Your New Year’s Eve celebrations were over as quickly as a firework splintering the sky. The fairy lights have had their final twinkle and are back in a shoebox marked ‘decorations.’ And now, you’re staring down the barrel of January’s back-to-the-grind – with no end in sight.
Put simply, the post-holiday period blows. ‘It’s natural to feel a bit down once Christmas and New Year celebrations are over,’ says Dan Roberts, Advanced Accredited Schema Therapist (danroberts.com). ‘It feels like the fun is finished and there’s nothing to look forward to.’
‘January and February can be tough months even if your mental health is good. Depending on where you live, it might be cold and dark, and it can feel like winter is dragging on forever.’ There’s also the secret sauce seasoning your melancholy. ‘You may also have drunk more than usual over the festive period,’ he adds. ‘Remember that alcohol is a depressant, so excess drinking lowers your mood.’
Plus, transitions feel hard when you experience the world through a brain hardwired to crave habit. ‘We often have so much planned over the Christmas period that the dearth of activity in January can make this time of year seem bleak,’ explains clinical psychologist Dr Emma Hepburn (@thepsychologymum.)
Then, of course, there’s the influx of ‘New Year! New You’ marketing that’s impossible to miss across social media feeds, billboards and TV advertising, which can foster a sense of inadequacy in us as we compare our lives as they are versus where we feel they should be, and that these might add up to a general sense of malaise.
One thing that can help, here? A mindset shift. ‘Buddhism has a lot to teach us about acceptance – and how much of human suffering is created by the desire to have things be different than they are,’ says Dan. ‘Seasons come and go, whether we want them to or not. So telling ourselves things like, ‘I hate winter – it’s such a miserable time of year!’ are not helpful. We cannot stop winter coming, any more than we can stop night falling.’
Try, instead, to remind yourself that this is the way things are, right now. ‘The more we accept things, rather than struggling against them – especially when we have no power to cause change – the less we suffer and happier we are,’ he adds. Permission to, for the moment, just let things be? Granted.
As to some practical solutions to nix your ‘end of festive fun’ dread? Check out five ideas from our experts, below.
1/ Focus on the pleasures that winter brings: those bright, crisp days that make us feel alive; roaring fires; hearty comfort food, like stews. Winter is also a natural time to reflect, to slow down and be more mindful. So, use those long evenings to read nourishing self-help books, meditate or try a yoga class (all of which are also good for your mental health). - Dan
2/ Schedule in things to look forward to, which should give you some structure and enjoyment. Helping other people can also contribute to your own wellbeing and give you a sense of purpose, too. So, if you have time, look into volunteering or helping others in some way. - Dr Emma
3/ I recommend mindfulness and self-compassion meditation for everyone – especially an eight-week course like mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) or mindfulness-based stress relief (MBSR), both of which are evidence-based ways to combat psychological issues like anxiety and depression – and even improve physical wellbeing. - Dan
4/ Winter can be a time of year when we see very little light, so try to get outside, perhaps for a lunchtime walk. Some people find using light therapy, [such as a light box or sunrise alarm clocks] can positively impact on their mood. While there is mixed evidence about whether light boxes work, some research indicates they can be effective, particularly if used first thing in the morning. - Dr Emma
5/ Get between eight to nine hours of sleep and eat a healthy diet with plenty of fresh fruit, veg, nuts and seeds – this will boost your energy levels, which helps when you’re feeling winter-sluggish. Taking up regular physical exercise, such as running, yoga, weight-training or dancing, will ease stress and anxiety, while generally lifting you
‘Tis the season, undoubtedly, for excess: too much food; too many drinks; too much money spent; too much stuff…
And sure, gifting feels good, but you really needn’t plunge deeper into your overdraft to show your loved ones how important they are to you. Nor do you need to spend hours that you really don’t have to spare, making handmade gifts.
In fact, in an age where we’re finally casting a critical eye over our largely unchecked relationship with consumerism, perhaps there’s no better time to shift focus onto the intangible – and, bonus, inexpensive – gifts you can give over the coming months.
‘What people tend to really value about the Christmas break is having that chance to pause and connect with the people we care about, as well as our deeper values,’ therapist and coach Sally Brown tells Happy Not Perfect. You know, those things that tend to fall by the wayside amidst the chaos and craziness of the day-to-day.
So, how does intangible gifting work? Essentially, it’s showing up for family and friends over the holiday season, with intention, to really invest in those relationships, for the benefit of both you. Neat, right? Here’s how to do it.
‘Think back to being a child,’ suggests Sally. ‘Christmas is such a special time for children because it’s a time when adults - especially those outside of your nuclear family - take time out from their normal routines to play your new game with you and actually get on your level.’
So, besides from getting stuck in with Jenga or Mario Kart with the youngest members of your festive gang, how do you give your time?
‘It’s about organisation and doing a bit of thinking ahead,’ says Sally. ‘Look at your schedule over the Christmas break: when will you have time to just sit and talk with an elderly relative? Or the old friends from your hometown that you don’t get to see as much as you like?’
Social media may provide us with the ability to see into other people’s festive family time - but does that mean we’re required to scroll for hours through their carefully selected highlights? Nope.
In fact, as Sally points out, being mindful about who we pay our attention to can make a real difference to how much you enjoy your holiday season.
‘A crucial aspect is practising some self-regulation with our devices,’ says Sally. ‘Not having phones at the table, for instance. Or, perhaps suggesting that some occasions - like watching a Christmas film with the whole family - are done device-free.’
But, Sally explains, being present over the festive season is about much more than limiting technological distractions. ‘Think about who you want to catch up with over the break and then,’ she adds. ‘Then, when you do get the chance, let the conversation go past the surface and transactional level.’
Families are complicated; so are old friendship circles. Inevitably, there will always be that one person (or, you know, three) who you just really rather wish wasn’t present.
So, what do you do? It probably won’t come as a surprise to hear that silently stewing before complaining about said person to anyone who will listen after they’ve gone really won’t make you feel good.
‘When you have a difficult relationship with someone it’s human nature for your mind to play a sort of showreel of evidence reinforcing all the ways you don’t like them,’ Sally explains. ’This could be times they’ve hurt you in the past – or actions they take and views they hold that you find objectionable.’
While spending time with said person might be unavoidable, you do have a choice about how you handle these feelings. Sally advises acknowledging how you feel and then, without judging yourself, actively choosing to focus on their good qualities (which, she assures HNP, are always there somewhere).
‘Think of it as an investment,’ she suggests. One that you’re making in your relationship with this person, but also in the good vibes of the seasonal celebrations. Are you really going to let this person dampen your festive spirit? Didn’t think so. Here’s to a happy - not perfect - holiday.
by Claudia Canavan & Roisín Dervish-O’Kane, @allupinyourfeelings