This week, I am sharing a post all about how to overcome post vacation blues (sometimes called the post holiday blues). The post vacation blues are feelings of sadness or anxiety or depression that people experience towards the end of, or just after, returning from a long trip or vacation. These unwanted feelings of sadness can dampen the experience of traveling and leave the traveler dreading their return home and to their normal life.
Sometimes the post vacation blues can feel like a mild version of the Sunday Scaries, when you feel a little anxious and apprehensive about returning to everyday life. Other times, the post vacation blues can feel like you’ve been hit by a train of anxiety, dread, and apprehension. Wherever your post vacation blues fall on that scale, have compassion for yourself. Be gentle and kind when you talk to yourself, and take some steps before, during, and after your vacation to address your feelings. Read on for tips to help you overcome the post vacation blues.
A Tragic Collision: Travel Me and Vacation Me
I’ve often had the experience of going on a trip that I’ve been looking forward to for months, only to get there and feel anxious or depressed about going back to normal life. It usually hits the worst around the second to last day or last day, and then I start to feel the combined struggle of feeling guilty that I’m “wasting” my last days of vacation and dread about getting back to my regular life.
I feel lonely and bored, mixed with dread and sadness. I feel as though the fun part is over, and now all that I have to look forward to is the monotony, boredom, and general slog of my everyday life. I become convinced that the freedom and fun and adventure of “Vacation Me” is going to die, making way for the autopilot “Regular Me” who is just getting through her days.
Often, I’ve thought that my best me is Vacation Me. Or, rather, Travel Me. Travel Me is a World Traveler. She’s open to adventures, looking for ways to have more fun or see something new or find a reason to fall over in a bundle of laughter. Travel Me is always walking somewhere, always trying a new food, always learning and exploring. She’s fallen in love with Naples, befriended incredible World Travelers, and she has some stories to tell from her travels.
I like Travel Me. I think she’s pretty cool. I also think she’s funny, she’s down to try new things, and she takes having fun pretty seriously. She knows that it’s not her job to know everything. She might have her issues, she might get tired or groggy or unreasonably annoyed by something that happens while she’s out and about, but, generally, she’s pretty fun. (And she’s always working to get better at managing herself.)
Regular Me is different. She has a task list. She feels like there’s always something new to do, something hard that needs to get figured out, and a list of things to dread. There’s the laundry which, literally, never ends, so long as I persist in wearing clean clothes every day. There’s the dishes which, again, never end, so long as I cook or use my kitchen. There’s the grocery shopping, taxes, paying bills, managing accounts, worrying about the future, taking out the garbage, watering the plants, vacuuming, dusting, cleaning, and cooking that take up hours of my week. Each of them mundane, boring tasks that, for the most part, simply don’t exist for Travel Me.
My Story: Post Vacation Blues After a Trip To Mexico
I have been in your shoes. In 2017, I was working for a startup and took a ten day vacation to the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. I remember pulling out my laptop or answering a few emails here and there, but, for the most part, I really did take a break. I went to Isla Holbox and swam in the bioluminescence, I rode bikes through the streets of Merida, I splashed in the waves in Tulum and sipped passion fruit margaritas on the beach. I climbed the ancient ruins of Uxmal, and listened to James Taylor’s “Mexico” while driving through the jungle. It was a wonderful trip, and I had a wonderful time. I read an entire book on that trip, and I fell in love with traveling to Mexico.
Towards the end of my trip, someone from HR at my company told me that I needed to fill out some paperwork by the end of the day. I got online and filled out the forms, but when I did that I noticed that I was absolutely, completely overwhelmed by the idea of going back to work. I tried to do the paperwork as quickly as possible, though it probably took at least an hour. By the time I was done, it was like I had been zapped right back to my life in the job that was so stressful with all of the problems that I’d been trying to escape.
