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What to know about post-holiday blues

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CausesCoping strategiesPreventionGetting helpSummary
It is common to experience a drop in mood after a holiday. Often referred to as post-holiday blues, it can cause some people to experience feelings of sadness or emptiness.
Medically reviewed by Lori Lawrenz, PsyD
Written by Anisha Mansuri
Updated on November 1, 2023

Post-holiday blues is the low mood you may feel after returning from a holiday and resuming your daily routine. Also referred to as post-holiday depression, it can occur after a vacation or the holiday season, such as Christmas and New Year’s celebrations, ends.

As holidays tend to evoke feelings of excitement and happiness, it is natural to feel a drop in mood once it is over. However, for some people, this period may feel more intense and lead to symptoms of anxiety and depression.

According to a recent survey by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, almost 65% of people with a mental health condition feel worse around the holiday season.

Symptoms of post-holiday blues are typically short term and tend to include the following:

  • loneliness
  • sadness
  • fatigue
  • anxiety
  • difficulty relaxing

What causes post-holiday blues?

Female sitting in her car overlooking snowy hills, to depict post-holiday bluess
Photography by AleksandarNakic/Getty Images

There are many reasons that someone may experience post-holiday blues. This includes:

Seasonal affective disorder

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), also known as the winter blues, is a type of depression that occurs as the seasons change, more typically once we enter winter. As the days get shorter and there are fewer hours of sunlight, it can cause you to feel lower in energy, have little interest in your usual activities, and find it difficult to sleep.

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) reports that millions of people in the United States may unknowingly be experiencing SAD. As the holiday Christmas period coincides with winter, this can often cause symptoms of post-holiday blues to feel more intense.

Burnout

Many people find holidays stressful as they usually require a lot of planning, which can often result in burnout, where you feel emotionally and physically exhausted. This can often make anxiety and depression symptoms worse.

Overeating

It is common to overeat while on vacation or during the festive period. However, this may cause you to feel sluggish, tired, and low in mood.

Lack of sleep

Many people might feel as though they are busier during a holiday period rather than finding time to unwind and relax. However, this can often lead to low quality sleep, resulting in depression symptoms.

How to get over post-holiday blues

Several strategies can help you cope with post-holiday blues, such as:

  • Getting out of the house: When you feel down, it can be easy to want to remain indoors. However, limiting your exposure to direct sunlight can increase the likelihood of developing depressive symptoms.
  • Exercising: Moving your body can be a great way to release endorphins and promote a positive mood. Even going for a walk for a few minutes a day can be helpful.
  • Speaking with loved ones: Speaking with friends and family about how you feel can be hugely beneficial and help you feel supported and heard during a difficult period.
  • Practicing mindfulness: When days feel heavy and overwhelming, it can be helpful to practice mindfulness exercises to feel grounded, such as meditation and deep breathing.

Can you prevent post-holiday blues?

If you have experienced post-holiday blues before or feel you might, you can prevent it by taking several steps.

One of the best ways to do this is to schedule time after a holiday to ensure you leave your house when possible and don’t spend too much time indoors. This can involve seeing friends or family, doing fun activities, or running errands.

Ensuring you get a good amount of quality sleep can also help keep post-holiday blues at bay. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that adults sleep at least 7 hours per night.

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When to speak with a doctor

Post-holiday blues can typically last a few days to several weeks. However, if you still feel low in mood or anxious after this time, consider speaking with a healthcare professional. They can assess your symptoms to see if you have a long-term mental health condition such as depression.

They can recommend treatment options to help relieve your symptoms, such as talk therapy or prescription medication.

Common medications for depression include:

  • Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors: These medications can help relieve long-term symptoms and include medications such as duloxetine (Cymbalta) and venlafaxine (Effexor).
  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors: They can help increase serotonin in the brain, promote a positive mood, and improve sleep. Examples include citalopram (Celexa), escitalopram (Lexapro), and paroxetine (Paxil).
  • Monoamine oxidase inhibitors: They can improve your overall mood and include medications such as selegiline (Emsam) and phenelzine (Nardil).

If you need help covering the cost of medications, the free Optum Perks Discount Card could help you save up to 80% on prescription drugs. Follow the links on drug names for savings on that medication, or search for a specific drug here.

Summary

Post-holiday blues can occur after a vacation or holiday season ends as you return to your regular routine. It can lead to feelings of sadness or emptiness, which people also call post-holiday depression.

You may experience post-holiday blues for many reasons, such as:

  • SAD
  • lack of sleep
  • overeating
  • burnout

Symptoms typically stop after a few weeks, and strategies such as exercising regularly and going outdoors can help.

However, speaking with a healthcare professional is important if you still experience low mood after several weeks. They can determine if you have a long-term mental health condition such as depression or anxiety and put together a treatment plan to help relieve symptoms.

If you or someone you know is considering suicide or self-harm, please seek support:

While you wait for help to arrive, stay with someone and remove any weapons or substances that can cause harm. You are not alone.

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