“Post-Holiday Blues” got you down? Dr. Chris Koutures offers help

2 weeks ago
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The post-holiday, post-general-stuffing-oneself period is upon us, with the ringing in of the New Year, a return to school, some element of routines, and likely volleyball practices/games are looming.

Unsurprisingly, one response to this less twinkly and sugary time of the year is a widespread bout of misery called the “post-holiday blues.”

Psychologically, it’s generally a mixed bag of crashing after a period of intense emotion and stress, the body recovering from indulgence, adjustment to the return to normal routines, and the easy-to-understand sadness that comes when the good times are over. Where in some years, the post-holiday blues might center around concerns with school and performance on the court, early 2021 brings with it a unique set of personal trials.

Trying to focus on volleyball can be difficult when your health (or that of a loved one) or lack of money (due to job changes or losses) are higher concerns. For those who are fortunate to have good health and sufficient financial resources, continued stay-at-home orders might limit opening of gyms and scheduling of practices and tournaments.

If there ever was a time when we need to openly acknowledge and address the uncertainties that often lead to post-holiday blues, it is now. In times of uncertainty, I start with acknowledging that in the ideal situation, we would always package recovery in a positive and predictable direction. Draw up a straight line that points consistently upward and everyone seems to be more comfortable and confident moving forward.

The reality of recovery from a physical or emotional challenge, such as the post-holiday blues, is often far, far different. If you were to graph most recoveries, instead of being a that clean, straight toward the desired goal, there is often a jumbled scribble moving forward and backward, up and down before eventually hitting some target.

When one starts with acknowledging the scribbles and accepts that setbacks, changes, and yes, even mistakes are going to happen, then there is some traction in recovering from the post-holiday blues. You may not even agree with those making the decisions that are contributing to the scribbles. In this situation, realize that on occasion, going backwards might initially be undesired, but ultimately may be needed to lead to future progress.

Don’t always fear that with new knowledge may come changes. Some of these changes may actually be favorable. 

Don’t be afraid to have open and regular discussions about emotional health with trusted friends and family members. Share struggles about feelings of anxiety or depression. I guarantee that others are experiencing the same challenges. Don’t try to go at it all by yourself. Find partners to keep everyone accountable and offer mutual support.

Seek immediate emergency medical care if you are feeling high levels of despair or irritability that include thoughts of self-harm or harming others. Do not hesitate to contact your regular medical specialist for assistance with emotional health issues.

Here is a video we did on emotional health in athletes:

Fixing post-holiday blues is partially a matter of adjusting expectations, and partially about physically managing the symptoms. 

To best help untangle these blues and take some charge in times of uncertainty, set targets that get you excited for the coming year, like learning to wind surf or mastering a new language. Make opportunities for regular mindfulness activities including devotions, prayers, focused breathing, journaling, and reflection. Dedicate time in your schedule and stay dialed in with them.

Additionally, make sure you give yourself energy in the short term, rather than laying around feeling sorry for yourself: take walks at lunchtime, enroll in a new online exercise class, eat a proper breakfast, adopt a shelter dog and run it around the park. 

What about weight gain?
The holiday period tends to be full of sugary foods. The problem is that sugary foods have been linked to lower mood, so the pile-on of desserts may actually have contributed to your feelings of depression. Sugar crashes make us irritable and tired, and sugary foods can cause more bodily inflammation and a less healthy immune system. Most of us are willing to shoulder that for the sake of one more bite of cake, though.

So, adding to the post-holiday blues, you may have noticed changes or lack of physical activity, which may have caused some weight gain. Typically, during periods of extra stressors, some athletes experience weight gain while others see weight loss. 

Why do some gain weight? Maybe it’s from comfort foods that may just be on the higher calorie side. Being home more often with access to snacks could also play a key role. Higher food intake with less activity (more calories in with less being burned) can result in weight gain. 

Weight loss could be due to the loss of muscle mass from lack of focused activity, or from reduced appetite due to feeling down or depressed.

It is not realistic or in your best of physical or emotional interest to completely deprive yourself of some good tasting stuff. Overly focusing on weight or body image can create some potentially serious short and even longer-term health challenges.

Learn more on how to evaluate your calorie needs and make sensible adjustments in amount, types, and timing of food intake by working with experts in nutrition, medicine, coaching and strength/conditioning.

Here is a video we did about nutrition:

In these times of uncertainty, the post-holiday blues are a real thing that deserve appropriate attention. Make changes in areas that you can control and allow flexibility and creativity in your responses to life stressors. 

Dr. Chris Koutures is a dual board-certified pediatric and sports medicine specialist who practices at ActiveKidMD in Anaheim Hills, CA. He is a team physician for USA Volleyball (including participating in the 2008 Beijing Olympics), the U.S. Figure Skating Sports Medicine Network, Cal State Fullerton Intercollegiate Athletics, Chapman University Dance Department, and Orange Lutheran High School. He offers a comprehensive blend of general pediatric and sport medicine care with an individualized approach to each patient and family. Please visit activekidmd.com or follow him on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/activekidmd/), Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/activekidmd/), or Twitter (@dockoutures).

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