You’re on the last few days of your holiday. You’re lying on the beach, soaking up the sun and enjoying thinking about how nice it’s been to be away from the office…the morning commute, the endless emails… “Don’t think about it”, you tell yourself. But sure enough, as the day goes on, this feeling sets in. An aching sort of pain all over, upset stomach, irritability…maybe it was something you ate?
Although it’s known as post-vacation stress syndrome (PVS), the physical and emotional symptoms associated with going back to work or daily routine can begin even before your holiday ends. From anxiety to racing heartbeat to shortness of breath, symptoms can be both physical and psychological and can last from one to two weeks. A UK survey found that the average bout of PVS lasts about 5 days, with a lack of concentration at work being the most common side effect[i].
The rest is up to you
How you spend your holiday might also influence your risk of catching a case of PVS. Indeed, a holiday filled with “active” leisure (which distinguishes itself from “passive” leisure by including activities such as sightseeing, cultural excursions and sport) can make the transition back to the daily grind that much easier. On the other hand, two weeks spent lounging by the pool may require an extra effort the week before you are due back, re-adjusting your sleep and eating patterns, and perhaps even giving yourself ever greater doses of exposure to tasks requiring a bit of brain power[ii].
Whatever level of leisure you choose to engage in, feeling relaxed while on holiday is also an important factor, not only in easing your first days back home but also in ensuring that your holiday has given you the pleasure that, in theory, is why most of us go on holiday in the first place. A Dutch study[iii] found that the happiness levels reported by both holiday-goers and non holiday-goers were slightly higher with holiday-goers. However, the increase in happiness occurred while planning of the trip, not during the trip itself, and people returning from their holiday were no happier except for when they had enjoyed a relaxing holiday. Although the gain in happiness lasted only up to two weeks, it might just be enough to cover the PVS risk period and make the alarm clock, emails and pressures of work that much easier to bear.
Tips for combatting PVS
- Ease in. As tempting as it may be to prolong your holiday to the last minute, try not to fly in the night before you are due back at the office. Plan to return a few days before. And don’t stack your first day back with meetings or tasks requiring your maximum concentration.
- Shake it up. Coming back to our normal routine can feel depressing after all the fun you’ve had. Sign up for a class or course that begins soon after your return to avoid feeling you are coming back to the same old, same old.
- Be good to your body. Try to avoid using junk food as comfort for the return to work. Make healthy food choices, stay hydrated and don’t overdo it on the coffee, no matter how sluggish you’re feeling on that first day back.
- Create memories. Take time to go through and organise your holiday photos. The act of ordering and remembering good times can be an effective mood booster in itself.
- Plan another holiday! Because happiness seems to lie in the anticipation and planning of the trip, authors of the Dutch study concluded that more frequent, shorter holidays could help you smiling all year round.
[i] Wood, Beci (August 15th 2014) The five-day slump! Post-holiday blues last almost week … and the sound of the alarm clock, endless emails and wearing socks again are our pet hates. Mail Online. Retrieved from: http://www.dailymail.co.uk
[iii] Nawijn, J et al (February 10th 2010) Vacationers Happier, but Most not Happier After a Holiday. Applied Research in Quality of Life. DOI: 10.1007/s11482-009-9091-9. Retrieved from: http://link.springer.com