What Are the Post-Holiday Blues?

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Post-Holiday Blues

Post-holiday blues usually refer to the short-lived mental distress, anxiety, and sadness that arises after the holidays.

The holidays are a busy time and they last from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Eve. This period might include celebrations and get-togethers for Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and New Year’s Eve. That’s a long period of time.

While it may be an exciting stretch for many people, it can also be a prolonged period of loneliness and sadness for others. Throughout this time, emotions are heightened.

Sometimes emotions are hard to regulate. It’s common after all of the hoopla for people to experience a letdown or what some call the "post-holiday blues." Usually not long-lasting, most people swing “back to normal” after a short while.

Here is what you need to know about this down period. This article will discuss the Christmas effect on mental health, signs of post-holiday blues, emotions you might feel after the frantic holidays, and tips on how to feel better.

Is There a Christmas Effect on Mental Health?

Many people experience mental health challenges after the holidays. Scientists have in fact studied the effect of religious holidays on individuals.

In a study called "The Christmas Effect on Psychopathology," scientists conducted a literature search from 1980 to the present. They used the search terms "Christmas," "suicide," "depression," "psychiatric disorders," and "self-harm behavior." It included studies from the U.S. as well as other countries.

They found a decrease in the overall utilization of psychiatric emergency services and admissions, self-harm behavior, and suicide attempts/completions during the holiday. But they found an increase, or a rebound, following the Christmas holiday.

If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Signs of Post-Holiday Blues

How can you determine if what you have is indeed the post-holiday blues? Rest assured, though signs may vary, any of these signs likely won’t last too long.

After the adrenaline rush of the holidays:

  • You may feel anxious.
  • You may feel unmotivated,
  • You may be in a bad mood.
  • You may be irritable.
  • You may feel stressed.
  • You may be depressed.
  • You may have insomnia.
  • You may have worries about money.
  • You may have excessive rumination.

Emotions You Might Feel Now

Sometimes caused “post-vacation syndrome,” people are navigating a way to get back to business as usual. While not reflective of a serious case of depression in most circumstances, emotions involved with post-holiday blues range widely.

Common emotions people feel include:

Emptiness

You might wonder why you feel empty. Various reasons including exhaustion might contribute to you feeling this way. After all, the holiday season is a frenzied time. In addition to putting up decorations and buying gifts, you may have had added responsibilities like cooking or volunteering for a local non-profit.

Let Down After Extreme Emotions

This feeling of being let down after the holidays might simply be your recovery from intense positive emotions. For example, you may have felt extreme joy and happiness seeing your friends and family.

Reuniting with older relatives who you distanced from during the pandemic might have been wonderful. While it seems counter-intuitive, you might feel low now as your emotions regulate and readjust.

Loneliness

Conversely, you may have felt especially isolated and alone during the holidays. Maybe you had to work long hours, couldn’t afford to travel or chose to be alone. For those feeling loneliness during the holiday season or afterwards, psychologists advise you cultivate your sense of gratitude and be kind to yourself.

Stress

Yet another reason for feeling the post-holiday blues is you’re stressed. If you traveled for the first time in a long while, logistics could have made things more complicated. Getting ready for and returning from a long car trip or flight is hard enough.

Add to that staying updated on ever-changing rules about masking, vaccine requirements and testing may have added to your to-do list and sense of overwhelm.

After so much stimulation, your return to reality might involve even more to catch up on. Thus, the stress continues. While you might have enjoyed holiday time, it disrupted your routine and you really didn’t have much rest.

Loss

If you were close to your family and are no longer, you might feel disappointed as well as a sense of loss. Remember that emotions during and after the holiday period might be especially heightened. If a loved one recently died, you might be sad and grieving.

Tips on How to Feel Better

Here are some ways to get out of the funk after the holidays:

Give yourself more time. This means giving yourself additional time for everything from unpacking to catching up on the mail. Schedule a day or two as catch-up time. Use this as a buffer before returning to the regular routine.

Change your mood by limiting social media. Talk to people by phone or in person instead.

  • Get some exercise. The Cleveland Clinic says you’ll feel happier and get those endorphins kicking in by going for a walk.
  • Partake in nature therapy. It’s been proven that green spaces increase our sense of well-being.
  • Eat well. Focus on fish, whole grains, dark chocolate, and green tea to combat stress.
  • Get enough sleep. The Sleep Foundation says poor sleep contributes to depression and that someone might be more likely to deal with sleep issues if they are depressed.
  • Find out if you’re suffering from seasonal affective disorder (SAD). SAD is a recurring depressive disorder during seasons of more darkness. A recent study found adding exercise and going to the gym can effectively treat SAD.
  • Be nice to yourself. Cut yourself some slack and administer self-care.
  • Schedule something to look forward to on the calendar. Rather than slog through January, set up a time with friends to play sports, to check out a museum show, or to meet for a special lunch.
  • Watch funny movies. Humor and laughter reduce stress.
  • Communicate that you’re feeling down. Tell family and close friends what you’re going through. They might be helpful.

It’s natural that after all the excitement and busyness of the holidays, you’d come down off the highs. If you are struggling mildly with these after-holiday blues, try some of the suggested remedies above. You’ll probably be able to shake off these blahs, cheer up and get on with the new year.

A Word From Verywell

Know you are not alone. Post-Holiday blues can range from disappointment and emptiness to lack of motivation and feelings of slight depression. But if these feelings persist, it might be something else. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 64% of people with mental illness report holidays make their conditions worse. Those tackling loneliness, depression, and grief may have a difficult time during the holidays. The spill-over effect after the holidays may exacerbate the situation. If you can’t shake these feelings, seek out the help of a professional therapist

5 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Sansone RA, Sansone LA. The christmas effect on psychopathologyInnov Clin Neurosci. 2011;8(12):10-13.

  2. The Cleveland Clinic. 13 Benefits of Exercise. Published December 1, 2021.

  3. Newsom R. Depression and Sleep. The Sleep Foundation. Updated May 19, 2021.

  4. Drew EM, Hanson BL, Huo K. Seasonal affective disorder and engagement in physical activities among adults in Alaska. International Journal of Circumpolar Health. 2021;80(1). doi:10.1080/22423982.2021.1906058

  5. National Alliance on Mental Illness. Mental Health and the Holiday Blues.

By Barbara Field
Barbara is writer and speak who is passionate about mental health, overall wellness, and women's issues.