HealthChangers Podcast: What to do about the post-holiday blues

By Regence
January 24, 2023
after a party

For some people, the end of the holiday season is a relief. But others may experience feeling down after big events like holidays, weddings or celebrations – it’s a natural reaction to getting back to normal life after being around lots of family and friends.

Some people might get stressed out about their spending over the holiday and worry about how they’re going to pay it back. You may also live in an area with four distinct seasons, where the early months of the year can be dark and dreary.

What to do if you find yourself feeling out of sorts

First, acknowledge how you’re feeling. It’s important not to ignore it. Second, replace what you’re missing with something else. Think about what made you happy over the holidays and find ways to recreate that.

  1. Talk to a friend or family member – it’s a good time to reconnect with people you may not have seen over the holidays. Ask them about their holidays.
  2. Get out of the house. Even on a gray day, getting outside can boost your spirits and raise your energy.
  3. Volunteer for a cause you care about.
  4. Get some exercise. There’s nothing like the endorphin rush from a vigorous workout to brighten your spirits.
  5. Reframe your thoughts and look to the future. Think about something you want to accomplish in the coming year or plan a trip to look forward to.
  6. Try to eat a healthy diet – two small food or drink habits you can change, even modestly, each week to feel better; eat real food you can pronounce.
  7. Other techniques/habits – meditation, full-spectrum lights
  8. Most importantly find something you enjoy

When to seek professional help

If you’re having trouble sleeping or focusing on work or daily chores, a professional check-in might be helpful. If you have a good relationship with your doctor, call them. Or you can call us and we can connect you with an in-network doctor or therapist. There may be a virtual care option that works for you. Remember, feelings of loss after a big event are common.

In the latest HealthChangers podcast, Andree Miceli, Regence’s clinical director for behavioral health, shares helpful information about ways to manage post-holiday blues. Listen on the player at the top of the blog post or on your favorite podcast platform. Below is a full transcript as well.

Podcast Transcript

On the HealthChangers podcast, presented by Regence, we share real-life stories and expertise from leaders who are working to make health care simpler, personalized and more affordable. I’m your host, Ben Furr.

The end-of-year holidays are a highlight for many people. Bright lights and social gatherings help take the edge off the long nights and dreary weather. But when January rolls around, the excitement can fade and less pleasant emotions arise for some of us.

Today on HealthChangers, we’re joined by Andree Miceli, Regence’s clinical director for behavioral health, to talk about post-holiday blues and what we can do to feel better. Andree, welcome to HealthChangers.

Andree Miceli (AM): Hi, Ben. Thanks for having me.

Ben Furr (BF): So, to kick it off, what are the post-holiday blues?

AM: Well, it's really similar to the “blues” or sadness that we can feel after a big event. There's so much that goes into the holidays. I mean, people shop for…well, they could shop for months, or they could shop for 24 hours. It's so much buildup, especially nowadays that the holidays seem to start even before Halloween. The period is longer, so our emotions are up and we're excited and the adrenaline's rushing. Then in a day, it's over and there's a physical sense of “Oh wow, it's gone. It's over.” In a similar fashion to planning a wedding. So much goes into it—the planning, the prep, parties, fun, family, and then in one day, it's over. It's both a mental and physical letdown. And, as with any kind of end to an event, even though we know it's going to come again, there's a little sadness that goes along with it.

BF: Yeah, I know. Personally, the holidays are hard for me, so I really appreciate talking about this topic, especially around Christmas time. How common are the post-holiday blues? Is this something that affects many people or just us fortunate few?

AM: I think it affects most people to some degree, and there'd be variations. Like some people…I think the majority of us will be a little sad, but then we move on. You know, it's December 26th and we go about our day. But for some people, who may be more susceptible to those intense feelings about the ending of any event, may have more significant feelings around it that could result in a more serious level of sadness and depression.

BF: So, it could be more long-term depending on the person?

