Post Vacation Blues
Few things in life are as gloomy and dispiriting as waiting at the airport luggage retrieval carousel at the end of your holidays.
You’re tired, possibly jet-lagged, maybe hungover and you’re painfully aware it’s back to the daily grind the next day.
A return to earth and ‘reality’ with a with a depressing bump.
Most of us experience post-holiday blues, indeed for some, even the anticipation of the downside of returning can take the enjoyment out of the last few days of holiday – oh no! we say to ourselves, it’s nearly over for another year! How those seven days have flown by. Bad childhood memories of the end of the long summer break and having to go back to school are deep in our psyche.
But does it have to be like this? Well, for the retired and wealthy, of course, life can be a seamless series of holidays – a cruise, followed by a safari, followed by a spa, then skiing, sailing, perhaps a retreat or an exotic educational workshop. We’ve probably met these people on our annual holidays (and tried to avoid them) who talk of nothing but where they’ve been and where they’re going. It’s a form of holiday addiction – just keep going to avoid the threat of post-holiday withdrawal symptoms.
For those of us with more modest budgets, we need to develop psychological strategies to get the most out of our holidays and sustain our mental well-being when we inevitably must return to the demands of daily life.
The most important strategy is to maximise the benefits of those few days away. That comes through good planning to avoid wasted time, awareness of the passage of time, appreciation of every moment, perhaps keeping a brief daily diary, taking a few photographs without photography getting in the way of direct experience, avoiding social media and consciously putting all concerns about home life out of our minds. In other words, enjoying the moment – the power of now.
Just as important is changing our attitude towards returning from holiday.
Instead of telling ourself ‘I feel terrible – the fun is all over for months.’, we can adopt a different, more positive state of mind. The more constructive approach is to say, ‘How can I integrate the enjoyable aspects of the holiday into my everyday life?’
What is it about returning to my usual routine that I don’t like? And what can I do to change things? There’s just no point in having a relaxing, healthy holiday only to return to the same deadening rut.
I wrote recently in a blog that a holiday break can be, in psychological terms, a pattern interrupt. (We’re all going on a Summer Interrupt. June 2018). It’s a chance to break the repetitive and possibly destructive pattern of routine life and reframe that life in a new and productive way.
There are many enjoyable aspects of a holiday that can be transposed into daily life. For example, almost all the exotic foods we love on holiday can now be found in today’s supermarkets. It’s easy to recreate those delicious dishes.
All that fresh air and exercise (walking, swimming, cycling, dancing etc) can be integrated into a new home routine. All that time for thinking, reading, relaxation and mindfulness can be built into anyone’s daily life, however busy. Bring that healthy slowness home. Make ordinary living as much like a holiday as possible.
Just simply being aware that you’re feeling gloomy after a holiday helps to combat that way of thinking. It’s actually a normal and fundamental aspect of life.
Our existence is inevitably full of transitions, chapters, losses, goodbyes, ups and downs and permanent change – but also packed with new starts, possibilities and opportunities. Mental well-being comes through acceptance of that fact and adjusting the way we react and respond to it.
Probably the best response to coming home is to get on planning new ventures and challenges – perhaps immediately booking the next vacation!
Post-holiday blues are usually short-lived, but if the depression persists, there could be more fundamental underlying causes.
Holidays, of course, are not a miracle cure for depression because wherever you go, there you are. Even the most idyllic paradise filled with sunshine and colour can be seen as bleak, joyless, flat and grey to someone suffering depression.
This cannot be ignored. Recognising and being open and honest about this debilitating state of mind is the first, vital step in combating it.
A return to mental health will almost always involve professional help. Various talking therapies can turn things round. It’s a collaborative process that involves additional input from exercise, dietary changes and through medical examination.
Retreats can be valuable as they integrate all these factors in a holiday environment – and they encourage some important and lasting mind-changes to bring home with you rather than the usual cheap souvenirs.