The tree is dead. Credit card bills are rolling in. The children are complaining about toys Santa didn’t bring them, and jeans have “shrunk” a size or two since October.
Any one of these things is enough to plunge folks into the post-holiday blues, a very real seasonal ailment that some doctors said goes unrecognized and undiagnosed.
Dr. Kenyatta Jones, a psychiatrist at Metroplex Hospital’s Behavioral Health Center, said the condition is not talked about much, but it should be.
“It kind of gets swept under the rug a lot. I feel like it’s under-diagnosed.”
Feelings of disappointment, guilt and loss are common after the holidays, Jones said. Disappointment can be triggered by unmet expectations, such as family gatherings that don’t turn out well and gifts that are not appreciated, while excessive holiday spending and overeating can lead to feelings of guilt.
The holidays also serve as reminders of estranged relationships and loved ones who have died.
“People feel overwhelmed,” Jones said. “They’re feeling guilty or lonely or feeling abandoned. They did a lot of shopping and are faced with bills at the end of the year. It’s a combination of different things.”
People with post-holiday blues experience a variety of symptoms similar to mild depression, said Dr. John Joseph, family physician at Scott & White Killeen Clinic.
“They’ll feel down, depressed, or have problems sleeping, or with concentration, appetite changes, agitation,” Joseph added.
If the symptoms start right after the holidays, they won’t last long, Joseph said. Most people feel the blues lift around mid-January. But if the depression lingers or causes suicidal thoughts, medical attention should be sought, he said.
In the meantime, eating healthy and exercising can help lift the blues.
Exercise releases endorphins that produce good feelings, so walking every day or going to the gym three times a week can turn negative thoughts into positive, Joseph said.
Planning and completing projects, planting trees or a garden, and helping other people by volunteering in the community are also good for changing negative perspectives.
“It makes people feel better about themselves,” Joseph said.
Jones said recognizing the things that trigger unhealthy thoughts and emotions and working to avoid those triggers are also important.
And getting out of the house, building new relationships and new memories will help prevent future visits from the blues, Jones said.
“Be aware and be prepared. I always say, if you’re not prepared, then be prepared to fail.”