Anxiety and Depression

Post-Holiday Blues

BY CHAD YIP

11 February 2022  |   7 min read

Post-holiday blues refer to a type of mood or different moods that a person experiences when returning to a more normal routine after a holiday break. Common symptoms can include feelings of sadness, anxiety, increased irritability, increased feelings of stress, low energy level, feelings of nostalgia, sleep problems and general discomfort.

Causes of post-holiday blues

The terms ‘post-holiday blues’ and ‘post-holiday depression’ are often used interchangeably, but they are very different. It is necessary to exercise caution when using certain labels or terms especially when the facts are unknown. Labelling without good reasons can lead to the possibility of stigmatisation and over-simplification of human behaviour and experiences.

Although some symptoms of post-holiday blues may resemble those of clinical depression, they are not an indication of a mental condition, but rather a normal reaction and adjustment to changing or contrasting circumstances which is usually short-lived or temporary. It is our brain’s way of trying to restore order and balance while adjusting to two very different set of experiences. For example, people on holiday no longer or minimally faced the daily stressors they were used to, such as work stress, and when they had to face them again after the holiday, their reactions tended to be stronger and more intense.

In the unfortunate circumstances where some people fall into clinical depression after a holiday or trip, these may be attributed to reasons such as the emergence of relationship issues during the holiday, or the emergence of existential issues such as perceived meaninglessness in their own daily lives after being exposed to perspective-changing experiences, rather than the end of the holiday itself.

Post-holiday blues are normal and healthy

It has been argued by Dr Melissa Weinberg that the experience of post-holiday blues is a sign of healthy psychological functioning, as one bears the emotional consequences after having a period of fun and enjoyment while adjusting to the return of the original baseline of well-being. The fact that we are able to and want to remember, recall, and hold on to the memories of our holiday and the good times that we have had is a sign of good mental health rather than a mental health problem, as we continue to make adjustments back to the normal routine. According to the set-point theory, it has also been proposed that although some experiences such as holiday experiences can increase feelings of happiness, such increases are nonetheless short-lived or temporary as one will eventually return to the original baseline level of happiness (Headey, 2008).

The fact that we are able to and want to remember, recall and hold on to the memories of our holiday and the good times that we have had is a sign of good mental health rather than a mental health problem.

Factors contributing to the blues

Several factors can contribute to one’s heightened experience of post-holiday blues. Lifestyle factors can play a critical role:

● Sleep – disrupted sleep due to different travelling time zones or lack of sleep due to long nights of activities can drastically increase feelings of stress and have a significant impact on mood and wellbeing.

● Diet and exercise – unhealthy and excessive eating and consumption of alcohol, coupled with a lack of adequate exercise or routine exercise during the holidays, can also have a negative impact on emotional and physical health.

In fact, the lifestyle factors perpetuate themselves in a circular fashion – if one’s sleep is disrupted, one’s eating habit is also likely to be disrupted, leading to feelings of tiredness and lethargy which in turn leads to low mood, thereby accentuating post-holiday blues symptoms.

One’s mindset and thinking patterns are also important considerations for post-holiday blues:

● Unrealistic expectations – one may have unrealistic expectations of a holiday season such as expectations of elevated and endless joy and happiness, leading to increased disappointments when these expectations are not met.

● Negative thinking – one may also engage in negative thinking and ruminate on the long wait regarding when the next holiday can arrive.

It may necessary to address the possible underlying reason for the distress that one may be experiencing. These reasons can include turning to a holiday as an escape from issues such as unsatisfying work and living an inauthentic life. While holidays and rests are important and necessary, these underlying reasons if not addressed or resolved, will usually accumulate and come back in some other ways such as experiencing feelings of unfulfillment and unsatisfying interpersonal relationships.

Of course, some people do look forward to going back to their normal routine as they are likely to find meaning in their daily lives, or prefer a routine that is more predictable and familiar.

Tips to cope better with post-holiday blues

  • Acknowledging and accepting that feeling blue after a holiday is a normal human experience signaling us the changes that are taking place while we re-adjust back to normality.
  • Returning to or developing a healthy lifestyle, including having regular sleeping patterns, well-balanced diets and adequate exercise.
  • Connecting with family and friends for social support and social activities. In fact, sharing about your holiday experiences or writing some of these experiences down, such as what was fun and what was learnt during the holiday, can be therapeutic and bring comfort and satisfaction.
  • Scheduling more frequent holidays and rests throughout the year rather than having a long holiday. Research has shown that people derive more feelings of happiness from the anticipation of the holiday itself and from a holiday lasting not more than two weeks (Nawijn et al., 2010).
  • Planning a holiday or break that can provide psychological richness and fulfilment and therefore greater life satisfaction, rather than one that is purely hedonic or pleasure-seeking. A holiday uplift is temporary, but a rewarding learning experience such as exploring new places, learning a new culture, trying different foods and doing overseas volunteer work is enduring and perspective-changing.

In conclusion, the experience of post-holiday blues is a normal human experience and is usually short-lived. It can also be seen as an opportunity to review our holiday plans, the things that we want to do during the holidays and even the way that we want to live our lives. This is to ensure that we can experience pleasure and satisfaction as well as psychological richness in our lives.

Chad Yip is a registered clinical psychologist who provides psychological assessment and treatment for children, adolescents and adults. He is the Head of Psychology at Neurowyzr Pte Ltd, a neuroscience company specialising in brain health. He is involved in clinical work, product development and research. He is committed to serve the ever-changing needs of the individual and society.

References

  • Headey, B. (2008). Life goals matter to happiness: A revision of set-point theory. Social Indicators Research, 86(2), 213–231. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11205-007-9138-y
  • Nawijn, J., Marchand, M. A., Veenhoven, R., & Vingerhoets, A. J. (2010). Vacationers Happier, but Most not Happier After a Holiday. Applied research in quality of life, 5(1), 35–47. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11482-009-9091-9