Post-Holiday Guilt vs. Valuing the Memories
January 7, 2021
By Wesley Gallagher
The holidays are winding down, and it’s time to get back into the swing of things. For many, however, the holidays still linger, and not in a good way. The season of giving can also be a season of splurging and overindulging, and feelings of guilt often set in once the celebration is over.
So, what can you do if you’re feeling guilty after overindulging this holiday season?\
What is Guilt?
First off, let’s talk about what guilt is and why we feel it. You might be surprised to know that guilt can actually be a good thing. According to BrainFacts.org, guilt, which arises when your behavior conflicts with your conscience, can function to protect us against harming others and help us to behave better in the future.
If we didn’t ever feel guilty for our actions, we would be much more likely to repeat them. So, it’s good that you feel guilty for hurting your sister’s feelings on the phone the other day. If you didn’t, you would probably do the same thing again next week.
Or let’s take pie, as another example. If you didn’t feel guilty for eating three pieces of pie at Thanksgiving, there might not be anything keeping you from eating four, or five (aside from a stomachache). So, in that regard, guilt can serve us well.
But lingering guilt can lead to excessive worry, and even anxiety and depression, especially among those of us who already struggle with mental health issues or addiction. It’s not healthy to fixate on past decisions you should have made differently, especially if you’re remembering negative aspects of something that was generally positive, like the holidays.
Why Do We Feel Post-Holiday Guilt?
So why do the holidays, a time meant to be joyous, sometimes leave us feeling guilty? Well, most of the year, our conscience tells us to keep everything in moderation. The holidays, on the other hand, are a time to fling off all restraints and enjoy yourself: spend that extra money on a bracelet for your sister, stay up late for the Christmas party, eat two extra slices of your grandma’s pumpkin pie. After all, she only makes it once a year!
The only problem is that our brains don’t keep track of what month it is. If we’re in the habit of keeping tabs on our calorie intake and our cash outflow eleven months out of the year, it can be difficult to fully lay down the rules we’ve made for ourselves. And even if we are able to let loose for a few weeks, post-Christmas guilt may set in quickly after we ring in the new year.
Feelings of guilt or sadness after the holidays could also be a symptom of the post-holiday blues. According to Psycom.net, the post-holiday blues come about after a period of intense emotion or stress, a sort of slump after the high of something like the holiday season. The abrupt withdrawal of the stress hormone adrenaline after a major event can cause a slew of negative emotions, including guilt. It can also be hard for your brain to readjust to everyday life after so much disruption to routine.
How to Deal with Guilt after the Holidays
If you’re entering the new year with feelings of post-holiday guilt, that’s totally normal, and may in fact be healthy. It might simply be your brain telling you the holidays are over, and it’s time to go back to just one slice of pie.
- Name your guilt
Instead of ignoring, which can make things worse, figure out what is making you feel guilt.
- Determine the source
Are you feeling guilty for something you should have done differently, or is the guilt unnecessary? Is there something underlying the guilt?
- Accept the past, but learn from it
You can’t change what’s already happened, but you can prevent it from happening again.
- Replace negative talk with self-compassion
In other words, give yourself a break!
Perhaps the most important aspect of dealing with post-holiday guilt is to focus on the positive memories you have of the season. You may look back and regret that third piece of pie, but at the time you were probably enjoying a wonderful conversation with your grandma and raving about her baking skills. And the look on your sister’s face when she opened her bracelet was priceless. These are moments worth remembering!
How to Enjoy Your Next Special Occasion Guilt-Free
You’ve dealt with the guilt of holidays past, but what about holidays future? The good news is there are preparations you can make before the next special occasion to keep the guilt at bay. Here are just a few:
- Go in with a plan
Prepare yourself by deciding ahead of time what you’re going to indulge in. By giving yourself room to let loose, you’re less likely to overdo it or feel guilty afterward.
- Give yourself permission to splurge
It’s what special occasions and holidays are for! It’s OK to treat yourself or others from time to time. If you don’t, you’ll either be miserable or eventually break down and really go overboard.
- Don’t tighten your belt before or after the holiday
While it may seem like a good idea to buckle down on diet or finances before and after the holidays, it’s best to stick to business as usual to keep a healthy mindset.
- Ignore comments from others
Don’t let other people shame you for enjoying an extra cookie or spending extra money on a nice gift.
- Focus on what’s important
Spending valuable time with loved ones is much more important than hitting your goal weight or staying on budget.
- Stay present
Enjoying the moment, rather than focusing on the past or future, can go a long way toward warding off guilt. VeryWellMind.com cites the practice of mindfulness as one of the best tools to remain present, and gives tips on how to apply it.
The Mind & Heart workshop at Rio Retreat Center at The Meadows is a wonderful opportunity to dig deeper into some of the underlying issues beneath lingering feelings of guilt. If you’ve experienced trauma in your life or deal with mental health or addiction issues, you’ve probably adapted some unhealthy coping mechanisms to help you survive. This workshop will help you look at the patterns of your close relationships and work on letting go of old habits to establish new, healthier ones. Reach out today to sign up or learn more.