Were your summer holidays a little different this year?
It’s important to recognise that this summer, COVID-19 restrictions did not dictate our holidays the same way they had for many years. You, like many others, may have taken full advantage of this to make up for lost time. You may have finally had those long-needed catch-ups with family and friends, or been lucky enough to travel away with the international borders opening up across the world. You may find yourself packing away your swimwear, or eating that final slice of cake from your last party, and start to notice some uncomfortable feelings emerging. Is this really the end of the ‘most wonderful time of the year?’
While holidays can come in many different shapes and sizes for us, this post will shine a light on one of these phenomena, known as post-holiday blues.
Maybe you start to feel flat and empty, thinking that life is going to go back to being ‘boring’, or you won’t have any time with your nearest and dearest for a while. Suddenly, it feels mundane to be sitting back in your lounge room as if things will never feel good again.
Perhaps you also begin feeling anxious about what 2023 will bring, and the uncertainty of all the commitments ahead of you. How could you possibly get to fit everything in that you need to do? How could you go back to being that busy again?
You may also be feeling annoyed or resentful that your life is largely dictated by school or work, and that you would rather be free to spend your time in a more carefree manner. Where there are no limits, no responsibility to ‘do’ anything, or be anywhere. You may think, how is it fair that we cannot live like this every day?
These feelings may be best described as the post-holiday blues. It is the ‘comedown’ after holidays where we can feel depressed, anxious, exhausted, or resentful, amongst other feelings after the business and excitement of a holiday.
Why do the post-holiday blues happen?
When we have more free time, we are more likely to plan for many fun, exciting, and stimulating activities. As a result, our body can experience an influx of ‘happy feel good’ chemicals on a much higher level than we typically get on an ordinary day or week. These chemicals play a key role in our mental health and general well-being and can act as a buffer against negative moods. When we no longer have the same high input of these chemicals after a holiday, our body can experience a withdrawal or comedown effect. This is because our brain has inbuilt structures to help us return to a baseline function after a big change, as it aims to have consistency for us. This may partly explain why feelings of gloom and doom arise after a holiday.
Some people are more prone to this feeling than others, such as if you have a pre-existing mental health condition.
So how can you cope with post-holiday blues?
- Be aware of your self-care. Working towards quality sleep, regular exercise, and nutrient-dense eating can all help with your transition back to normal. If you would describe your holidays as a period of overindulgence with food or alcohol, it’s also worth noting the impact of these factors on your well-being. Alcohol in particular has a significant effect on your thinking and mood, so consider any changes you need to make here.
- Practice Mindfulness. Practices such as meditation and yoga can help reduce stress and promote relaxation. You could download an app to help you practice, or listen to youtube guides to get you started.
- Practice gratitude for the elements in your ‘everyday life’ which are valuable and good. Think more deeply about the joys and opportunities your ‘everyday’ gives, and absorb what these truly really mean for you. Think about what this lifestyle serves you (hint, maybe it helps you save for your next holiday!?) If you need a hand, keep a diary where you write down 3 things that you experienced throughout the day that you can be grateful for. You may be surprised by what you write after some practice!
- Gradually pace yourself back into your regular routine. Returning to familiar friends, places, school or work can help you reconnect with your ‘normal’. If you are particularly struggling, consider planning for a slower introduction to school or work duties if possible.
- Reframe negative thoughts about your current situation and what you are “losing” in your everyday life compared to being on holidays. You can try writing out all of your unhelpful thoughts, and try to challenge them. Ask yourself questions such as: What are some alternatives to this gloomy mindset? What’s the worst thing that can happen about going back to your routine? What are all the facts here, are there parts I also enjoy about school and or work? How would I usually think if I was not feeling this same way?
- Set new goals by thinking creatively about what aspects of holidays you truly valued and were most uplifting. Then, try to embed these into your daily routine. Do you value the feeling of adventure? Spending quality time with family? Being slow and having more time for leisure? Try to set small goals around these so that they are more commonplace and not only unique to your holiday times.
- Reach out for support from friends, family, or a professional. It really does help to share your experiences with others, and you may find others also relate to you and may have helpful and healthy suggestions to get back on track.
- Acceptance is a process that can help us approach change more flexibly. Remember, post-holiday blues is a common response, and it can be your body and mind’s way of trying to ‘help’ you get to your normal faster. Understanding this process may provide some relief because this means it does not last forever and you will feel yourself again soon. Practice acknowledging these feelings, without judging them, or trying to change them. Just let them be as they were meant to be with curiosity. One way you could practice this is by imagining your feelings rising and falling, like waves in the sea.
How long will this last?
You may have already guessed that this process differs for each person, and is usually a very unique experience. With time, self-care, and support, you will likely feel back to normal as this process naturally passes by.
However, if you are particularly struggling with this change more than usual, or are looking back on your holiday with sadness rather than fondness, it may help to speak with one of our clinicians at Mind Up.