Post-vacation depression is fairly retty common.
Whatever your age or circumstances, the anticipation of a long-awaited spring or summer vacation is filled with excitement. Even compared to winter getaways, when people tend to be saddled with obligations to family and friends, summer holidays are more likely to be carefree.
In summer, there are fewer constraints in deciding where to go and what to do. Whether it’s relaxing at a resort; pursuing a hobby or passion, such as bicycling, golf, or photography; or exploring a new city or country.
True vacations allow us to do what we want to do as opposed to what we need to do.
However, one inherent drawback of all getaways is that they’re time-limited. After the surge in energy and mood associated with planning and taking a vacation, there’s the inevitable letdown afterward: post-vacation blues.
An article in Medical News notes that the syndrome (which is not a medically recognized condition) was first written about as “holiday syndrome” in the 1950s.
More recent research suggests that the positive effects of vacations tend not to be long-lasting.
- One study reported last year in the Journal of Organizational Behavior found that while vacations help burnout and improve well-being for the short term, a “fade-out effect” usually sets in within a month.
- Another study in Work and Stress suggests that the fade-out can take place even more rapidly, within a week after resumption of work.
It’s not surprising. Re-entry usually entails getting back to the everyday hassles of doing laundry, shopping for food and cooking dinner and catching up with bills and/or getting back to the grind of work.
This can be a jolt to the mind and body, especially when it’s exacerbated by jet lag and fatigue. In fact, a small proportion of travelers return home with an acute case of post-vacation depression.
What are the signs of post-vacation depression
Some of the signs of post-vacation depression include:
- feelings of lethargy
- lack of motivation
- trouble focusing on tasks
- sleep difficulties; and
- ruminating about your recent trip
Ironically, the more you enjoyed your vacation and the longer you were away, the more likely you’ll be to feel the blues upon your return.
Tips To Avoid The Post-Vacation Blues
Here are some helpful tips to lengthen the afterglow and avoid the post-vacation blues. I’ve broken down the list into three categories:
- Before You Go
- While You’re Away, and
- When You Return
Before you go
1) Determine a realistic budget for your vacation
Planning ahead financially will minimize the pain and stress upon your return. Vacations can be costly and it’s easy to get carried away if you’re gambling in Las Vegas or shopping in Paris, for example.
As a result, many travelers arrive home to credit card debt that takes months to pay down. Ensure you invest sufficient time upfront to plan a vacation that fits your budget.
2) Avoid things going haywire while you are away
Delegate any tasks you can and offer clear guidance to those you’ve left behind (at home or the office) about keeping things going in your absence.
Let them know whether or not you want to be disturbed while you are away—and under what circumstances.
3) Resist scheduling lengthy meetings or new projects immediately after your return
Allow yourself time to catch up. When you return, your pace may be slower and you’re likely to be inundated with an inbox of emails and unanticipated requests for your attention.
Be careful not to overpromise or set up unrealistic self-expectations. Avoid the temptation to cut things too close to awaiting deadlines.
4) Don’t come home at the very last minute
It’s tempting to book a redeye flight home, and then shower and return to your desk without skipping a beat. To minimize stress, schedule breathing room between your return and re-entry.
Allow ample time to unpack, do laundry, catch up with bills, shop for food, and adjust to jet lag (if you’ve traveled across time zones.)
If you are a parent, you can expect that the pressures of these “homecoming” responsibilities will be compounded.
While you’re away
5) Strike a balance between activities and relaxation
It’s tempting to try to do everything on vacation—waking up early to cram in full days of adventure and going to bed late to enjoy the nightlife.
Pace yourself so you have a little downtime while you are away. You don’t want to come home overly fatigued.
6) Cut yourself some slack but don’t go off the deep end
It’s okay to indulge a bit on vacation—eating or drinking more than usual, buying something you don’t really need, or going to an expensive concert.
However, be careful to avoid doing anything that permanently compromises your health, safety, or peace of mind after your tan has faded.
When you return
7) Recognize the signs of post-vacation blues
You may not have the same energy and enthusiasm you once had for work or responsibilities at home. Your mind may wander and your productivity may be compromised.
Be realistic and don’t try to do too much too soon. Slowly ease back into your usual sleeping, eating, and exercise routines and recognize that this unease will eventually lift. Review the list above.
8) Take time to appreciate what you’ve come home to
Remember that there are some perks to the end of any vacation; some of them can be pretty great! Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like your home.
Don’t minimize the joys of sleeping in your own bed and being able to sip your morning Joe in your favorite mug exactly as you like it. Perhaps, you’ve even learned about a new food or recipe to add to your repertoire.
Perhaps you’ve come home to a beloved pet, good friend, neighbor or co-worker you’ve missed.
You also may find that you have more time for yourself when you get home. This can be a perfect opportunity to evaluate your life choices and move forward. There are many possibilities: You might continue your education and think about new career directions. Or you could pick up a new hobby, maybe even develop an interest that derives from your travels. There are many ways to make your home life something you love to come back to!
9) Savor the memories and give in to reminiscence
It can act much like a booster shot to organize your digital photographs and even print a few of them.
Keep a diary or write about your travels. Call or email someone you’ve met along the way. Using a souvenir you acquired during your travels (e.g., perfume or a new kitchen tool), or sharing your experience with friends and family once you’re home offers an opportunity to extend the joys of your getaway.
Sometimes, staying in touch with a friend you met while you were away can evoke powerful memories of good times shared.
Since it isn’t likely that your friends or colleagues will be as eager to hear about your adventures as you’ll be to speak about them, hang out on online travel forums with like-minded travelers who want to share their own experiences being where you were (or who are hoping to get there.)
10) Incorporate the joys and lessons learned from your vacation into your life
You may have tried new foods or realized that you don’t really need to be tethered to your smartphone 24/7. You may find that you enjoyed doing more walking than you ordinarily do, or that you really enjoyed the intimacy you shared with your traveling companion.
Take some time to assess what you learned and incorporate small changes into your life at home.
And, of course, the surest antidote to post-vacation blues is obvious: Plan your next trip as soon as possible. Short of that, plan a staycation or long weekend away.
If you’re able to take frequent short vacations through the year (even as brief as a day at a park or visiting a nearby museum, or a weekend visit to another city), give yourself something to look forward to.
And start saving your time and money for the next big one.
If the blues don’t abate after a couple of weeks, be sure to seek professional help to get over the hump.
If you or someone you know poses a danger to themselves or others, seek help immediately.
- SAMHSA National Helpline on 800-662-HELP (4357)
- National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Helpline on 800-950-NAMI (6264) or text “HelpLine” to 62640
- 988 to reach the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline
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Author Irene S. Levine, PhD is a psychologist and travel writer.