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Post-holiday time brings a mix of relief, sadness

| Monday, Jan. 3, 2011

Joy Marks and her husband, Frederick, love the Yuletide season so much that they put up and decorate seven Christmas trees in their West Deer home -- yes, seven. Their branches hold hundreds of ornaments the couple have collected over the decades.

Putting up and taking down the trees, and all the other decorations, takes so much effort that it's both a bit sad and a relief when the holidays end and January begins, Joy Marks says.

"By the time it's all done ... it's a relief, but I miss the beauty of the whole thing," says Joy Marks, 62. "My house is ... beautiful at Christmas. We do a lot of entertaining during that time."

Now that the holidays are over, she says, "it's kind of like, 'Oh, we're back to normal.' ... I think if you had (Christmas) all the time, you wouldn't appreciate it."

When January rolls in and the holidays are over, people often have mixed feelings of relief and sadness. People may be relieved that all of the work and stress is done: no more gifts to buy and wrap, cookies to bake, cards to write and crowded malls to visit. Yet, what is often called "the most wonderful time of the year" is in the past, the party's over, and it's time to get back to the grind of daily life in dreary winter months, sans the magical Yuletide cheer. That can lead to disappointment and sadness, says psychiatrist Dr. Charles Reynolds. Sometimes, the blues extend to what someone felt during the holidays, perhaps because of missing lost loved ones -- but other times, it comes because someone loved the Christmas season and misses it, he says.

"I think it cuts both ways," Reynolds says. He is a professor of psychiatry at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and director of its Institute on Aging.

Some post-holiday blues come along with the now-due bills for Christmas gifts, or with the realization that it's time to actually get to work on those New Year's resolutions, he says. On the other hand, many people look forward to returning to their normal routines, the loss of which can bring on upset during the holidays, Reynolds says. Now, people's daily work, sleep and exercise schedules can go back to normal.

Returning to a post-holiday routine can be especially beneficial for families with children, who usually don't feel too sad after the holidays, says Barbara Wollman, a licensed clinical social worker. The parents, though, can feel exhausted after all the work, she says.

"Getting back to routine is really a saving grace," Wollman says. She works with Squirrel Hill Psychological Services, a part of Jewish Family & Children's Service. "You look forward to the holidays, but then you're glad when you go back to your routine."

Parents who miss the family time that comes with the holidays can look forward to spending more one-on-one downtime with their kids, she says.

Bernadette Bercik, 60, of Carrick, reflects what most people seem to say: The end of the holidays brings mixed feelings.

"It's relief because everything is finally done," Bercik says. "It's kind of sad because people seem to forget what the holiday truly means. ... Christmas is about giving and sharing.

"I can finally breathe; I've done my job" when January comes, she continues. "But it's a bit sad: There's another year gone. I think, 'What did I accomplish?' "

Bercik says she tries to keep the Christmas spirit of joy and generosity alive year round.

Lynn DeFabo of Latrob, says that after Christmas, she misses her four adult children, who come home to visit her and her husband, Francis.

"It's sort of like a letdown," says DeFabo, 49. "There's no one left at home."

Yet, DeFabo, a personal trainer, says she is relieved not only to be done with the shopping, but to be back on track with healthy eating. Who doesn't indulge in too many cookies and other sweets during the holidays• The beginning of a new year is a great time for people to channel disappointment into a new fitness and healthy program, she says.

Donna Evans, 47, of Upper St. Clair, staves off the post-holiday letdown by extending the Yuletide season. She and her family, who are Lutherans, celebrate the Twelfth Night -- an observance of the Epiphany, which celebrates the visit of the three wise men to Jesus -- on Wednesday. Evans and her husband, Jon, host a celebration with 100-plus friends from church and the community. Their kids -- Alice, 13, Grant, 10, and Elena, 8 -- enjoy the Twelfth Night celebration, which concludes the "12 Days of Christmas" sung about in the carol.

"We're extending the Christmas season ... because it can be such a letdown after the holidays," Donna Evans says. "We look forward to (Twelfth Night) in a big way. ... I don't think we have a letdown."

Indeed, having something to look forward to -- like another special event -- and finding things to be thankful for, is a great way to combat post-holiday letdown, Reynolds says. Also, people shouldn't return to Grinchy ways after Christmas: they should perform acts of kindness and nurture relationships year-round, he says.

"Its hard to feel blue if you cultivate a sense of thankfulness and gratitude about life, and express it in loving acts toward other," Reynolds says. "Just waking up and having another day is something to be grateful for. It's hard to feel blue if you're focused on the things to be grateful for and showing it with the way you live."

Fight post-holiday letdown

Have jingle bells turned into jingle blues• Consider these tips for recovery from Doreen Granpeesheh, a renowned clinical psychologist and speaker who founded the Center for Autism and Related Disorders, Inc.

• Follow the millions of Americans who vowed to get fit in 2010, and start exercising and eating healthier foods.

• Find a sense of purpose, try volunteering or taking a class.

• Plan to do something fun, like a vacation, party or date night. Then, it won't seem like there's nothing to look forward to anymore.

• If you miss the spirit of the holidays, then keep it year-round. Assemble a scrapbook of Christmas photos, for instance, or hang an ornament somewhere in your house.

• Clean the house, and donate unwanted items to charity.

• Get eight hours of sleep.

• Take control of finances, especially if you overspent on the holidays.

• Meditate. Learn to focus on and appreciate the present.

• Stay in touch or reconnect with loved ones.

• Open the blinds, throw back the curtains, and get some sunlight in life.

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