5 tips on how to beat the post-holiday blues

It's the time of year when many Canadians may experience post-holiday blahs: back to work after being off, disgruntled about cold weather and fretting over Christmas bills come due. To defeat those January blues, experts offer five tips.

An estimated three per cent of Canadians develop Seasonal Affective Disorder

Five tips for beating the January blues. (CBC)

It's the time of year when many Canadians may experience post-holiday blahs: back to work after being off, disgruntled about cold weather and fretting over Christmas bills come due.

To defeat those January blues, experts offer five tips.

1. Put it in perspective:

Dr. Peter Bieling, director of the Mood Disorders Program at St. Joseph's Health Care in Hamilton says a small proportion of people develop a major depression during the low-sun months of late fall and winter, typically known as seasonal affective disorder, or SAD. An estimated three per cent of Canadians develop SAD, which often can be prevented or treated with 30 minutes daily exposure to bright light using a specially designed fluorescent light box. Antidepressant drugs and talk therapy also can help.

But Bieling says the vast majority of Canadians don't fall into this category.

"It's intuitive — it's cold, it's dark, your credit-card bill has arrived," and for most people it's the first week back on the job after the end-of-year break to celebrate the season, he says.

While acknowledging that being somewhat down in the dumps is a "very real feeling that people have," the psychologist says the idea that most Canadians are going to be depressed this time of year doesn't hold up under scientific scrutiny.

"It has an intuitive appeal to us, but it's not a real thing ... People get depressed because something has happened to them in a very personal way, and that can happen at any time of the year. That can happen on Christmas Day; it can also happen on June 15."

Calling them not surprising, Bieling offers a few common-sense strategies for warding off the new-year blues.

2. Bedtime:

"You have to get a decent night's sleep at this time of year. People burn the candle at both ends too much. They need to protect their sleep," he says.

3. Get moving:

"People need exercise. Especially when it's cold out, people are less likely to walk. And for the mood protective effects of exercise ... you only need three to four times a week, for 30 minutes each time. That's not going to turn you into Arnold Schwarzenegger, but that's going to help your mood."

4. Nutrition:

"When I talk to my patients (about food), I always say the less processed it is, the better it is for you. Canada's Food Guide may not be perfect, but it would be a pretty decent place to start. So no junk."

Financial writer-TV personality Gail Vaz-Oxlade says many Canadians end up with a "holiday hangover" come January because they've overspent, often to satisfy what they see as others' expectations.

"We want to meet our kids' expectations — they want all the new whatevers; we have to meet out friends' and our families' expectations," she says. "If your sister-in-law always gives lavish presents, do you buy into that? Or do you say, 'You know what, I'm going to knit everybody a hat this year.' Most people can't do that. They buy into the whole expectation thing.

"And then they get into the stores and the stores work their own magic and so many people do the one-for-you, the one-for-me thing: 'Here's a present for aunty Maureen, one for me. Here's a present for cousin Sue, one for me.'

"Then what happens is the bills start coming in in January and if you have shopped on plastic and you haven't kept track of what you have been spending — and most people don't — it comes as a shock."

Vaz-Oxlade says the act of shopping releases feel-good endorphins in the brain, while paying by credit card allows people to distance themselves from the pain associated with parting with actual cash. With each purchase, a person goes from one surge of euphoria to another.

"Don't think coming off that holiday binge is easy for people," she says. "You shop and you shop and you shop, and then you've got to stop ... It feels unnatural to stop and you want the rush of the shopping again."

Vaz-Oxlade's advice is simple, though she says many people find it difficult to put into practice.

5. Put yourself on a budget and stick to it:

"You're going to have to go through and eliminate all the nice-to-haves so that you can pay what you owe. So if you have to go three, four, five, six months without cable, so be it. If have to eliminate eating out, that's what you do.

"Must-haves must rule."

In the meantime, she says, people should make it a priority to pay off what they owe from last month's Christmas spending spree and start socking away money for the next holiday season, keeping in mind financially realistic goals that won't start the process over again in January 2016.


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