The holiday period is a time of year like no other. The whole world seems to come to a standstill as we take time off, switch gears and try to get ourselves into the spirit of giving and sharing with those closest to us.
Of course, that’s not the case with everyone. For some, the holidays are a real struggle – especially those with few family or friends to share the festivities with or who have difficult or conflicted family relationships.
When you add substance abuse or addiction into the equation, the holidays can be practically impossible for some.
What are “holiday blues”?
For those who fit this profile, “holiday blues” can be very common.
While it would appear that everyone else is experiencing the peace and joy associated with the season, those experiencing this phenomenon may be left feeling sad, depressed and irritable.
This can be caused by a number of factors. The main one is, of course, loneliness. The “season to be jolly” often brings the fact that you have no one to share it with into much sharper focus.
Another is stress. This can be brought on by over-extending yourself as you try to live up to what is expected during the season, whether buying the perfect gift or being the perfect guest or host.
Likewise, the added time pressures, as well as having to deal with crowds, can add to the feeling of being overwhelmed.
Family conflict is another factor that can lead to holiday blues. Many of us have an unrealistic expectation that family issues can be set aside for the sake of the holidays (or the children). However, this rarely happens and putting conflicting family members in one place – with alcohol often readily available – can inevitably have the opposite effect.
That said, it’s not just those present that can cause hurt or disharmony. The absence of those no longer present can be felt particularly strongly during the holidays. The period can bring back constant reminders of those you’re grieving. And the pain can be particularly acute when juxtaposed against the joys of the season.
When the blues continue into January
It’s not just during the holidays that we can feel blue. Even after the period has ended, it’s pretty common for sadness or depression to continue or even increase. This is known as “post-holiday letdown”.
As January arrives, many of us experience a massive come-down as we battle fatigue after the hectic holiday schedule, loneliness from the sudden drop-off in social contact, sadness, and a drastic reduction in motivation as we return to “normal” life.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) has been shown to play a role in this. In the northern hemisphere, the lack of sunlight experienced during these winter months can lead to reduced levels of the so-called “feel-good hormones” – serotonin and dopamine.
People’s moods are also affected by a tendency to “hibernate” in the colder months. Spending more time indoors means that we’re not exercising or socialising as much as we usually would.
If you struggle with addiction, this negative mindset can easily make you susceptible to triggers and encourage you to return to old habits. So how can you snap out of this?
How to shake off the holiday blues
If you want to get the new year off to the best possible start, you need to shake off the holiday blues as quickly as possible. Otherwise, before you know it, January will be over, and any progress you made before the holidays will have been undone.
If you dread the holiday period, being aware of the difficulties posed by it and taking proactive steps can ensure that you head into the new year with a positive attitude.
Step one is to ensure that the overindulgence doesn’t continue for too long. You’ll inevitably have eaten, spent and socialised too much throughout December. However, now that the holiday season is over, you have to resist the temptation for the excess to continue – even if there are still leftover biscuits and treats that you haven’t got around to eating yet.
Continuing to practise good self-care is crucial. If you’ve let the holidays be an excuse for skipping your exercise routine or sleeping less, getting back to it as quickly as possible is vital. With the additional stress of the season, looking after yourself is more important than ever. The holidays are brief, but the time and effort required to regain any lost progress can be colossal.
That said, if the holidays were a positive experience for you, it might be a good idea to try to prolong the joy by bringing some of the typical holiday experiences into the new year. This could be by throwing a party or get-together in January – a time when most people’s calendars are typically quite empty.
You can also use this time to catch up with those you were too busy to see in December. You could even continue the gift-giving theme with them.
Reframing how you view the first few months of the year can make a big difference. If it’s winter where you are, and you find it difficult to motivate yourself to leave the house, why not consider starting one of those tasks that you’ve been putting off, like cleaning out your loft, painting your bedroom, or putting your photos into albums?
The sense of accomplishment and pride you’ll feel when you’re done will undoubtedly boost your mood.
Seek help if you need it
However, if you’re struggling to overcome the holiday blues or feel your long-term recovery is under threat, now is a good time to seek professional help.
If your depression or mental health is interfering with your daily life, it’s essential to reach out for help and find a licensed therapist who can support you.
If you’d like to find out how our Programs and therapies at White River Manor can help you get your new year off to the best possible start, don’t hesitate to contact us today.