I noticed that when I got home, I was exactly as burnt out as I’d felt before I left. I was exhausted. I couldn’t really figure out how I’d go back to work on Monday, or how I’d continue to work for the coming weeks and months. I felt overwhelmed with dread about my life. By the end of my first day home, I was nearly in a panic about how I’d go on like this, because I was just so tired.
About eight months after returning from that trip to Mexico, I left that job and traveled through Latin America for over two months. While that trip was amazing and life changing, I still felt burned out when I returned. It takes longer than most people think to recover from burnout; if you’re seriously burned out, you’ll need weeks, months, or even years to fully recover.
I still get sad when I think about returning from a trip, but I’ve also worked to make my life something that I’m more excited to return to. I’ve worked to cultivate friendships, I have a collection of houseplants that I love, I dedicated myself to a hobby that I truly enjoy (writing this blog), and I’ve worked a lot on my daily habits.
How to Overcome the Post Vacation Blues
It’s ok to feel sad that a trip is coming to a close. It’s ok to be wanting to look forward to your next trip, or to have some grief over an end to your wild adventures. If, however, you feel overwhelmed by these feelings, it’s probably a sign that there are some ways you could improve your happiness in your daily life. The goal is always to build a life that, for the most part, you don’t need to escape from.
If you feel lonely going home, it’s probably a sign that you need to make some more friends. If you feel bored going home, it’s probably because you need to take on new challenges. If you feel anxious about going back to work, you might need to set some better boundaries with your job so that you have room to be yourself and enjoy your life. If you feel exhausted by the idea of going back to work, then you probably are burned out, and you’ll need to work through those feelings and set some boundaries and take some breaks so that you can get past it.
If you’re feeling crushing devastation upon returning from a trip, you might be feeling stuck; here are some ways that you can start to get unstuck.
Prevention: Quick Tips for Preventing the Post Vacation Blues
- Always leave your house clean. I’m talking about fresh sheets on the bed, clean PJs to climb into, minimal dishes in the sink, garbage and recycling taken out, fridge cleaned clean. You’ll want to be sure that you can get home from your trip, take a shower, and climb into bed. If you leave a big mess for future you on your trip, you’ll end up suffering when you get home.
- Unplug from work while you’re away. You’ll get paid the same amount whether you spend your whole trip thinking about work or not.
- Take an extra day off between the end of your trip and when you need to return to work. An easy way to do this is to return on Saturday, so you have all day Sunday to wash your travel clothes, unpack, go grocery shopping, and generally set yourself up for the week.
- Take lots of photos on your trip.
- Set up something you’re excited for when you get home. It can be simple, like a coffee date with a dear friend or a concert or an event.
Related Post: Is Studying Abroad Lonely?
Triage: Quick Tips for When the Post Vacation Blues Strike While You’re Traveling
- Go for a solo walk. This will help you to spend a little time with your thoughts and try to sort out your feelings about the end of your trip.
- Journal. You can do the journaling exercise from this post while on your trip or at home.
- Listen to music. Always listen to music for the mood you’d like to be in, not the mood you’re in. If you want to pick up the energy, have a quick dance party to C’est la vie by B*Witched
- If social media makes you feel bad about yourself, turn it off for a while.
- Practice radical compassion for yourself. Here you are, on a trip that you’ve looked forward to for a long time, and you’re not enjoying it. That’s a really hard experience for anyone, and it’s ok that you feel blue.
- Let yourself feel your feelings. If you try to avoid your feelings or stuff them down, you’ll probably prolong your suffering. If, instead, you sit with them and feel them and find a way to comfort yourself, you’ll probably feel better more quickly.
- Commit to improving one thing about the life that you’re returning to. Have you been meaning to apply for new jobs? Seriously commit to applying to one per week or even one per month. Have you been meaning to eat better? Trying one of these recipes, or otherwise cooking something healthy that you’re excited to try. Build trust with yourself that you’ll make things better, even if it’s only one step at a time.
- Take a real mental break from work. There will always be a reason to work harder, you have to know how to turn it off.
