Back to Reality: Coming Down after the Holidays

By Sarah Winfrey on 6 January 2009 3 comments
Photo: Shayan (USA)

Whatever holidays you celebrate in November, December, and January, they're over now. The special food is eaten and the decorations are probably back in their boxes. The new year has come, though whether you see it with hope or fear is up to you. My point is, in most of the western world, January is a month of coming down. We spend November and December gearing up, getting ready, anticipating days off from work, travel, good food, and good times with people we love. Then January hits, and that's all over. Not only that, but the bills for all that hope and anticipation start arriving and we go back to our normal daily routine. It's no wonder if we sometimes look up and ask if the holidays really meant anything after all.

Seasons of letdown are difficult for the human spirit. They just are. There's not any way around that. But there are ways to lessen the impact of a letdown, any letdown, has on you.

Life Cycles

The truth is, our lives cycle and recycle all the time, though we don't often notice because we're too busy experiencing the feelings of wherever we are in the cycle. On every level--personal, professional, spiritual, financial, emotional--we are constantly going through ups and downs. We cycle as individuals, as family groups, as business groups, as friends, as a culture, as a country, and as a world. It's no wonder the patterns are hard to notice, what with all these cycles intersecting and influencing each other. But the cycles are true.

Sometimes, just knowing that we're at a particular part of the cycle makes being there easier. It's almost a relief to say, "It's January, and I'm on the downward side of the holiday season cycle. It's normal for me to feel tired, a little overwhelmed with everyday life coming back at me, and even a little sad. This will pass." While it can be hard to deeply embrace the truth that statements like these offer, there's some comfort in acknowledging, at least cognitively, that they are true.

Take Some Space

Take advantage of the lull in planned activities that often comes on the downward side of a cycle (like January) and even of any restricted financial resources you might have from your celebrating, find a quiet place, and hole up for a while. Part of what causes the downward side of the cycle is the onslaught of sights and sounds and people and experience that comes with the upside. Our minds get overstimulated, whether we're aware of it or not, and after a while they can't continue processing so much input without some rest. So taking some quiet time to meditate, journal, or read a good book helps our tired, taxed minds and puts us on the road to getting out of the downward part of the cycle.

Getting some personal space can also help us cement memories of the good times we've just had. Writing a memory down, looking through pictures, or even replaying something special in our minds cues our brains to remember it. And when we remember good times, it's easier to feel contented in the present.

Focus on the Present

Most likely, the tasks in front of us are not as loathesome as they seem when we're coming off a fun, exciting season like the holidays. Once we have memories cemented, the best thing we can do at the bottom part of a cycle is to focus on what is in front of us without longing for what we just had. Those times were good, maybe extremely, excessively good, but they aren't what's in front of us right now. In these January moments, we have tasks that need doing and people who need caring for. Focusing on these allows us to find contentment in our lives because we're not wishing for or straining towards something that isn't true in the present.

Actually focusing like this can be difficult, especially when we're so close to what was exciting. The key is to develop what I call a Meditation Mind. In meditation, practitioners are asked to focus and relax. When they find their minds wandering, they are asked to simply recall themselves to the focus. This kind of mindset can also serve well in focusing on the present, If you find your mind wandering, simply bring it back to the task at hand. Repeated practice allows our minds to attain focus easier and hold it longer.

Whether you're down or not after the holidays, I hope these thoughts and tips help you out whenver you're in the downward part of a cycle. Is there anything else you do when you're in that place? Let me know in the comments.


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Myscha Theriault's picture

Definitely some great tips for getting a grip after the craziness of the holidays. Thanks.

Guest's picture

Nice article Sarah. We once had a speaker come to our workplace to talk about resiliency in the face of change, and one of the points she made that really helped me was similar to yours. She said that studies show that change tends to be cyclical. Although we tend to think of successful change as linear, "progress" from one place to another, it more often tends to loop back upon itself. But if you don't give up during that backward loop, if you keep trying, you tend to progress a bit further along the continuum and move forward, before you take yet another little backward loop again. As long as you don't give up, your overall momentum continues to be forward. That picture in my head makes a difference. If you perceive that backwards movement as a temporary "roll" it's easier to bounce back and keep moving in the right direction rather than get discouraged and quit.

Guest's picture

As I have a mood disorder, I cycle A LOT - but after lovely holidays January (the fitness, lose-weight month) can be a downer - It's reassuring to hear that one is not alone in this.