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Week of 17 January 2003· Vol. VI, No. 17

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Postholiday blues: there are ways to cope

Now that the fun and excitement of the holidays are over, I feel drained, both physically and mentally. It seems that there is nothing to look forward to again for a long time. How can I deal with this postholiday letdown?

Your feelings are quite common. Although some people become despondent during the holiday season, even more succumb to postholiday letdown. This can be attributed to both physical and emotional factors, and there are ways to cope with these feelings.

For many people, the holiday season ushers in a time of celebration, complete with excessive consumption of high-calorie, high-fat foods and alcohol. Indulgence may also take the form of doing too much with too little sleep. These factors are bound to take their toll, so that by January, people are physically drained.

“The best way to cope with feeling physically drained after the holidays is to realize that these feelings are perfectly normal,” says Janet Osterman, M.D., an assistant professor of psychiatry at the School of Medicine and vice chair for education and training in psychiatry at Boston Medical Center. “You are supposed to feel drained after not getting enough sleep, exercising too little, and eating and drinking too much.” If this describes the holidays for you, it is important to make a conscious effort to rest more and start a regular exercise regimen, with your physician’s approval. In addition, don’t blame yourself for gaining weight. It is normal to gain a few pounds over the holidays. Most people who overindulge will return to their baseline weight by resuming their normal diet and exercise pattern. If you need more help with weight loss, consult your physician or a dietitian.

Feeling mentally drained after the holidays, while just as normal as its physical counterpart, may not be as easy for some people to shake. Many people find themselves at odds with the festive mood of the season. Some advertisements, movies, and greeting cards portray holiday family celebrations as gatherings of loving relatives. The reality for many people is marked by battles, anger, or indifference between family members.

It is important to distinguish between normal sadness and depression, Osterman says. For example, for people who have lost a loved one within the past year, there may be profound feelings of sadness as one spends the first holiday season without that person. This is a normal part of the grieving process.

Others may feel sad if there was disappointment with the holiday. There may have been significant family stress or unrealistic expectations of what the holidays should have been. Osterman says that it is also important to recognize what contributes to this feeling of sadness.

When the holiday has been less than jolly, let go of the past. “Don’t beat yourself up over what could have been,” she says. Each holiday season is different and can be enjoyed in its own way. Opening communication may help resolve conflict. If the bridge seems too wide, family counseling can be helpful. Also, remember that no one relative can change other family members. “By focusing on yourself and making sure that you act lovingly and responsibly throughout the year,” Osterman says, “you may become a role model for the rest of your family.”

For most people, a postholiday funk will resolve spontaneously in a couple of weeks. Herein lies the most basic difference between the blues and depression. “Many people who are clinically depressed hold themselves together to get through the holiday season,” says Osterman. “After the holidays are over, there is nothing to hold these people up anymore, and the depression surfaces.” Postholiday depression usually stems from preexisting conditions, she says. Those with an alcohol, substance, eating, or mental disorder going into the holiday season are not likely to feel better in a couple of weeks. Professional help is recommended for people who have a real problem readjusting after the holidays.

"Health Matters" is written in cooperation with staff members of Boston Medical Center. For more information on postholiday blues or other health matters, call 617-638-6767.


17 January 2003
Boston University
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