Credit card bills are in, New Year’s resolutions have slipped, the work responsibilities that were nudged into the New Year are awaiting your attention, and it’s another school snow day leaving you to scramble for child care. It is not uncommon to feel discouraged and in need of creature comforts this time of year. However, there may be a downside to indulging in typical ‘hibernating’ activities to cope with the post-holiday slump. Despite often contributing to sense of immediate relief, a sluggish return to meaningful daily routines and trusted self-care activities after the holidays can contribute to a ‘turning inward’ effect. We may begin to focus on our increasingly unreliable behaviour and become preoccupied with escape and avoidance which may result in a dip in our overall mood.
Here are some strategies to consider as we move through this predictable post-holiday period.
Come out from under the covers. Despite the weather, fatigue from holidays, or any other completely understandable obstacle to reconnecting with your environment, acting despite your mood not because of it may help lift you out of the post-holiday slump. This of course is easier said than done. One way to combat emotional reasoning (I feel bummed about going out tonight, therefore it must be a bad idea…) is to ask yourself “what would I be doing if I didn’t feel so unmotivated right now?” The answer you come up with is likely the behaviour that will carry greater positive reward and resultantly may boost mood.
Make plans. Scheduling a get together with close friends, planning a little trip, or setting aside resources to treat yourself to a spa day away from work, may also help. The brain is an anticipation machine; it encodes previous experiences and uses this to predict outcomes of similar future events/activities. By scheduling a mid or late January personal holiday or social function, you may experience a boost in your mood. As you look toward the scheduled event with anticipation, your body may respond with an increase in the production of serotonin (the ‘happy hormone’ associated with mood, healthy sleep patterns, and appetite regulation). In short, you will feel better by both looking forward to the upcoming activity as well as engaging in the activity itself, a nice 2 for 1 post boxing day deal.
Sleep hygiene and sleep protection. Embrace your ‘inner toddler’ and protect your sleep. Make sure sleep conditions are reasonable (comfy bed, adequate darkness etc.,), and limit the consumption of caffeinated beverages in the latter part of your day as effects of caffeine can last from 8 to 14 hours. Lastly, try to get up at the same time everyday (which should eventually regulate when you go to bed each evening).
Regular exercise. This might be an unrealized New Year’s resolution for some. If so, it is important to uncouple this strategy from the ‘New Year, New You’ phenomenon. The primary goal of this suggestion is to get a little more exercise than you are getting now. If a benchmark is needed, 40 minutes every second day is recommended to maximize the positive effects that physical exercise has on mood.
Name it and tame it/blab it and grab it. Blue Monday, post-holiday slump, winter blues… putting a name on this experience places it into a context which can contribute to greater flexibility in responses. Creating a working label may place some distance between you and any difficulties in living. Once a ‘problem’ is named there is usually greater sense of control and power over it. We become less rigid in our reactions and move into greater flexibility in our responses to stressors giving rise to our ability to consider multiple courses of action. Greater flexibility in our behavioural responses to a given situation is a central tenet of strong mental hygiene and is a key factor in the art of living well.
-Written by Scott McCleery MA, CCC, Counsellor