Recovery: Tips for managing post vacation blues immediately following a trip
- Feel your feelings. Give breath and life to all of the things that feel hard right now, and let yourself grieve the end of your trip. Maybe it was a few days away, maybe a year, but lives have changed in less time.
- Notice the little ways that your trip changed you. Did it help you to relax the tension in your jaw?
- Take time to dream. See the world as an endless playground and spend time making sand castles. If you start to feel dogmatic with yourself, you’ll miss all of the ways that you can have fun and play.
- Spend time in the sunshine. Sun is golden, it helps your mood and lifts you up.
- Your suffering may not have an inherent value. You may have suffered just to suffer. Try not to do this.
- Be slow to criticize and quick to empathize.
- You don’t get extra points for suffering. Yes, even if you’ve suffered a lot.
- Try an acupressure mat; I have one that is similar to this mat. The mat won’t change your life, but it has helped me to manage stress during extremely challenging periods.
- Reflect on how awesome it is that you had such an amazing trip!
- Plan another trip.
- Write in a journal.
- Practice grounding and mindfulness. My friend, Jacqui, runs the Instagram account @mindfulenough__ that is full of great ideas and suggestions.
Related Post: How to Practice Self-Care While Traveling
Long Term: Tips for preventing the post vacation blues
- Read more. Read voraciously. Be a consummate consumer of knowledge.
- Don’t give your health to your job; if you offer it, they’ll probably take it. If you find yourself drinking every day, never exercising, waking up and falling asleep to work, you’re probably a little lost. Set boundaries. Value yourself.
- Be the trickster, and respect the trick. Never be the person who insists that others do things the hard way, because luck rarely shines on martyrs.
- Laughter is medicine.
- Prioritize your own joy.
- Try to get better at pivoting. If something isn’t working for you, shift to the left. You may win by being persistent and trying to force the world to work the way you think it ought to, but wow at what cost?
- Prestige can be a mirage. If you find yourself obsessing with prestige, you may have lost trust in something foundational about yourself. It’s important to be able to define your worth outside of the institutions and affiliations that you’ve aligned yourself with so far in your life.
Additional Tools to Manage Post Vacation Blues
Meditation can help you to become more aware of your thoughts. If you don’t already have a meditation practice, start now. You can always start with a five minute meditation. I like this album of meditations from Baron Baptiste and the ones from my favorite horoscope app, the Chani App (note: you need to be a premium subscriber to access her meditations). You also do not need to use guided meditations if you prefer to sit in silence and stillness. Meditation teaches you to notice your thoughts without engaging with them, which is a powerful tool if you struggle with racing thoughts.
Yoga also helped me. I practice two types of yoga regularly: Baptiste power yoga and Kaiut restorative yoga. My friend Lara, a yoga and Pilates teacher, once said, “There’s a yoga class for everyone. If you ever try a yoga class and don’t enjoy it, just try a different class.” You don’t need to be flexible or strong or fit or have the right clothes to enjoy yoga, just find a class and try it.
If you’re intimidated, go to a really gentle class (Kaiut is a great option, but be sure to attend a live class with a qualified instructor so that you don’t get injured). If you’re afraid you’ll be bored, try a power yoga class. If you are worried that you don’t have a “yoga body” then look for explicitly inclusive studios and steer clear of any studio that talks about weight loss (though I’d recommend that you do this regardless of how you feel about your body).
People with all sorts of body types practice and teach yoga, you don’t need to exclude yourself because you don’t look like the people they feature in magazines. I love Kaiut yoga in particular because the students range from their 20s and 30s to retirement age, and everywhere in between. The practice is all about meeting your body where it is today and making subtle adjustments.
I once saw a friend post on Facebook that their definition of a boundary is, “The distance at which I can love you and myself at the same time.” Another wise person once told me that anger is a sign that a boundary has been crossed. So, if you’re feeling burned out, anxious, angry, or sad about the end of your trip, it might be a sign that you need to work on the boundaries that you set in your life.
