Treating Your Post-Holiday Emotional Hangover
Emotional Overindulgence Hurts as much as Alcohol
There's an easy remedy for eating and drinking too much during the holidays. Take a brisk walk in the brisk winter air (or the balmy winter air, if you happen to live in a temperate climate). Increase your workout time and wean yourself off the Ferrero Rochets and rum balls.
But what about the emotional fallout that accompanies the holiday season? If you managed to pace yourself and keep your holiday expectations in check, congratulations. The rest of you will no doubt relate to the condition I'm about to describe. You might have heard of it as post-holiday depression or the after-Christmas blues.
I call it the post-holiday-emotional hangover. And it feels just as crummy as real thing.
Borrow from Recovery - HALT
There is a very basic tenet in 12-Step circles. It's one of the first things they teach you, never to let yourself get too Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired (HALT for short). I believe the same principle applies to the activities leading up to and immediately after the end-of-year holidays.
H is for Hungry
For me, it's inevitable. Every year I tell myself I'm not going to go crazy on Christmas. Every year I find myself wandering around the stores wild-eyed and obsessive, dehydrated and starving. I kid you not. One day I clocked four full laps around Target. I spent at least 3 hours in the same store! The good news is, I kept my promise that if I found "it" there I would just buy "it" there, and not allow myself to comparison shop elsewhere.
Like grocery shopping on an empty stomach, I bought more than I planned to. Much more. I bought things I would not have bought had I taken the time to eat lunch. Or had bothered to consume even one glass of water, rather than tanking myself up on caffeine.
During the holidays the problem is usually eating too much, not too little. We stuff ourselves with whatever's in front of us. Our four food groups become sugar, butter, chocolate and gravy. No wonder our bodies rebel.
As for hydration, it's easy to forget to drink enough water, even though we are spending more time inside in dry, heated air.
Solution: A little trick that works for me (when I remember to use it) is to think of shopping as exercise in and of itself. Pushing an overladen cart around COSTCO or Sam's Club definitely qualifies!! So just remember to keep a water bottle in the car with you, and voila. Half of the "H" battle's won.
As for the other half, I do not believe in moderation during the holidays. I say, go for it. Wipe the buffet table clean and cram as many cookies in your mouth as you can fit. Doing otherwise will only make you feel deprived and angry (see below).
This song sums it up!
A is for Angry
I could write an entire hub (or even a hub series) about the effect of anger on holiday and post-holiday mental health. It's ironic that during this season of good will so many of us end up erupting or seething (or both). Anger can manifest in the form of road rage, territorial or competitive shopping, or the traditional family gathering meltdown.
Personally, I find it easier to be kind to strangers than to my own family. During the holidays I tend to be chipper and accommodating. If someone has only a handful of purchases, I cheerfully give them my spot in the checkout line. I also tend to be considerate where fellow drivers are concerned. Ok, I'll be honest. My courtesy is self-serving. I allow an extra-wide berth for drivers I suspect might have had too much holiday spirit.
But my tolerance for family is, quite honestly, significantly lower this time of year.
In my heart I know that every person has a right to be who they are. I know I cannot control others, only my reaction to them. But the stark reality is that I carry (I believe we all carry) a preset holiday agenda in my head. I know how I want things to look, smell and flow. I secretly want my gift to be the favorite received by each recipient.
When any aspect of my mental image fails to materialize, I can't help but be disappointed. And disappointment is closely akin to anger. In fact, it is often expressed as anger. Think tantrum, pouting, sniping and passive-agressive behavior. Sorry to say, I am not above any of them.
I know I am not alone in this. We love our families, it's just being around them we can't stand. Knowingly or unknowingly, our parents and siblings press our buttons. We push theirs. Old resentments come out in the oddest ways, with or without (but especially with) alcohol.
Solution: So how to keep anger from ruining an otherwise perfect (yeah right) holiday? Try this little MM tactic. The first four letters of ANGER are also the first four letters of ANGEL. Whenever you feel yourself getting peeved, visualize yourself as an angel instead.
Does this work? Damned if I know. I just made it up. But I'm game to try it if you are!
L is for Lonely
I know, it's hard to imagine being surrounded by family and friends and still feeling lonely, isn't it? But I can tell you, it's not only possible, it's extremely likely. Especially if you are a person in recovery and are used to feeling like an alien outsider already.
You don't have to have lost a loved one during the year to suffer from loneliness, but it helps. As does having the anniversary of your loved one's death (or any significant loss) fall during November or December. It's also difficult to be estranged from or physically separated from family during the holidays. I know, I know. The whole familes and holidays thing is an oxymoron. It's hard to be separated from them, but even harder to be with them. I don't make the rules, I just report what I see, and that's the way it is.
