We are a couple of weeks into the new year, and I am still struggling with post-holiday blues. It’s time to get on with life, and right now I’d rather just stay in bed with my cozy flannel sheets and continue watching Christmas movies. This was the first holiday season since my dad, who had Alzheimer’s disease and lived with me, died. And after intensively providing care for him, my mom and my sister over the past decade, I feel disoriented because I'm no longer anyone’s primary caregiver. While it was admittedly the hardest holiday season ever, at least I had something to focus on. Here are a few things that have helped me through the letdown after holidays in the past. I hope my list will inspire you.
Take comfort in routine. Re-establishing a routine for meals, sleep, housework, caregiving, socializing and exercise helps us mentally transition back to normal life and reset our bodies, too. Small organizing projects with quick, visible results are encouraging.
Get out. While it’s helpful to hibernate and take some much-needed downtime, it’s amazing how perspective can shift just by leaving the house and getting some light and fresh air. If a big outing feels like too much, then start small. Get yourself cleaned up and go to the grocery store or a walk around the block.
Make a list of what you have to look forward to. I’ve lined up several immediate things: recipes to try, new movies and books, dinner with friends and time with my boyfriend. I also build excitement about plans several months out: a visit with high school friends in February, a vacation in March, a wedding in June and a high school reunion in July.
Start something new, with realistic expectations. Go for the classic tactic of embarking on a new exercise program or a creative pursuit in the new year — but be realistic about the methods, timing and results so you don’t set yourself up for feeling like a failure. Make it something you can fit into your regular routine. I’ve used a small trampoline and even when caregiving, I could find 10 minutes to jump on it. You might try out an exercise video while your loved ones cheer you on. If you want to learn something new, sign up for a class that you can schedule around, try an online course or listen to audiotapes.
Connect with family, friends and peers. Isolation can heighten the post-holiday letdown, and if you’re caregiving and/or grieving the loss of a loved one, you may already feel isolated or lonely. Prolonged isolation poses the equivalent health risks of smoking 15 cigarettes a day. And if you are an extrovert, the lack of interaction after the flurry of holiday fun may be a downer. So, get back out there. Plan a visit, phone call, video chat or text with friends. Volunteer or connect with others in similar situations online or in-person support groups. Use a resource finder, contact your area agency on aging, local hospital, therapist or counselor for help finding ways to connect.
Get professional help. If your “down time” slides into weeks or months of nothingness, you feel hopeless or you just don’t care about anything — and you just can’t seem to implement any of these suggestions — you might be experiencing burnout, depression or seasonal affective disorder (SAD). It may be time to get some professional help from your doctor, a therapist or a counselor.
Remember that others in your life may also be experiencing the post-holiday blues, including those you are providing care for. Older adults and those who are isolated and facing health or financial challenges may be feeling down, too. Sometimes it helps to get outside ourselves and focus on helping others through this tricky transition.
Amy Goyer is AARP's Family and Caregiving Expert and author of Juggling Life, Work and Caregiving. A recognized media authority, she has appeared on Today, The Doctors and Dr. Phil, and had interviews in The Wall Street Journal and People. Connect with Amy on Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, LinkedIn and amygoyer.com.