Michael Bader: The post-holiday blues
It is common for people to feel a let down or even depression after the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.
The post-holiday blues can be minor or major.
Usually, they resolve with time. Sometimes, however, they require therapeutic help.
Over the 35 years I’ve been in clinical practice, I’ve seen dozens of people presenting with January-February depressions.
The most common cause is a feeling of deflation or disappointment resulting from dashed hopes stirred up by the Christmas and New Years holidays.
This dynamic is almost always unconscious, but quickly becomes clear when investigated in a safe therapeutic relationship.
Christmas, in particular, activates longings in people, longings for love, recognition, and other emotional rewards symbolically linked to the giving and receiving of gifts.
Material objects and the pleasure that often accompanies receiving them come to symbolize emotional gratifications.
And since the holidays are usually associated with family, whatever frustrated longings and needs one experienced as a child in one’s own family of origin get replayed in adult life.
Old disappointments are re-awakened, although we’re not conscious of this process.
Most of us have spent a good deal of time and energy adapting to, living with, and/or overcoming the privations of our childhoods.
But the feelings of emptiness and loss that most people experience at some point as children don’t ever completely go away.
And, year after year, they are stirred up and relived in technicolor in late December.
We may deny these feelings, medicate them, or otherwise try to escape, but few of us can do so with 100% success.
We get through the holidays, and it is only afterward that we allow the stress of it all to register.
Only afterward is it is safe enough to allow ourselves to feel what was there, what was being stirred up, all along.
And that something is often depression and disappointment.
These feelings are not a sign of mental illness, nor do we all have to rush to therapists to fix ourselves.
But we should try, as best we can, to adopt an attitude of compassionate acceptance of what we’re feeling, understanding that what is coming up is real and probably has been there for a long time.
Eventually, in my experience, such feelings will diminish as we step back into our normal lives and our healthy work responsibilities and mature relationships.
If we don’t see such progress, it may be time to seek guidance from a professional and more deeply understand the depression which has us in its grip.
Michael Bader is a psychologist in private practice in Grass Valley. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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