Once the chaos and excitement of the holiday season has faded, the decorations have been put away and the social calendar looms empty, it is not uncommon to feel a little lost and blue. Once January rolls around, the focus quickly shifts from managing stress to dealing with this post-holiday crash, the effects of which can range from mild sadness to full-blown depression.
What Causes the Post-Holiday Blues?
There are a lot of reasons for experiencing post-holiday blues. Those reasons differ from person to person and even from place to place. Here are just a few of the most common factors that contribute to the let-down many people experience after the holidays:
- We demand a lot of ourselves during the holiday season: finding the right gifts for everyone without going broke; attending all the right social gatherings; making sure we don’t slight anyone by leaving them off our guest list; organizing family functions; organizing and/or attending business functions; and travelling to visit family and friends or (gasp!) having them come to stay. All of this creates massive stress before the holidays setting us up for a major crash afterwards.
- We often harbor unrealistic expectations that the “spirit of the season” will somehow magically fix what’s wrong in our relationships (or lack of them), but after the holidays, rifts still exist and soul mates did not arrive gift-wrapped.
- Sometimes the holidays remind us of lost loved ones or past celebrations, when families, now distanced or split, were together. For some, the holidays are a painful reminder of bad events that happened in the past. Either way, once the excitement and activity wane, these memories and the emotions associated with them can make coping difficult.
- We often spend a lot of money during the holiday season and the bills arrive in January. Choices made in excitement and anticipation often seem reckless in the cold light of winter, once all the guests have gone home and the decorations are put away for another year.
- Many of us also eat and drink a lot over the holidays. Part of the post-holiday blues can likely be attributed to physical reactions caused by excess sugar and/or alcohol—not to mention our own frustration with those physical impacts, especially if they include weight gain.
- For those who don’t have a partner or family nearby to share the season with, the holiday season can be a very lonely time and everyone else’s heightened activity only emphasizes that loneliness.
- In northern climes, seasonal affective disorder (SAD), caused by reduced exposure to sunlight, can heighten the emotional impact of the holidays. When someone is affected by SAD, their symptoms are much like clinical depression and include; fatigue, irritability, changes in appetite, and feelings of anxiety and sadness.
Helping Employees Tackle Post-Holiday Blues
As an employer, there are a number of things you can do to help employees deal with the post-holiday blues. Some are preventative, intended to manage some of the factors that can contribute to a sense of let-down after the holidays; others are responses to help alleviate feelings of sadness when they occur.
- Early in the holiday season, consider offering an information session on “budgeting for the holidays” where employees are coached to set limitations on what they’ll spend so they’ll be in better financial shape in January and February.
- Know that tensions between employees will likely be heightened during and after the holiday season. Watch for early warning signs and be prepared to defuse confrontations that may be exaggerated by underlying anxiety.
- Introduce an employee wellness program in January. Offer incentives for participation and goal attainment. Holding a professional development day early in January can also help employees to re-focus.
- Watch for telltale signs that the post-holiday blues might be moving into depression and offer help by connecting staff with their Employee Assistance Program or other resources. Indicators that may indicate depression include: frequent late arrival or absences from work, withdrawal from co-workers or office activities, working behind closed doors, increased errors or reduced productivity, and changes in personality.
- It may take a few days for employees to get back on track in January so it’s best to modify expectations about how much work can be accomplished in the first couple of weeks back at work. Focus on encouragement and setting exciting goals rather than addressing performance issues at this time.
- If you are subject to shorter days in the winter, investigate opportunities for increasing exposure to daylight. Holding an outdoor skating party or winter barbecue that gets people outside can go a long way toward lifting lagging spirits during short winter days.
- Make a special effort to connect with remote workers who may feel more isolated than usual at this time of the year.
- Ensure that managers are more visible, accessible and willing to talk.
Taking concrete actions that support your employees and limit the impact of post-holiday fallout is a win/win strategy. Employees will appreciate your help in getting through a difficult time, and you’ll have them refreshed, re-energized and back in the game that much sooner.
Subscribe to our blog for regular HR insight, best practices and useful resources to support a changing workplace.