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Prevent Post-Celebration Comedown - Embrace Play, Manage Dopamine, and Practice Connection

Holiday Joy on Your Terms

All mammals play. That is, they do something because the experience itself is more rewarding than the outcome. It comes as no surprise that regular play lowers stress, boosts mood, increases creativity and enhances cognitive functioning.

The great dramatist, George Bernard Shaw was right when he said:

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old. We grow old, because we stop playing.”

While the holidays may afford more time for play, the pressure to be happy and celebrate, forced gaiety and the problem of ‘post celebration blues’ or ‘come-down,’ can make play a complex and conflicted phenomenon during the holidays. So, try to celebrate your way or don’t celebrate at all, if it won't serve your mental health this year. Create a holiday that looks the way you want it to look. 

Understanding Dopamine - The Science of Rewards and Comedowns

To prevent ‘post-celebration blues,’ it’s useful to understand some of the basic neuroscience of dopamine and reward. Dopamine is a neuromodulator – it impacts the communication of many neurons at once - and influences motivation, seeking, drive and time perception.

It makes us crave and pursue things ‘beyond our own skin.’

A drop in dopamine is inevitable after a spike - it’s the law of psychological gravity: what goes up must come down. 

Managing Dopamine

Research by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism suggests that chasing temporary dopamine highs through overindulgence can actually lead to decreased sensitivity to the neurotransmitter over time.

This means, ironically, the more we chase the euphoria, the less we are able to experience it from everyday activities.

The key, then, lies in managing expectations. Avoid seeking intense peaks of dopamine during celebrations, and instead, focus on mindful enjoyment of the moment and the company around you.

This shift in perspective helps prevent the inevitable drop and the associated "comedown" blues.

The Power of Small Celebrations

Studies by UCLA's Brain Research Institute show that frequent, small bursts of dopamine release throughout the day are more effective in boosting mood and resilience than occasional, intense spikes.

This translates to consciously incorporating joyful moments into your daily routine, like reading a favorite book, taking a nature walk, or simply savoring a delicious meal. 

By cultivating these mini-celebrations, you build a foundation of sustained well-being that reduces dependence on the highs and lows of exceptional events, making those occasional celebrations even more meaningful.

And, after a party: sleep, move and eat well.

Here is a list of some suggested after-care vitamins that may help replenish your neurochemistry after a big night**

  • Electrolytes 

  • Omega 3’s 

  • 1000mg Vitamin C

  • Vitamin B Complex

  • Magnesium Chelate 

  • 5-HTP 

It is suggested to take 1 of each per day for 1 week following a big celebration, bearing in mind that these supplements are not meant to be a long-term fix for unhealthy habits or frequent overindulgence.

**IMPORTANT NOTE: Check with your doctor / trusted medical professional before taking any of the above supplements. 

Practice Connection (to Self, Others, & Nature) to Combat Loneliness

Sadly, for many, the holidays are a time of profound loneliness. Studies show that loneliness causes our cortisol levels to soar: it can be as injurious to the nervous system as being physically attacked.

Oxytocin and the Power of Shared Experience

Loneliness doesn't just raise cortisol, the stress hormone. It also dampens our production of oxytocin, the "bonding hormone" that fuels feelings of trust, empathy, and social connection.

Research shows that engaging in shared experiences, even simple ones, can trigger a surge in oxytocin. So, consider activities that involve active collaboration or shared enjoyment (see some suggestions below).

Feeling connected, even across screens, can significantly reduce loneliness and its negative effects on your nervous system.

Nature as a Source of Solace

While human connection is vital, research suggests that interacting with nature can also offer solace and combat loneliness.

A study published in "Nature Communications" found that spending time in green spaces reduces stress and activates brain regions associated with positive emotions. 

So, consider incorporating nature into your holiday connection practice. Take a solo walk in a park, join a virtual birdwatching session, or simply spend time tending to your indoor garden. The calming influence of nature can offer a sense of belonging and connection to the larger world, reducing feelings of isolation and boosting your mood.

Here are a few additional suggestions for practicing connection during the holidays: 

  • If feasible, get a pet to nurture and love.

  • Send cards and write letters to the people in your life.

  • Acknowledge the people you think and care about by picking up the phone and calling them.

  • Cook for someone; drop it off at their house.

  • Start an indoor garden.

  • Take a long walk and say hello to people you pass.

  • Cook with someone on a video call.

  • Join a virtual group, film forum, or book club.

  • Volunteer.

  • Participate in a live virtual exercise class.

If you're searching for more detailed, science-based ways to improve your holiday mental health and beyond, check out our Holiday webinar here, hosted by EQNMT's Lead Clinical Psychologists:



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