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Beat the post-holiday blues

After all the careful planning, wrapping and hosting, the holiday season just whirled through your home and then left, leaving you with a pile of dishes and leftovers. And, while it's nice to put your feet up and return to normality, there may be a feeling of emptiness tinged with exhaustion that's hard to shake.

“The holidays can be a joyful time, but they are often paradoxically very stressful,” says Dr. David Koczerginski, Chief of Psychiatry and Medical Program Director of Mental Health at North York General Hospital. (The pronounciation of Koczerginski is cause-zer-gin (as in the alcohol)-ski.) “After a period of sustained stress, coupled with not infrequent intense family dynamics, failed expectations and subsequent loneliness, some people can really feel down. Genetic vulnerability and prior episodes may increase risk for clinical depression.”
Dr. David Koczerginski, Chief of Psychiatry, North York General Hospital
Dr. David Koczerginski, Chief of Psychiatry and Medical Program Director of Mental Health

A low mood following a busy, festive time is common, according to Dr. Koczerginski, but if you're feeling persistently down for about two weeks, consider that it may be something more than a holiday comedown. The key indicator of depression is no longer finding pleasure in activities that once made you happy. “It can be something like not enjoying running or spending time with a loved one,” Dr. Koczerginski says. “It's about not being able to find pleasure in what makes you uniquely you.”
A low mood following a busy, festive time is common, according to Dr. Koczerginski, but if you're feeling persistently down for about two weeks, consider that it may be something more than a holiday comedown.
If you or someone one you know is experiencing post-holiday blues, Dr. Koczerginski has five tips to keep in mind:
  1. Find healthy coping strategies. People unwind and relax in many different ways so figure out an ideal way to treat or comfort yourself. Exercise or a long hike can do wonders to lift the spirit. Also, don't forget the basics such as proper nutrition and enough sleep. “They're the basics for a reason,” says Dr. Koczerginski. “Your happiness can often hinge on them.”
  2. Avoid unhealthy coping strategies. The holiday season can be rife with overconsumption, so it's important to be mindful not to abuse substances such as alcohol. “It may provide momentarily relief when you're feeling sad but alcohol has depressive qualities,” says Dr. Koczerginski. “You'll feel worse in the long term.”
  3. Stay connected. Just because friends and family have gone home, doesn't mean that you are alone. Try reaching out to those you may have missed. Or, if it's been a particularly lonely time, find ways to volunteer,pursue interests and connect with the community. “It will involve some work on your part,” says Dr. Koczerginski, “but even brief social interactions can have a positive impact on your mental health.”
  4. Plan for the year ahead. It can be helpful to look and plan for future opportunities to have something to look forward to. “Having a long-term perspective can be helpful,” says Dr. Koczerginski. “You don't need to fill your calendar but an idea of one or two things can be helpful.”
  5. Seek help. If all else fails, and your sadness persists, it's time to seek medical advice. “The best thing you can do is link in with your family physician,” advises Dr. Koczerginski. “Sometimes it's the mere act of reaching out and admitting something isn't right that can make you feel significantly better. Other times, you may need a combination of therapy or medication. Help is out there.”

    Visit the Canadian Mental Health Association for a list of other resources in your community.

December 5, 2018

This article first appeared in the December 2018-January 2019 issue of The Pulse, North York General Hospital's community newsletter. Subscribe to receive 10 issues per year.

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