AM: It could, especially if we don't do something about it. I mean, anything can turn long-term. The key to this, as well as most everything, is taking ownership of it and taking charge of it and not letting it stir and fester because that's when anything can potentially cause a problem.

“The key to this, as well as most everything, is taking ownership of it.”

BF: Definitely. And in the spirit of taking action and what we can do, what are some tips you'd recommend for some of our podcast listeners on how to combat this and get through the holiday blues?

AM: Well, first of all, recognize that it's there. Don't try to minimize it or tell yourself that you shouldn't feel this way. Acknowledge that “I'm feeling sad now that the holidays are over.” Maybe some loneliness because we may have been around more people and doing more activities, so there could be some isolation. So really acknowledging that it exists in the first place. The quickest, easiest thing to do is talk to someone about it. Talk to a friend, call up a friend and invite them for coffee. And just say, “Hey, I've been feeling like this. Have you ever experienced the same thing?” And they may or may not have, but just the act of voicing it and getting it out has a positive impact in releasing those emotions. Getting out of the house, and especially in wintertime, depending on where you live, that might be easier and more inviting than in some places over others.

“Don't try to minimize it or tell yourself that you shouldn't feel this way.”

Don't sit and fester. Go do something. Go to a movie, go take a walk, go meet a friend, go just window shop. Just doing an activity to get your mind off of it. You know, steering your thoughts and your attention into something else you enjoy. Doing some volunteer work. I mean, it's interesting how the holidays bring about a wonderful spirit of giving and volunteering and helping others. And we forget, I think, that we can do that all the time. We don't have to wait for the holidays. And I think even some organizations experience a lessening or a decrease of people doing volunteer work and assisting after the holidays, but that's the perfect time to keep it up and just keep that sense of giving and helping others going. And it really helps you.

One of the best things you can do, and my personal favorite is exercise. Whether it's something you love to do or trying something new. We all know that gyms become overpopulated in January with everybody with resolutions. But you don't have to join a gym even though it’s great. You can take a walk or ride a bike or do something just active in moving your body. And that helps. Again, it's releasing endorphins. It's focusing your attention on something positive. Physical activity also helps your mental state, too. The other thing that's really, I think, crucial with this and other situations is “don't sit and dwell on it". I mean, it's great to remember things. You are looking at pictures and stuff and it brings up happy memories. But if we sit and dwell in it and get stuck there, then that can become a negative.

“The quickest, easiest thing to do is talk to someone about it. Talk to a friend, call up a friend and invite them for coffee.”

So, look to the future; start planning. You know, what's right around the corner? Springtime, hopefully soon. You know, think about spring and new beginnings and flowers and all those fun things. Focus on events you have coming up. You know, there are other things in your life like plans. If you don't have anything on the calendar, put something on the calendar. Plan an outing whether it's by yourself or family or a girls’ trip or a guys’ trip. Just having something written on the calendar to look forward to is a great thing.

Some other things, diet, you know, I think many people get caught in the trap. They splurge a little around the holidays, and that's fine. I mean that's what the holidays are for. But focusing on a healthy diet, I'm not talking about drastic changes, but just a healthy diet and eating healthy foods helps your body feel better physically, which in turn helps you emotionally as well, with any sadness.

BF: I like that advice a lot because I'm finding myself too, just being active. It's better not to just sit and stew and reflect, but to do the dishes, fold laundry or go for a walk. And that's shaken me out of my holiday blues.

AM: Cleaning the house has such a negative connotation, but there's a lot of good that comes from it.

You know, I learned years ago that sweat, the chemical makeup of sweat, has the same makeup as tears. So, if you exercise and sweat, you can even sit in a sauna and sweat. It has the same physiological effect as a good cry. And we all know what a good cry can do. You know, there's relief and you're letting it out. So, some people just don't cry. They have a hard time crying but go sweat some and you can have the same positive result.

“The chemical makeup of sweat has the same makeup as tears. So, if you exercise and sweat, you can even sit in a sauna and sweat. It has the same physiological effect as a good cry.”

