Why You Feel So Sad After the Holidays (and What to Do About It)

updated Jun 27, 2019
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The holidays are over and 2018 is upon us, which means the nonstop parade of food, drinks, days off, and parties is in the past. You’re likely back home and back to work, but something isn’t right. You feel sad, tired, and uninspired—and you don’t know why.

This experience is known as the post-holiday blues, and it’s a feeling that often crops up during the month of January.

“Post-holiday blues is usually a malaise,” says Elaine Rodino, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist in practice in State College, Pa. “Think: feeling down or feeling blue. But it doesn’t get to the level of what would be called a clinical depression. It’s kind of just feeling not so great.” The phenomenon is typically triggered by two different causes.

“One could be almost from a sugar high kind of feeling of the holidays,” she says. “The partying and socializing is really at a peak level, and then after the holidays, there’s this shutdown of socializing and there’s almost this withdrawal effect.”

Or perhaps the season was a bit of a letdown after too much hype? “The other possibility, which is at the other end of the continuum, would be people that feel disappointed about the holidays,” Rodino says. “They did not have the fun they expected to have, so it feels even more depressing that the holidays are over and it wasn’t fun at all.”

What To Do About It

For starters, realize that it’s quite common to feel this way after the holidays wind down, says Nancy Molitor, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in Evanston, Ill. Beating yourself up for feeling blue will only make the problem worse, she says: “Second of all, know that there’s something you can do about it. You’re not alone, and there is a way to fix it.”

Try implementing these tips into your post-holiday routine to combat negative feelings and get yourself out of the post-holiday funk.

Look at the Why Behind the Feelings

The very first thing Rodino recommends is to give yourself time to sit with the emotions you’re experiencing and then take a hard look at the why behind them. “Try to be your own psychotherapist,” she says. Make a list of reasons you’re not feeling great, she suggests, which forces you to get a little more granular. And with more specific causes tend to come more specific solutions. Rather than being consumed by a vague feeling like “I feel guilty,” for example, targeting the reasons behind that shame (maybe, “I drank too much,” or “I said something I regret to Uncle John,”), which can lead you to find more direct resolutions.

Above all, Rodino says that facing your emotions rather than ignoring or avoiding them is the best way to approach post-holiday blues. “It’s healthier to feel them than to not feel anything at all,” she says.

Ease Yourself Back Into Your Routine

As tough as it may be to pull yourself out of your funk, one of the best things you can do to beat the post-holiday blues is return to business as usual, according to Rodino. “As soon as they can get back to their normal groove, the better,” she says. “The holidays are over, so get back to do what you normally do.” Transitioning into a routine and accomplishing small things throughout the day can fight feelings of sadness or apathy that often accompany post-holiday blues. How do you force yourself into the swing of things? Commit to a goal.

If you’re struggling with this concept, Molitor recommends breaking it down into small, actionable steps that feel less overwhelming. Maybe you’ll commit to jogging for 15 minutes twice a week, packing your lunch for the week on Sundays, or meeting up with a friend regularly. “Say it to yourself, say it out loud to at least one other person, and write it down with an actual concrete way to achieve the goal,” she says. “Just doing those three steps really up the chances that you’re going to follow through on the goal.”

Get Outside

Yes, January is usually a cold and gray month — we hear you (and sometimes it can feel magnified after the sparkle of the holiday season). But Molitor says leaving the house can actually lift your spirits, even if it’s just for 10 minutes. “One of the best things we can do for the physical effects of the darkness is to go outside,” she says. “If you go outside and take a brisk walk, appropriately dressed of course, then you get a double whammy. You get the effects of the sunlight and the effects of the physical movements, which produce chemicals that help combat post-holiday blues.”

Looking for another way to feel a little better? Go to a coffee shop. “Even just getting out and walking to a Starbucks and sitting around people is good,” Molitor says. “Research has shown that being around people in places like Starbucks or Panera, even if you don’t know any of them, makes most people feel better than sitting at home with that cup of coffee alone.”

Put the Focus on Others

If you’re hung up on your own actions during the holidays, Molitor suggests taking the focus off of yourself and giving back. “Go volunteer two hours of your time at a local food kitchen or at a homeless shelter,” she says. “It is a little thing we can do that makes other people feel better and contributes to making us feel better, too.” Added bonus: Focusing on other people makes it a little bit harder to dwell on what might have happened (or not happened) over the holidays.

Reach Out for Help

Molitor says that post-holiday blues can be intensified as our socialization severely drops off after the party season. “Reach out to friends,” she says. “Even just FaceTiming friends for a quick conversation can make you feel better. Any kind of social support helps when you’re struggling with post-holiday blues.” If you’re feeling like you could use some extra help, Molitor says to reach out to a therapist. You can either ask a doctor to connect you to someone, or you can search for a licensed psychologist through the American Psychological Association.

Know When It’s Something More

Both Rodino and Molitor note that if you’re struggling with these feelings for more than two to three weeks, it may be something other than post-holiday blues. If you’re still experiencing symptoms like sadness, fatigue, or social isolation after a couple of weeks, Molitor recommends contacting your doctor or a therapist to get the help and support you need.