• Megan Maley

The holidays are over... what now.

On a whim, I typed "post-holiday sadness" into Google just to see what materialized. Not really surprisingly, Google returned pages and pages of articles which solidified my hunch that the post-holiday period could be a dangerous corner to round in terms of mental health. And as I have stated before, mental health is human health and should be regarded as such. And we should talk about mental health often. We should put it right out in the open for discussion just like we do any public health crisis.

Similar to any post-event "blues", the post-holiday blues describe the feeling of letdown that occurs after having spent weeks or even months looking forward to an event or day... spending hours on different tasks associated with preparing different facets of the event and most probably hundreds of dollars on food and gifts and perhaps even clothes or services in preparation for celebrations and happy hours and cocktails. We place so much emphasis on a particular event or day or function that once it's over, we are left with a sense of purposelessness. (translation: a lack of purpose). Couple this with the fact that there is most likely a tremendous amount of cleanup required to "put away" all the decorations, wrapping paper, ornaments, lights, Christmas getup, etc... AND the fact that you probably spent a big 'ol chunk of your hard-earned coin on gifts, clothes, cocktails, food and tchotchke... and you've got a recipe for emptiness.

Now let's tack on:

- A cold, bleak January

- Maybe some snow

- A waistline you don't recognize from one too many cups of eggnog

- A noticeably lighter wallet

- The friends and family that filled your home for the holidays have returned to their lives and you have thrown out the leftover pie, cookies and ham

-Everywhere you turn, somebody is advertising a New Year's Resolution to you that involves you buying some kind of fitness equipment or signing up for weight watchers or a gym nearby (Like you didn't already feel bad enough)

-The Christmas lights are gone. Your drive home went from magical to mundane

Unsurprisingly, another prong of discontent can be commonly found this time of year for many: Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Although distinguishable from "post-holiday blues", SAD is commonly referred to as the winter blues, and most commonly occurs in January and February. According to this pretty official-looking publication within the NCBI, "symptoms center on sad mood and low energy. Those most at risk are female, are younger, live far from the equator, and have family histories of depression, bipolar disorder, or SAD.... less outdoor exposure to sunlight on the skin in winter, people with SAD may produce less Vitamin D. As Vitamin D is believed to play a role in serotonin activity, Vitamin D deficiency and insufficiency have been associated with clinically significant depressive symptoms."

So... we have post-holiday blues, a very likely potential SAD situation going on, and a to top it off, a bunch of us are living on a single paycheck (during an already fiscally snug time of year) due to the government shutdown and furloughs. This is Debbie Downer recipe if I ever saw one...amiright??

What to do... what to do...

All I can really share is some anecdotal advice from personal experience, as a person who struggles every single year with the post-holiday blues and has struggled with depression for most of my life (although I must admit it has never been particularly limited to a season... I do hate the winter for the distinct lack of sunlight and warmth and the unrivaled drying effect it has on my body). Although I am no longer partaking in New Years' Resolutions, there is a solid case to be made for some firm introspection at this time of year and some healthy personal goal-setting. In fact, goal-setting is my self-prescribed antidote to my SAD situation this time of year.

Each and every January, I take a hard look in the mirror and figure out what I can do to improve myself. Although I did promise myself this year that I would be kinder and gentler with myself and focus on my mental and emotional health instead of my annual tradition of berating my body and vowing to become a more svelte version of myself, that promise doesn't preclude me from evaluating other areas of my life where I could use some re-evaluation and re-prioritizing. In fact, the creation of this very blog was a result of my personal re-prioritization to establish a creative space for myself back in January 2018. I was about midway through my pregnancy (and struggling with depression) and felt like a lost, hopeless, shell of my former self. I took a good long look in the mirror and asked myself what I needed. Right at that moment in my life, I needed to re-establish my own identity and come to terms with the woman I felt like I was "losing" while being a host to a growing human inside me... and I needed to nurture that identity. I felt like I had lost or was in the process of losing my own identity as a person and would soon be overcome with the identity of "mom" (who I believed at the time, however incorrectly, was a faceless, shapeless blob of a non-feminine form whose sole purpose was to attend to the needs and nourishment of an equally faceless tiny, crying human). (Wow my view on motherhood was bleak.) (Side note: I could not have been more wrong about that... but alas, I was in the throes of depression... but I digress...) So I answered the question of "What do you need right now" with "I need to establish my own identity. I need to care for my mental health. I need to find the thing(s) I enjoy and pursue them shamelessly." And one of the things I needed so desperately was a creative outlet that gave me a sense of ambition and purpose. Viola: The birth of my blog.

It wasn't an "okay I'm going to start a blog today" kind of awakening, however. I sat with my thoughts for a while (weeks, actually... probably the entire month of January) and tried to envision what I wanted to build. I made countless notes (on paper and in Google Drive) and built a vision board for what I wanted my creative space to look like... and once I determined what felt authentic for me, I started setting some goals. And how empowering that was! I believe it was the goal-setting part of this process that actually triggered a change in my mood. Setting goals was the actionable endeavor that shifted my mindset from hopeless to hopeful. It wasn't even that I had achieved anything in particular on my goal list during January, it was more just the act of building expectations for myself that were realistic and then working backwards to determine how I was going to get the ball rolling to make sure I could realize my goals within the time frame established. While I did not live up to every goal I set for myself over the course of 2018, (in fairness, I birthed a human this year and that kind of side-tracked the amount of energy I believed I would have... and time... I thought I would have a whole lot more time to do creative things once I was "at home with the baby" during maternity leave (also: BAAAHAHAHAHAH wtf was I thinking.)) But I can safely say that I am a whole lot closer to realizing my goals than I was a year ago and WAY closer than if I had brushed off the entire in entirety.

So even if we are not exactly embracing the concept of New Years' Resolutions, it might not be such a bad idea to embrace a "New Year, Improved Me" mentality. As it turns out, goal-setting is a 2for1 kind of a deal:

1. You might actually accomplish something of relative importance (or at least get closer to it); and

2. The act of goal-setting is cathartic in a way that fills you with hope and (oddly) a sense of accomplishment.

The coincidence of post-holiday blues and winter blues coinciding with the whole "New Year, New Me" mentality might be healthier than I originally thought, and it might be exactly what we need this time of year to circumvent our post-party crash. Even though I'm kind of anti-unhealthy-resolution at this point in my life, I'm pretty sold on the idea of taking the month of January to build a fresh perspective and a fresh set of goals for the year.

Until next time, be well, friends!


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