The holidays can bring enormous joy–after all, most of us get some time off work, there’s great conversation with loved ones, and you get to stuff your piehole with plenty of edible treats. Somewhere between the turkey and the drive home, though, letdown–that horrible, disappointment-laden feeling that the best is over–can creep in. To keep your productivity and health up, you have to wage war on this negative mindset.
Why you feel so yucky, according to science and psychology
Beating holiday letdown means understanding that the holidays are very similar to other goals you might have in your life. Your brain anticipates them, associating them with all kinds of positive rewards. And as your anticipation grows, your body releases chemicals like dopamine that help you feel happy. But once the holiday you’ve looked forward to is over and done, you’re not anticipating anymore, and the chemical reward systems in the brain put on the brakes. You lose your buzz.
On top of this sequence, psychologically, we can get a sense that our connections are breaking, simply because we have to distance ourselves from loved ones again for a while. That feeling can connect to all kinds of deep fears of not having anyone to comfort and protect us. And even the basic understanding that we’re leaving something that feels better can awaken a powerful sense of injustice in us. We can feel sad at the world for daring to drive us back to routine and hard effort and creative or recreational confinement.
5 ways to perk yourself up
1. Schedule in lots of small events you like. Each of these give you something else to look forward to, engaging the brain’s reward system. Staying busy also gives you less time to ruminate on the loss or disappointment the post-holiday season can usher in.
2. Do something new. Novelty is like candy to the brain, getting dopamine flowing. This is the perfect time to find a hobby, take a few extra vacation days to a place you’ve never been, or even just take a different route home.
3. Schedule in some conversation. Part of the reason we can feel like connections are precarious after the holidays is that we tend to let interactions with loved ones we’ve just visited drop off a cliff. (After all, responsibilities, right?) Instead of parting ways with cookie-cutter comments about how everyone should write or call or video chat, set up appointments! Know for sure that there’s a commitment, that you have a “when”. Anticipating these conversations engages your reward mechanisms, too!
4. Keep the buffet going. This isn’t an excuse to expand your waistline and slip into another turkey coma. But because our senses are so interconnected, exposure to your favorite tastes and smells can help you retrieve happy memories you associate with the foods. In fact, this is a huge reason why Thanksgiving and Christmas are such emotionally charged holidays. Think outside the usual holiday fare and make some other dish that’s been handed down. If you make sure that the recipes have a healthy base, the nutrients and vitamins can make it easier to maintain mood stability, as well.
5. Volunteer. People need help year round, but the holidays can be especially painful for those going through trauma, financial trouble or other problems. They need to feel connected as much as you do. Get out into the community wherever you can and do some good for others, whether that’s at the local soup kitchen, your kid’s school or offering to snowblow your neighbor’s driveway. As you work for others, you’ll reaffirm your sense of purpose.
Post-holiday blahs are normal, but they’re totally controllable. Let these tactics be a bridge to the next season, and then tackle your new year like the lion(ess) you are.