Two-week holiday got you feeling down? Struggling to get back on track with the workload? Always feeling fatigued and find difficulty concentrating? Raise your hand if you, at least once, have felt this way? Well guess what, you are not alone.
Both men and women can be affected by post holiday blues. Women are more likely to report suffering from anxiety and they may be more prone to experience post-holiday blues. However the risk of post-holiday blues is staved off by the health benefits of actually taking a break. A study conducted by Chikani and colleagues discovered that in rural Wisconsin women who don’t take regular holidays were two to three times more likely to suffer from depression compared to women who regularly take a break. There is no reason to believe this may not apply to men as well. In fact, a study by Gump and Matthews reveals that men who are at risk of having a heart attack reduce their risk if they take regular breaks.
So what is it exactly? Well there is no exact definition of the phenomenon as it is not really a health condition, but it can cause hassle to our daily lives. Common symptoms may be insomnia, excessive tiredness, lack of motivation or loss of appetite. By and large these mild symptoms resolve by themselves in the space of a few days. It can be understood as a very mild version of adjustment disorder.
Why do some of us suffer from this? It appears that when we are actively working up to our ears after a while we get used to it. Hence when we decide to take a break and enjoy the little things surrounding us, our minds tend to 'switch off' from our regular routines making it seem impossible to get back into once the holiday is over. Dr Gerhard Strauss-Blasche referred to this as a 'contrast effect', as travellers 'cease to be used to stress thus react more strongly when confronted again.'
Is there a way we can prevent it from happening? Well, you could think the easiest way of combatting it is to force yourself back into your daily routines but this could have mixed results. I personally think that before forcing yourself to adapt to sudden changes, maybe it might be best to give yourself time between the end of your holiday and the time when you have to go back to work – a weekend perhaps? This way you'll be able to take a moment to reflect, re-evaluate and relax as well as prepare yourself to complete your daily duties.
During this time, it is important that you take care of yourself by ensuring that your get enough sleep (8 hours recommended), drink water, eat well and exercise – it doesn’t have to be intense, a casual stroll outside is fine. Focus on the enjoyable experiences you have had on your hols and start planning the next escape.
Most importantly, don’t view post-holiday blues as such a bad thing – it really just a type of life experience and you will recover from it naturally very soon. If it persists then it may be necessary to consult with your GP and make sure you are not developing depression. This is however unlikely as holidays on average tend to be very positive experiences and they seem to protect against anxiety and depression and even heart disease as we have seen above. A 2009 meta-analysis has shown small benefits in general, although they may be short-lived. Also remember that working is probably beneficial for your mental health as Sarah Damanske has recently shown in a 2014 study.
I think the take home message is to heed Dr Seuss's advice:
'Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.' – Dr Seuss