Holiday movies rarely show what happens once the celebrations end. I mean, what do people do after Pinterest perfect meals are eaten, piles of presents are opened, and their family and friends go home? Well, if they're anything like me, they get depressed. For me, the day after Christmas is nothing but a huge, palpable, devastating letdown. Honestly, I don't even like the winter holidays, so why am I so sad they're over?
Honestly, I think my biggest problem is exhaustion. Not only is this time of year impossibly busy, but stores are crowded, people are rude, and I extend myself way beyond my limits. I don't get enough sleep all year round, and this time of year propels my limited sleep into the realm of non-existence. I stay up too late, drink too much, and have kids who are too excited to fall asleep at bedtime but manage to wake up before 6:00 a.m for reasons unknown. In other words, the struggle is real.
I know what's perfect for me, but in an effort to make things perfect for other people around the holidays, I throw my vision of perfection out the proverbial window.
As psychiatrist Mark Sichel told HuffPost, "A heightened pressure and fear of not getting everything done are some of the most common triggers for the holiday blues." Many people over-schedule themselves to the point of exhaustion this time of year, and then often end up skipping self-care in order to meet their expectations. To make matters worse, according to Sichel, we compare ourselves with others — online, in movies, and around the dinner table. As a result, the holidays mean increased feelings of anxiety and depression, and those feelings don't go away when the holidays are over, especially if things didn't go as planned.
Then, there's the fact that I try to make the holidays perfect for my kids and other family members. Inevitably something will go wrong. It doesn't even have to be a big thing, either. As soon as reality doesn't meet my expectations, I feel so defeated. In fact, I feel like the worst mom, wife, daughter, sister, woman, and human being on the planet. Even though, rationally, I totally know I am just fine. I know, rationally, it's OK that I'm not able to afford a ton of expensive toys so that my kids can have some picture-perfect Christmas. I know it's best that I teach my kids that holidays are about family and not commercialism. It's also OK to set boundaries, say "no," and decline invitations to parties and family gathers that will be more toxic than festive. Again, I can rationalize until I'm blue in the face. I know what's perfect for me, but in an effort to make things perfect for other people around the holidays, I throw my vision of perfection out the proverbial window.
Many people over-schedule themselves to the point of exhaustion this time of year, and then often end up skipping self-care in order to meet their expectations.
And when there's family drama, and there's always family drama, it feels so overwhelming. I just want to crawl under the covers and stay there until Spring. Psychotherapist Linda Walter, licensed clinical social worker (LCSW), tells Psychology Today that spending time with family during the holidays can be both a blessing and a curse. In the aforementioned article, Walter writes:
"Sometimes we feel let down by our interactions with family members and disappointed with the way they behaved towards us and/or treated us. This can lead to sadness and its own kind of mourning. Other times, we might experience tremendous joy at being with family members and then miss them terribly when they have gone home."
Walter adds that the holidays can also remind us of people who are no longer with us, and winter weather often sucks, which makes us want to stay home.
So, knowing this, you would think that I would be happy now that the holidays are over. Instead, I am totally depressed. And I've learned that I am so not alone in this experience. It turns out that a lot of us feel the post-holiday blues. Fortunately, science can tell us both why they happen and how to get past them. It's all about expectations, stress management, and cutting yourself enough slack. Psychologist Melissa Weinberg suggests that what we see as post-holiday depression is is actually more post-holiday "normalization," or difficulty adjusting to regular life after the hustle and excitement of the holiday season.
For now, I am working on accepting that nothing is perfect, especially not this time of year.
According to Walter, the key to no feeling so much of slump in your mood might be to make plans for the week after Christmas, so you have something to look forward to and have ready-made opportunities to get out of the house. Even if you're like me, and you're completely done being social for the rest of the year, going to a movie or going for a run might be just what you need to fend off feeling sad.
As psychologist Nicholas Joyce writes in Quartz, it's important to set realistic expectations and accept reality for what it is. That way, Joyce writes, you can avoid, "surges of hope followed by crashes of disappointment repeated each year." Afterwards, it's important to reflect on the gap between your expectations and what happened, to avoid future disappointment. If things didn't go well, Joyce suggests you accept it and maybe consider changing your plans next year to avoid the same result. It seems so simple, and maybe it is simple. If only everyone else would get on board with setting realistic expectations.
For now, I am working on accepting that nothing is perfect, especially not this time of year. I'm making a New Year's Resolution to cut myself some slack and try to enjoy the fact that this dumpster fire of a year is finally coming to a close. That is something I think we can all celebrate, and next year is bound to be better. At least, I hope so.
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