Vacation is Over, Now What? Tips to Help You Beat the Post Holiday Blues
The holidays are over, it’s time to get back to reality. As you settle back into your daily grind—perhaps after a memorable trip to another part of the world—and the bills start to pour in, you can’t help but feel as grey as the winter skies over your head.
What you’re feeling is something called the“post holiday blues”, or “post vacation blues”. It has many other names too, like “back to work blues” or “post vacation hangover”. However you want to call it, the feelings you have are real, they’re quite common, and surprisingly normal.
But you might wonder, why do we get the post holiday blues? And although it poses no long-term threat to our wellbeing, it can make us feel awful for days, or even weeks, so how can we cope with it in the meantime?
Keep reading to find out.
What Causes Post Holiday Blues?
According to Dr. Angelos Halaris, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences at Loyola University in Illinois, it could be due to a number of reasons.
Excessive eating and drinking for one. A lack of sleep for another. And last but not least the fact that you go from one extreme to another in a short span of time—from all the joys and pleasures of the holidays to the humdrum of a 9 to 5, “like a dream that ceases literally overnight” as Halaris aptly put—it’s no wonder your emotional wellbeing can suffer.
“Extreme joy gives birth to sadness”. It’s an old Chinese proverb. I guess post holiday blues existed in ancient times too.
Signs You Have Post Holiday Blues
How can you tell if you are indeed suffering from a bout of the post holiday blues? Check yourself and see if you’re experiencing any of the following:
- Loss of appetite
- Difficulty sleeping
- Intense feelings of nostalgia
- Inability to focus
- Increased irritability or restlessness
- Feelings of sadness
If you’re experiencing these symptoms after a recent holiday, you likely got a case of the “post vacation hangover”. The good news is that for most people, it wears off over time and only lasts several weeks at the most. The bad news is that it can make you feel utterly miserable.
So how can we deal with it before it goes away?
How Do You Beat Post Holiday/Back to Work Blues?
I had my first serious bout of the post holiday blues back in 2014 after a 3-week long trip to China. When I returned home to Canada, I struggled with settling back into my usual routine. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t focus on my work, and I felt like crying for no reason. My mind was filled with images of the beautiful ancient city of LiJiang, the awe-inspiring mountains of Yunnan, and the glimmering temple of Shangri-La. I didn’t know why I felt this way and how to deal with it, until I did some research and talked to a counsellor about my feelings.
And here are 10 things I learned that helped me overcome my post holiday blues.
1. A Routine
When you’re feeling down, you just want to stay in bed, binge-watch Netflix all day, and eat whatever, whenever you want, don’t you? But research shows that one of the most beneficial things we can do for our mental health is having a set routine.
- Getting up and going to bed at the same time every morning and night.
- Making productive plans for how you’ll spend the day and actually carrying through with these plans.
- Having a consistent eating schedule and adhering to it.
If you find it hard to stick to a set routine, try doing just one thing at a time.
For example, you can start by getting up at the same time every morning. Then after a few days, try to add something else—like a 15-minute workout to your daily schedule. And then progress from there.
I can vouch from my own experience that it is extremely effective in improving our sense of wellbeing. When I was 19, I was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia—a type of blood cancer. I was going through one of the darkest periods of my life back then and this is the exact method I used to get my mental health, and my life, back on track.
2. New Experiences
Although having a routine is good, don’t let it stop you from trying new things.
New experiences not only help build new neural pathways in our brains, they also make us feel good by triggering the release of dopamine.
Plus, new experiences are fun!
The key is to be intentional about it. Make it a goal to try something new—even if it’s as small as a new flavour of tea—every few days.
When you have the post holiday blues, all you can think about is how great your vacation was. Everything else seems dull in comparison, doesn’t it?
I hate to break it to you, but as amazing as your vacation was, it’s in the past.
Over. Done. Finito.
Stop re-playing every second of your vacation in your head or scrolling through your photos over and over. Instead, focus on the present moment. It will make you feel less disconnected from the world around you and more at peace. And the best way to do this is through practicing mindfulness.
Try this simple 2-minute mindfulness exercise:
Open the window so you can hear the symphony of sounds coming from outside and smell the fresh air. Now close your eyes. What do you hear? What do you smell? And how does your body feel from head to toe?
