in gifts we choose. While women tend to attach more meaning and sentimentality to gifts, men tend to be more practical and give functional gifts. Most women would not relish a vacuum cleaner as a gift, useful as it may be.

What many researchers have shown is that the giving of gifts provides the giver with as much satisfaction as the recipient by enabling the giver to experience a positive self-concept, to feel generous and valuable. In other words, it is better to give than to receive, and that if you want to be happy, you’re better off spending on others than on yourself.

According to researcher Elizabeth Dunn, Spending Money on Others Promotes Happiness, (Science 319, 2008), “how people choose to spend their money is at least as important as how much money they make.” In this research, Dunn concludes “spending money on other people may have a more positive impact on happiness than spending money on oneself.”

O. Henry may have summarized the ideal gift giving best in his story, The Gift of the Magi. It is a gift that is the personification of quality of quantity, the worth of thought over monetary expenditure. No one after all, can expect to always find the perfect gift. However, like in The Gift of the Magi, it is the thought that lies behind the gift that may cause the real delight.

Photo by: JD Hancock

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