Solution: I believe the key is to surround yourself with people you really do like. This may not be possible on Christmas itself. But get around your homies as soon as you can. Plan a coffee date, outdoor fun, or even a gift-returning outing for the week after Christmas. If you are in recovery, round-the-clock Alka-thons on both Christmas and New Year's provide welcome respite. Excuse yourself and go get some serenity. If you're lucky, you may even return to the family festivities with a fresh new outlook ... and newfound tolerance.
10 Tips for Regrouping Emotionally
There really are some parallels between an alcohol binge and emotional overindulgence. If you are suffering from an emotional hangover, consider these points:
1.Good, bad, or utterly disastrous, it's over! Hooray!
2. If you overspent, don't beat yourself up. But don't bury your head in the sand, either. Face your bank statement and credit card bills squarely and make a plan to mitigate the damage.
3. Know that you made other people happy. This is what the holidays are all about!
4. Get some exercise. This will jumpstart your metabolism and start you on your recovery from eating the wrong things. It will also help you feel more in control of yourself and your life.
5. If you owe someone an apology for your holiday behavior, get on it. Don't let it linger and keep you feeling hung over.
6. As you put away your gifts, take time to clean out your drawers, cupboards and closets. Make way for the new by donating the old -- it will make you feel good!
7. Contact those you spent the holidays with and say "thank you." Even if everything was not Hallmark perfect, act "as if" it was. Acknowledge those who went out of their way for you.
8. Take advantage of after-holiday sales. Assuming you have enough money and energy left over, now's a great time to stock up on items for next year. If you've been scrimping on yourself to have more to give to others, buy something just for you. Doesn't have to be big-- just a little mood brightener.
9. Get out of self. Many times we have good intentions of "adopting a family" or serving Christmas dinner to the homeless. But in the hustle and bustle, these good intentions too often get lost. Well, the needy are just as needy this week as they were before Christmas. Nothing feels better than giving your time and attention to someone else.
10. A final note about New Year's resolutions. Forget them. More often than not, resolutions end up making us feel worse about ourselves because we are unable to keep them. Don't set yourself up for failure. Look back on the year that's just passed and the holidays with a sense of accomplishment. Apply that same outlook to the year ahead. You can do it -- whatever it is!
T is for Tired
Now here's one I know everyone can relate to. There are so many opportunities to exhaust yourself during the holidays. Shopping is a tiring activity. Cooking, baking, cleaning, wrapping presents, delivering presents, planning meals, going to parties, hosting parties -- take your pick. Any one of these adds stress to your usual routine. Undertaking all of them in a mad dash to Christmas Eve is like trying to run a marathon with no training. It's a suicidal strain on your system.
Most of us get through the holidays fueled by adrenaline, egg nog and butter cookies. But like kids spun out on too much sugar, we inevitably crash. For me, the crash typically hits between the 26th and 27th of December.
The post-holiday hangover is an utter deflation of energy. It is the post-Christmas yang to my pre-Christmas yin. Crushing ambivalence and physical exhaustion overtake every fiber of my being.
Solution: By this time it's way too late to advise getting enough rest. Either you did, or you didn't. Either way, you can still end up feeling like you're trapped under a 12' Christmas tree.Even if your holidays went well, you may still be susceptible to fatigue and illness at this time of year.
My best advice is not to fight it. If your body wants rest, give it rest. Don't accept every invitation that comes your way. If you must work, keep it to a minimum during this final week of the year. If you're lucky enough to have the time off, use it to recharge your emotional batteries rather than running yourself further ragged.
HALTING the Hangover
Like everything else in recovery, I know this, too, shall pass.
Unlike a real hangover, I'm not in pain, per se. Just unsettled and off kilter. I feel like I should be doing something, but what? There are no more gifts to buy or wrap. We've already taken care of the under tree detritus. I suppose I could do some work, but there's no urgency. Clients are taking the week between Christmas and New Year's off.
I guess the only thing to do is fight my holiday hangover with HALT. Excuse me while I call up some friends, schedule a lunch date, and plan to get to bed at a reasonable hour tonight. Oh yes, and as for that anger, I've got a tool for it, too. I'll replace any lingering resentments with an attitude of gratitude.
I've made it -- we've made it -- through another year. We've got a whole 51 weeks until we do it all again! I'd say that's something to celebrate! Just don't go crazy.
- Index of Health and Medical Picture Slideshows (Images, Illustrations, and Pictures) on MedicineNet.
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- Stress, depression and the holidays: 10 tips for coping - MayoClinic.com
Stress and depression can ruin your holidays. Here's how to keep the joy alive.