Welcome to the new year of 2022. Are you charged and ready for a change, or do you feel a sense of gloominess rising? Think about it. From July through December, schedules are filled with activities such as end of summer vacations, back to school activities, fall breaks, and the holiday season. January is then a crash into old routines and anticipation of “what’s next.” Some find themselves having the “post-holiday blues.”

Although this is not a mental health diagnosis, it is a common experience many identify themselves as having. A 2015 survey by the National Alliance on Mental Illness found that 64% of those surveyed reported being affected by post-holiday blues. So, what is this feeling, how does it happen, and how can one work through it?

The holiday season often brings a rush of positive emotions, with the typical holiday events. However, once we return to the old routines, our brains are forced to balance out the pleasure overload. In her book “Dopamine Nation,” psychiatrist Anna Lembke writes that our brains are wired to balance pleasure and pain, like a scale. When we stay on the pleasurable side of the scale for some time, we may feel the opposite side more intensely once the pleasurable activity has decreased or been removed. “What comes up must come down,” Lembke writes. Consequently, we may experience problems such as irritability, low mood, and sadness.

Not everyone experiences the positive emotions traditionally associated with the holiday season. Some are grieving the loss of loved ones, and others are returning to loneliness. Financial stressors build from holiday spending, causing distress.

No matter your experience through the holiday season, coming into the new year can be a stressful time. Here are a few signs and symptoms to be mindful of and strategies to help come back into balance.

Sleep problems

Sleep supports our emotional and overall health. When we are under stress of any type, our sleep may be disrupted; we may experience difficulties falling asleep and frequent or early awakening. If you are experiencing these symptoms, try the following:

• Don’t lie in bed tossing and turning; go to bed when you are sleepy.

• Use calming activities to unwind and facilitate sleepiness. Read a book, pray, meditate, or other calming activities.

• Turn down stimulating activities such as scrolling through social media, watching emotionally charged shows like comedies, suspense, politics or the news.

Negative moods

• Low moods may lead to increased irritability and low frustration tolerance. Melancholy may also be an emotion for some with the after-holiday transition. As previously stated, our brains are wired to balance out the pleasure and pain we experience. The following may help balance the negative moods:

• Be patient with your feelings as your brain adapts to balancing efforts. Pleasurable post-holiday activities may look a little different from the holiday hustle and bustle.

• Be willing to engage in and accept simple pleasures, such as a relaxing hike, eating a piece of chocolate, taking a relaxing bath, and spending time outdoors.

• Complete tasks that help you feel accomplished, such as calling or texting friends or loved ones or finishing a lingering craft or home improvement project.

• Mindfulness, an evidenced-based intervention, brings awareness to pesky underlying feelings and helps soothe and distract from negative emotions. Android phones iPhones have many apps that can be used for daily mindfulness reminders and activities. Give mindfulness a try and build it into your daily routine.

Changes in eating, physical health

• When our moods change, our eating and physical activity habits often change, too. At the start of the new year, our patterns may be affected not only from tough holiday transitions but also the weather and shortened daylight. Maintaining a healthy balance with eating habits and physical activities is essential to help with emotional health and sleep. The following my help:

• Avoid overeating. Pay attention to your thoughts and feelings that lead to impulse eating. Take a pause and distract yourself with a mindful activity.

• Address a lack of appetite. If low moods are leading to a decrease in appetite, set timers to remind yourself to eat a healthy snack or meal. To help your body stay in balance, it needs strategic fueling.

• When your brain says, “I don’t feel like exercise,” do the opposite. Even 15 minutes of activity can help combat low moods.

• Be mindful of your alcohol use. If you find yourself consuming more alcohol than usual because of boredom, help with sleep, or to fight off negative moods, it may be time to decrease or stop alcohol use.

Mental health in new year

As 2022 progresses, be sure to schedule downtime, enjoy simple pleasures, and allow your brain some much-needed time for balance. Being intentional with balancing the highs of pleasurable activities with quiet and reflective time will not only help get through the post-holiday blues but will be a skill to help throughout the year.

Be mindful of emotions lingering or causing unusual disruptions to your functioning at work, home or school. This may signal a time to seek mental health counseling. If you or someone you know experiences suicidal ideations, seek attention immediately.

Additional resources

National Suicide Hotline

(800) 273-8255.

Fox Army Health Center- Department of Behavioral Health

955-8888, ext. 1032

Victim Advocacy Program

24/7 Emergency 508-6613

Office phone number 955-6904

Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention Program

924-0795

Family Advocacy Program

846-5397

Crisis Services of North Alabama; domestic violence, sexual assault, crisis counseling

716-4052

Veterans Crisis Hotline

1-800-273-8255

For additional Huntsville community resources, visit the NAMI of Huntsville https://namihuntsville.org/resources/.

References

Greenstein, Luna, “Tips for Managing the Holiday Blues”, National Alliance on Mental Illness, 19 Nov. 2015, https://www.nami.org/blogs/nami-blog/november-2015/tips-for-managing-the-holiday-blues

Lembke, Anna Dr. Dopamine Nation: Finding Balance in the Age of Indulgence. Dutton Books, 2021.

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