There's a lot to think about during the holiday season: Visiting family, making time for friends, and (hopefully) eating lots of home cooking. But if you've ever stopped to wonder what happens to your brain during the holiday season, you're not alone! Researchers are fascinated with this very subject, and in fact, are trying to figure out what exactly goes down in our brains while we're trading time between wrapping presents and napping on our grandparent's couch.
Some researchers believe that not only do our brains actually change over the holidays, but they know what culprit is: Nostalgia. Essentially, nostalgia is a bitter-sweet love for what is gone, and a longing to return the past. And when you go home for the holidays, this isn't the typical nostalgia you feel when you listen to '90s boy bands on your way to work or watch Nick at Nite before passing out. In fact, therapists say you should basically "expect to regress" during the holiday season. Between rewatching your favorite movies, smelling your old house, and sleeping in your childhood bedroom, the holidays are pretty much nostalgia on steroids.
Who doesn't look forward to going home over the holidays? While "home" means different things to different people, I think we can all relate to the notion that when we're celebrating the holidays with our loved ones, something in us changes. Some of us spend the final week or two of the semester ends counting days off until our parents pick us up from our dorm for winter break, while others bide time at our desks, ticking days off the calendar until we close up shop until after the New Year. Whether we can't wait for a bear hug, or we're actually looking forward to retreating to our childhood beds and sleeping for three days straight, research suggests some serious stuff changes in our brains during the holidays. Here are some examples:
1. You Want to Eat All of the Food
This is pretty much what happens when you're back in your dad's kitchen, eating a meal with your siblings, is it not? Eating a lot during the holidays is totally a thing, and science says it's largely because aromas trigger vivid memories. Oh, and socially? Just because you and your siblings are not grown ups, doesn't mean you'll act that way. Remember, if you're regressing over the holidays, so are your siblings. The best thing you can do around the dinner table? Try to be the adult you know you are.
2. You Want to Buy All of the Things
Holiday shopping, for most of us, feels pretty miserable. The music is loud, the mall is crowded, and you're half way to the checkout before you realize you don't actually know your uncle's shoe size and you didn't double check if your office Secret Santa recipient has any allergies. What's worse? Apparently, shopping during the holiday season changes our brain and even the most self-controlled shoppers can fall victim to marketing. That cheerful holiday music? Those festive colors? Those free samples around every corner? All marketing, and all pretty much intended to get you to relax, have a good time... and spend more money.
3. You Don't Want to Get Out of Bed
Not everyone enjoys the holidays, and for some people, it can trigger serious mental battles with depression and anxiety. Between four and 20 percent of people have a form of Seasonal Affective Disorder (otherwise known as SAD), which is a depression that generally sets in during early winter, and fades by spring or early summer. Even people who are not diagnosed with SAD, specifically, may still experience depression and anxiety over the holidays. Ray Williams, for example, at Psychology Today, postulates that people's desire for "perfection" can become crippling. He also suggests that people compare themselves to others too often during the holiday season, in regards to what someone can afford for presents, or where someone travels for vacation. Carolyn Gregoire at The Huffington Post suggests that people "trying to do too much" can get bogged down during the holidays and advises people to focus on "self-care" during these busy holiday months.
Images: CreateHER Stock; Giphy (3)