Repeat this exercise throughout the day and you’ll be surprised after just a couple days how connected to the present you’ll feel.
Exercise is not only good for the body, it’s also good for the soul. And out of all forms of exercise, aerobic exercises—such as jogging, swimming, cycling, and walking—are the best when it comes to reducing symptoms related to anxiety and depression.
So get up and get moving, even if you don’t feel like it. But how much aerobic exercise should you be doing? Psychiatrist Madhukar Trivedi suggests at least 45 minutes per session, at least 3 times a week.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t get its mental health benefits if you can’t devote a whole 45 minutes to exercising. Even if you do 10 minutes here and 15 minutes there, the effects add up.
5. Sunshine and Fresh Air
Did you know that spending time in the great outdoors can reduce repetitive negative thoughts and emotions? This is what researchers found in a 2015 study.
They had people walk for 90 minutes in a natural setting and then compared their brain activity with those who walked for the same amount of time in an urban setting. The results showed that those who walked in nature had reduced activity in a region of the brain that correlates with rumination.
So if you find yourself fixated on negative thoughts, get out there and soak up the sunshine and fresh air. Better yet, try the mindfulness exercise I showed you earlier in a park or garden.
One thing that really helped me get over that bout of post holiday blues I had a few years ago was writing. I couldn’t stop thinking about all the sceneries I saw on my vacation in China, to the point where I had trouble sleeping, so one restless night, I decided to write down these images, as well as my feelings, in a poem.
I continued to write this poem every day for the next couple of weeks, just a few lines each time. I realized as time went on that writing what I saw and how I felt helped me release a lot of pent-up emotions. As the poem got longer and longer, I felt more and more relieved. And finally, I was able to once again sleep soundly.
If writing is not your thing, find another creative outlet—paint, make a song, or create a dance—whatever that’ll allow you to channel the emotions you feel into something tangible.
7. Spending Time With Others
When you have the post holiday blues, the last thing you should do is hide yourself away (even though you probably want to).
Instead, try spending more time with friends and family.
Studies show that people who feel a greater sense of social connectedness have lower levels of depression and anxiety.
But be mindful of who you actually spend time with. When you’re around positive people, you naturally soak up their positive energy, and you feel happier as a result. On the other hand, if you spend too much time around these types of negative people, your mental health can suffer more damage.
8. Something to Look Forward To
Ever notice how some of the best parts of a vacation is the time you spend looking forward to it? That’s because anticipation is a key element of happiness.
So plan something that you can look forward to, like spending a day in your favourite spot in town or a short weekend trip to someplace outside the city.
The key is to plan it at least a week or two ahead of time so you get plenty of time to revel in the anticipation!
9. Good Food
My mother always says: “Good food is the answer to every problem.”
Well…I’m not sure it can solve EVERYTHING, but a hearty bowl of soup certainly can make you feel a lot better when you’re down.
And when I say good food, I don’t mean junk food. Sure, a double cheeseburger or a jumbo bag of chips can make you feel good for a brief moment, but they’re not going to provide you with the fuel you need to feel better in the long-term. I’m not saying you can’t have these highly processed foods ever, but just make sure you’re filling your body with mostly whole, natural foods.
Now here’s a comprehensive article I wrote about the healing powers of whole, natural foods.
It’s easy to forget to take care of yourself, especially when you’re feeling blue. I know when I’m going through a rough time, there are days when I don’t even feel like showering, let alone spending extra energy on self-care.
But as much as you don’t feel like it, self-care is crucial during this period, because how you look and how your body feels have a direct impact on mental wellbeing. If you look like you were swept up in a tornado and your body aches all over from tension and stress, how likely are you going to feel energized, motivated, and happy? Not very likely.
So make sure you spend that extra few minutes a day on self-care, whether it’s taking a warm, soothing bath, caring for your hair and skin, or making sure you’re eating well.
If you really want to pamper yourself while taking charge of your own health, try these simple acupressure techniques to help you feel more relaxed.
Final Thoughts on Beating Post Holiday Blues
Last but not least, remember that the best cure for the post holiday blues is time. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t feel like yourself for the next few days or weeks, but if things don’t improve after several weeks, talk to a professional.
Do you have a story of post holiday blues or any tips on how to deal with it? Share them with me by leaving a comment below!
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