7 Tips for Overcoming the Post-Vacation Blues

7 Tips for Overcoming the Post-Vacation Blues

Let’s face it—most of us would love to live a full-time life of leisure without any obligations, especially work. But whether it’s a few days or weeks, we eventually have to get back to work after vacation, which can be harder than we expect.

What are the post-vacation blues? 

Vacations are generally good for our mental health. Taking time off has been linked to less stress, higher productivity at work, and better health and life satisfaction. But it’s best to be prepared for the very common slump that follows. The first day back to work after vacation and the couple weeks that follow can bring nostalgia, stress, and sadness. These feelings are sometimes called post-vacation depression, though this term is misleading because while feelings of depression after vacation are real, it’s not a clinically recognized diagnosis. 

Symptoms of post-vacation blues

As your time off comes to an end, you may start to feel the post-vacation blues setting in. This can show up in different ways, but some of the symptoms include:

  • Worry
  • Sadness
  • Irritability
  • Trouble sleeping or fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating or getting motivated
  • Nostalgia or reliving memories from vacation
  • Uneasiness or restlessness

These feelings often last for about two weeks after going back to work after vacation. If you have a stressful job or face heavy conflict or even mistreatment at work, reacclimating to regular life can be particularly tough.

Tips for preventing sadness after vacation

If you’ve struggled with post-vacation blues in the past, making a plan before your next trip can make the transition easier. For example, consider taking some time before going back to work after vacation to readjust. Immediately transitioning from “vacation mode” to “work mode” can make your feelings of stress and overwhelm worse. To manage this, try to plan ahead and schedule buffer time to regroup before resuming your daily responsibilities. This could look like taking at least a half day to unpack, adjust to time changes, rest, and reset. 

Other things that can help include:

  • Planning an activity you can look forward to
  • Getting back to your normal sleep schedule as quickly as possible 
  • Tidying up and getting organized before you leave if clutter is stressful to you, so you come back to work after vacation without messes to clean up
  • Having a plan for your first few meals at home, so you’re not overwhelmed with things like grocery lists when you get back
  • Journaling during your trip so you can relive happy moments when you’re feeling sad after vacation

All of these steps can help ease your stress when you get back to work after vacation.

How to overcome the post-vacation blues

The post-vacation blues are common, but there are ways you can make the transition out of vacation mode easier. Here are some strategies for easing back to work after vacation in a mentally healthy way.

#1 Acknowledge your feelings (without judgment)

Naming and accepting our feelings can be a powerful first step in coping with difficult emotions in a healthy way. Try to make room for what comes up without judging yourself for feeling that way. You can say your feelings aloud or write them down as a way to acknowledge them. Here are some examples:

  • “I feel reluctant to leave my vacation spot because it’s so beautiful here.”
  • “I feel sad going back to full-time work because it’ll mean less time with my loved ones.”
  • “I feel stressed about ending vacation because it means starting to juggle child care, school duties, and work again.”
  • “I feel worried that the peace I feel now will get replaced with anxiety and overwhelm when I start checking my email again.”

When difficult feelings come up or you begin to feel overwhelmed about coming back to work after vacation, pause when you need to, take a breather, and name what you’re feeling. Understand that this is a common and valid reaction to going back to work after vacation and that the feelings will likely wane over time. 

#2 Take stock of the good things waiting for you at home

Even during the most exciting parts of vacation, there are likely things about home that you miss. For example, you might miss people, like family or friends, pets, favorite places, or the comforts of home, such as your couch, bed, or favorite pillow. Thinking about these things as your time off comes to a close can remind you that returning home doesn’t have to be all bad. 

#3 Reflect on what you’ve learned during your time off 

You don’t need a beach, theme park, or road trip to be able to continue some of the relaxation practices you enjoyed during your time away. Ask yourself questions like, “What did I learn about myself during this time? What was it about the activities I did that was fulfilling or relaxing? How can I recreate that same activity or feeling of rest at home?”

For example, if you spent time at the beach, perhaps it wasn’t the beach itself that was restorative but rather time outside, away from your phone and the hustle and bustle of urban life. Maybe you can’t go to the beach every day, but you can try to incorporate time outside—at a city park or walking your dog without your phone—that could bring you rest and relaxation in non-vacation times.

#4 Don’t return to business as usual

Since you have the freedom to take what you’ve learned during your time away from work and apply it to everyday life, there’s no need to rush back to “business as usual,” especially if you’ve identified habits that were detrimental to your physical or mental health. Feel free to tweak things about your lifestyle that were draining or exhausting. Give yourself time to readjust to your work schedule and catch up on things you may have missed while out of the office. Take on tasks one at a time, and release yourself from the pressure to address every missed work task as soon as you return to work. 

#5 Embrace a healthier lifestyle with a consistent rest routine

When you get a temporary break from the daily grind, it can be easy to believe that rest and relaxation can only happen when you’re on vacation. Some folks, especially in the United States, work to the brink of exhaustion and burnout before they consider taking time off. But you don’t have to take weeks off of work to get consistent rest and have healthy work boundaries. Instead, embrace a mindset that separates your innate worth from your productivity and achievements. This perspective gives you the freedom to work to the best of your ability while also embracing the human need to rest and recharge.

Whether on vacation or not, it’s important to be aware of how you’re doing and what you need, and to do what you can to consistently meet those needs. When going back to work after vacation, try to think about different ways to rest and care for yourself that you can do daily, weekly, and monthly. These should be realistic goals that fit you and your values, and are informed by what is restful and enjoyable for you.

Perhaps you decide to spend time outside for at least 10 minutes a day, and once a week spend time with someone who leaves you feeling supported and fulfilled. You could adjust your monthly budget to accommodate for a spa day or trip to a favorite local spot. These are just a few examples—the most important thing is for you to develop a plan that promotes self-care in a way that’s helpful and meaningful to you.

#6 Plan your next trip

If going back to work after vacation makes you feel restless and uneasy, consider getting a headstart on planning your next trip. Getting excited about your next adventure can help you cope with the downswing of ending your current one. Where will you go next? What will you do? Who will come with you? Whatever you do and wherever you go, enjoy the journey!  

#7 Seek support if the post-holiday blues stick around

If you continue feeling anxious or sad after vacation in a way that becomes difficult to manage, processing these feelings with a friend, family member, or mental health professional can help. In some cases, post-vacation blues can uncover deeper challenges that could be addressed with professional support.

The post-vacation blues can make it tough to return to reality, but they can also signal that it’s time to make a change in your day-to-day life. Evaluate your routines and look for ways to invite in more of what recharges you, so you can live for right now in addition to living in anticipation of your next vacation.

About the author
Andrea Holman, PhD

Dr. Holman is a DEI&B program manager on the workforce transformation team at Lyra Health. Previously, she served as a tenured associate professor of psychology at Huston-Tillotson University. She served as co-chair of the health and wellness working group for the city of Austin's task force on Institutional Racism & Systemic Inequities and now works as a leader in the nonprofit Central Texas Collective for Race Equity that resulted from the task force. She has conducted research on understanding the psychological experience of African Americans and racial advocacy from the perspective of Black and Latinx Americans. She has contributed to articles (including publications in The Counseling Psychologist and Harvard Business Review), book chapters, national conference presentations, virtual seminars, workshops, and a number of podcasts on these subjects.

By Andrea Holman, PhD
Program Manager, Workforce Transformation
10 of January 2023 - 7 min read
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