Story by Mackenzie Howshar
“No man needs a vacation so much as the person who has just had one.” – Elbert Hubbard
How do we carry over the glitz and glimmer of holiday and vacation cheer? Switching from weeks of consistent social obligations, shopping, gift giving, cooking, eating, and traveling to daily routines of 8-hour work days can be hard on our brains, bodies, and relationships.
The excitement of doing something different, talking to different people, or receiving a long-desired gift wears off over time, leaving us in a post-holiday, food coma-intensive stupor. Transitioning from fun-filled free time to 9-5 work obligations is something to which we are inherently resistant. Just when readjusting to real life feels impossible, we are expected to be rested, refreshed, and present.
The post-holiday blues are a mood and behavior phenomenon many people experience after the holiday season. These blues are characterized by a marked lowering of mood and energy, an increase in both physical and mental fatigue, and resistance to returning to work or school. Although transitioning from fun-filled vacations to strings of daily demands requires both physical and mental effort, sometimes this transition leaves us feeling strung-out, tired, and grumpy. When we experience the post-holiday blues, we tend to feel unmotivated to complete tasks and procrastinate for as long as possible. Sometimes, we feel like we need another vacation.
For some, this mood fluctuation can be attributed to the activities they engaged in during their vacation. More specifically, when vacation time is a whirlwind of family, friends, and technology, it can be difficult to truly give yourself time for recovery and relaxation. For example, for those who remain digitally connected to their work life via phone or email, it is likely their brains did not get a real break. Remaining connected gives our work life an opportunity to communicate with us when we are specifically taking a break from work.
Additionally, we may find ourselves swept up in the holiday cheer and optimism associated with this time of year. Then, post-holiday blues show up when we start January noticing a lack of the same festive, mood-heightening excitement and anticipation for holiday activities. During this adjustment, we may compare our glittery experiences during vacation to a more drab existence in our daily lives. This perception may negatively impact how we return to work and our energy level, leaving us struggling to find joy in small moments compared to large events and perpetuating negativity in this transition.
So how do we recuperate from this vacation recovery period? Although humans are not made in identical cookie-cutter molds, there are a few things we can all do that can help us readjust in a way that perpetuates the joy we found while on vacation:
- Mindfulness: Notice when you are experiencing negative sentiment override. While we know that misery loves company, we also know that identifying when we are experiencing things through a negative lens enables us to check in with ourselves in those moments. Why am I feeling this way? What is happening around me or within me to cause my reactions right now? Where am I feeling this in my body?
- Change in perspective with the power of language: Put a positive spin on negative thoughts when they happen. For example, you may think, “I have to go to work today instead of staying home and getting things done here.” A way to spin this thought includes, “I get to go to work today, be productive there, and see my coworkers.” Replacing the negative with the positive encourages using positive spins as an automatic process, or a habit, and increases the chance that it will be perpetuated. This process of “reframing” tends to be more powerful and meaningful when it comes from within.
- Talk to others about your vacation: Sharing or reminiscing about experiences from your vacation allows you to continue connections you felt during your vacation, and it can indicate to others what you enjoyed most about spending time with loved ones or participating in holiday activities. Letting a partner or your family know that you found joy with them, and providing them space to discuss this with you can serve as a perpetuation of that joy, and can inform future decisions about how you want to spend your time.
- Carry over small aspects of your vacation into your daily life: What made you most happy while away? Are there small ways to implement this in your daily life? For example, if you particularly enjoyed being able to sit down and not worry about anything, one might perpetuate this practice by allocating a specific time during the day that is free from external input—a time to “power down.” Can’t do something like this every day? How often can you do it? For how long? Five minutes is sometimes enough time to recharge, even if you feel like you are more stressed and have less time than those around you. Slowing down for even small amounts of time can come in handy.
- Plan your next vacation: Having an idea of what your next vacation will look like, and when it will be, can ease the transition back to work or school. It can help you maintain a future-orientation and can promote the excitement. Even better, planning your next vacation with a partner or loved one can maintain and add to your connection with them. It will also communicate to them that you enjoyed the time you spent together and that you want to continue spending time with them.
A common misconception is that feeling sad or “blue” means that one is clinically depressed or suicidal. Although the post-holiday blues are considered a short phase of low intensity sadness, resistance or boredom, numbness, and fatigue, persistent symptoms or increases in intensity may signal a more serious struggle with depression that should be addressed.
If you, or anyone you know, is struggling with depression, do not hesitate to seek help. Here are a list of resources:
- Tell someone you trust about your struggles. They may serve as a resource for emotional support and may provide you with information about local services.
- Seek professional help, or encourage a loved one to do so. Sometimes we just need encouragement to begin therapy. The Center for Family and Couple Therapy (CFCT) is a great resource for anyone who feels they may benefit from individual, couple, or family therapy. The CFCT provides therapy to people from all walks of life and helps clients work through any struggles they may experience. With the experience of both the therapist and the therapist’s supervisor, our clients benefit greatly from a multiple-perspective team approach to their treatment. You can reach the CFCT via phone or email at (970) 491-5991 & firstname.lastname@example.org.
- If you are ever feeling too overwhelmed by your emotional experiences or circumstances to move on, text the Crisis Text Line (Text HOME to 741741)
For more health tips, visit the College of Health and Human Sciences Pinterest board.
Mackenzie Howshar is a second-year graduate student in the Marriage and Family Therapy Program. She earned her Bachelor of Science in psychology from CSU in 2014. She has great passion for working with individuals of all backgrounds, and her experience has focused on the Native American populations in South Dakota and sexual assault survivors in the Northern Colorado area. Mackenzie also works relationally with individuals with autism. Mackenzie loves to form new relationships, color, and spend time outdoors with her dog.