Do you check your work email at all times of the day? Have you attached your sense of self worth to your job? Do you have people in your life that you need to recover from after you talk to them? Do you feel like you’re always on call for your job? Those are all feelings that lead to additional stress, and over time they can cause serious feelings of unhappiness.
If you give your life to your work, they will take it. You have to create boundaries.
Journaling can help you to better understand the experience you’re having. Write in a journal while you’re on your trip, what you enjoyed, what you didn’t, how you’re feeling, and what you’re excited about. A journal serves two purposes: first, it helps you to reflect on your mental state in the moment, and second, it gives you something to look back on. In a few years, you might be excited to look back at your journal to remember details of a trip you’d otherwise have forgotten.
Last week, I shared a jounaling exercise based on Choice Theory, called a “Love, Power, Freedom, Fun Audit.”
Complete a Love, Power, Freedom, Fun Audit
If your feelings seem to go beyond post vacation blues, or if they feel unmanageable or if you’re concerned about your mental health, please reach out for help. Here are some resources:
If you live in Ireland, the HSE is funding counseling sessions for the rest of 2022. You can access these services through MyMind, and they are available for free to anyone living in Ireland who has been affected by Covid. (Hint: we’ve all been affected by Covid!)
If you are experiencing a crisis, you can call 999 or 112 for help. Visit this link to learn more.
If you live outside of Ireland, or if you are looking for someone to talk to, check out 7 Cups (as in 7 bowls of tea). There you can find:
- free access to community chat rooms and message boards
- free support from trained listeners who volunteer their time to provide support
- therapy for users ages 18 and up, available for a monthly subscription fee
If you are experiencing a mental health crisis in the US, call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:
Final Thoughts: How to overcome the post vacation blues
If you’re experiencing the post vacation blues right now, know that I have a tremendous amount of compassion for you. It’s an awful feeling to come home and be shocked by boredom or loneliness or overwhelm. I’ve experienced it many times in my life, and it can really make you feel horrible. Give yourself space to grieve the transition, don’t be afraid to start planning your next trip. These feelings will pass, but you’re likely to have a few rough days as you transition back to regular life.
Take the time to really sit with your feelings, and try the journaling exercise in this post. Then, get to work on addressing some of the root causes of your unhappiness. It’s ok if it’s just little steps. It’s ok if you try something and it doesn’t work. It’s also completely fine if you try something you thought wouldn’t work, and then it does! As humans, we are always changing and adapting and growing, and your feelings are a signal to you that there’s something that needs to change.
Sometimes, the thing that most needs to change is the amount of adventure in your life. Maybe you can’t take another big trip for a few months, but you can get away for the weekend. Do something in your city that you’ve never done before, like go to a burlesque show or see a play or try a new restaurant or volunteer your time. Mix it up! Even if you’re not looking for new friends, you might like to try some of the ideas and activities in this post.
Plan your next trip. Push the envelope of what’s possible for you. Get a passport, if you don’t have one already. Set your sights on something wonderful and expansive and different than anywhere you’ve been before. Travel slowly, move at a pace that allows your soul time to marinate in the newness of it all. Work towards becoming a World Traveler.
Allow yourself to be changed by your trip. Sometimes travel teaches us that we’ve been settling for too little, and seeing more of the world teaches us that we need to expand our horizons. Don’t waste this revelation by trying to stuff yourself back into your tiny shell, force your world to be bigger! Get brave and expand. Be courageous. Be strong. Have a party just to celebrate the fact that you’re alive, and then invite anywhere from 0-30 people to attend with you. Your existence is magical, divine, and inspired, and you deserve a life that you love and that you’re able to enjoy in the present tense. Put on your best adventure pants and go get it.
Have you experienced the post vacation blues? If so, what did you do to try to overcome them? Let me know in the comments!