BF: Like the cathartic feeling afterward.

AM: Yes, exactly.

BF: Even just talking about it too helps reduce stigma. I feel there may be people who have these feelings during the holidays and afterward that may feel an aspect of shame, or they just want to work through it.

AM: Yes, absolutely. I think people can feel, "Oh, I'm just dumb to feel this way” or “This isn't right” or “No one else feels this way”. We think that a lot, but we're never alone with how we feel. There's always someone else out there. And, again, just acknowledging that exists: “Yep. I feel down cause the holidays are over. It was a great time. I put a lot of time and energy into it, but what I'm going to do now is this. I'm going to plan a beach trip in the spring. This is what I'm going to do to get ready” and things like that.

BF: Something to look forward to... Last night I decided that the only thing I hate doing more than dishes is feeling sad. So, I just knocked out a bunch of dishes. It was great.

AM: So, you dirty dishes just to wash them?

BF: I dirty dishes and then my emotions and them went down the drain.

AM: Awesome.

BF: What would you say…how does someone know when they need more help? Or when they should reach out for professional support?

AM: Some of the things to ask yourself, and you really have to, you know, out loud ask yourself these questions.

Am I sleeping like I usually do or is my sleep disrupted? Am I having trouble falling asleep? How is my diet? Am I running to junk food? Am I not eating enough? Am I sleeping so much that I'm not eating? How am I at work or school? Am I functioning to the level that I usually do?

These are kind of…depending on how we answer, these questions can tell us if our emotions are affecting our daily life. And if we have any doubt, I always say err on the side of caution. It’s better to check in with a professional. Just say, “Hey, I just want to check in and see how I'm doing.” It doesn't mean you're going to be called crazy or given medication, it's just a check-in. It's kind of like just going to a primary care provider (PCP) just to check in: “I have been feeling a little jittery. I just wanted to check in and see if my heart's okay and my blood pressure is okay.” It’s the same type of thing.

BF: And that's a good reminder too, just there are resources out there. I've worked with my primary care provider in years past and she's recommended either in-house therapy with the health system or other resources. So, I've had some success for sure. What about for people…should they reach out to their health plan? Or what are some ways to identify where those resources exist beyond a PCP or main doctor?

AM: A PCP, especially if it's someone that you know and have a relationship with and someone you trust, they’re a great resource. They can help you even with behavioral health resources. But your health plan, absolutely, that's what we are there to do is help guide people to the right resources and even answer questions. You know, we have a staff full of behavioral health clinicians. We're not the treating provider, but we can, based on what people tell us, point them in the right direction and connect them with the appropriate resources.

BF: Well, that's great. I'm glad that we have the resources to offer. Is there anything else you would recommend or any other final words of wisdom? I really appreciate you sharing all these insights and information.

“So, we can set ourselves up for success or we can ignore it and struggle. The choice is ours really.”

AM: You know, just putting these things into practice, I think helps. Not just with this event, but anything you encounter. Anytime...we always experience those down periods, whatever it is, whether it's a big event, a small event, or just life in general. So, putting these things into practice on a regular basis equips us so that when things do hit us, we're better prepared. We already know that “I have these tools and resources.” “I can go do some volunteer work. I can join a book club. I can do my handful of tricks to take care of myself at a moment's notice.” Because we know that December is coming around in just 11 short months. So, we can set ourselves up for success or we can ignore it and struggle. The choice is ours really. And that’s true with everything. The choice is yours. No one can force you. We can help you and guide you, but it's your decision to really take ownership of.

BF: Well, that's great. I think that's a perfect place to end. So, Andree, thanks so much for joining us. Have a good day.

AM: Thanks, Ben.

BF: And that wraps this episode of HealthChangers. Episodes are available on your favorite podcast platforms like Apple Podcasts, Stitcher and Spotify. Just search for HealthChangers. Thanks for listening.