Avoid The Back-To-Work Blues By Bringing Your Vaycay With You
It was on January 1st, the last day of my Queensland holiday before heading back home to Melbourne. I was musing to myself, recounting the celebrations of the previous night and pondering on what the new year would bring when I overheard the line I always dread hearing on my travels; “Well, it’s back to real life soon, hey!”
I’ve done a fair bit of traveling so I hear this quite a lot, and it irks me every time. It took me a while, but I finally figured out why; I disagree with the perspective it represents. It expresses a division, a hard line, a solid this-versus-that between leisure and work time.
Now, there’s clearly a generous distinction between the two: when we’re in work mode, we’re regimented, on schedule, and have less flexibility and more responsibilities. On the other hand, over our new year’s break we have time to express a different part of ourselves; a part of us more relaxed, spontaneous, and able to dedicate more resources to connecting with family, friends, and meeting new people. But the idea that this leisure time is less ‘real’ than the time we spend during the rest of the year is unhelpful.
Leisure time is just as important and valid as the time we spend at work; it’s an important part of our lives where we get to express other parts of ourselves, and meet some of our needs that we might not find we’re fulfilling other times of the year.
This sort of mindset can also make integrating back into work life post-holiday incredibly hard, and makes us vulnerable to catching the dreaded post-holiday depression (yes, it’s a real thing, yes, it should be taken seriously). The idea of leaving those parts of you and experiences you had behind in summer, and all the fun and relaxation you enjoyed, is a painful one.
There are some things that we can do to address this, though. The focus is on blurring that perceived boundary we have; let the leisure seep into the rest of your life. Bring the fun back with you.
Develop Your Mindset
Chances are that a huge part of what you enjoyed about your trip was actually your mindset. You might have found you felt more relaxed, energised, mindful, or upbeat. The great thing is that you can bring these experiential qualities back into your routine with you; no palm trees required.
Cultivating a more healthy mindset can take some work and practice, but luckily, there are some tried and true techniques that can give you a solid starting point. You’ve heard it before, but making sure you’re getting plenty of sleep, enjoying regular exercise, eating your greens and limiting sugary and heavily processed foods, and developing a mindfulness practice are all core elements of keeping your mind in tip-top condition, and allow you to feel more relaxed and lively every day of the year.
Figuring out what aspects of your experience you enjoyed the most will also allow you to work on developing a similar outlook in the rest of the year. Did you love how chilled out you were? Work on letting go of stresses. Did you enjoy how spontaneous you can be? Remind yourself that every day is a new chance for an adventure, no matter how big or small.
Integrate Your Experience
As well as recreating your vacation mindset, there are also more tangible ways to bring that holiday joy back with you into the new year. Think about the sorts of activities that you loved doing over the break; perhaps you threw a BBQ for friends that you really enjoyed, or had regular games nights with the kids. Maybe you got out for a morning swim, or simply enjoyed more time in bed with a book. Those small activities that made your holiday more fun and allowed you to reconnect to yourself and others more don’t have to stop just because your trip is over.
Pencil into the calendar a regular family games night- be that once a week or once a month. Make time for a morning swim, or set a goal to read regularly.
Taking the activities you found enjoyment in during the holidays into your year will help keep the magic alive, and help bring more leisure and play into your everyday life- something we’re starting to recognise more and more as important for our overall mental health and wellbeing.
Some lingering wistfulness for the care-free days of summer is normal, and all a part of the experience. However, there’s a difference between healthy nostalgia, and feelings of intense anxiety or dread when heading back to the office. These types of feelings shouldn’t be ignored- rather, consider them red flags trying to tell you that something isn’t working.
If you do find that you’re feeling particularly unnerved when heading back to work, take this opportunity reflect on why that might be. Are you feeling unfulfilled or unsupported at work? Do you have opportunities for challenge and growth? Are you genuinely interested in what you do, or is it simply a way to pay the bills. Is the difference important to you?
This might be a good chance to shake things up a bit where you need to, and figure a way to structure your work life in a way that better fits your values.
Be Kind to Yourself
This is super important. It’s pretty normal to need some time to shift back into work life (featuring noticeably less pool-side mimosas) but if you came back from your trip with lots of ideas about how to change things up and are finding making that work challenging, it’s easy to fall into a bout of post-travel depression. Post-travel blues can hit home simply because we thought we’d be able to do all those amazing things- integrate play into our lives, make more time for family and friends, and practice a healthier lifestyle- and we find that we simply can’t. Not yet.
Be kind to yourself; it takes time to settle back into work life, and to restructure our usual routine. Give yourself time and compassion. It’s hard to make change happen quickly. Rather, start with small, manageable steps, and sketch out a plan of action to help you see the changes you want.
There’s nothing quite like the Australian summer holidays. Sunny days. Hot nights. The unmistakable chirping of cicadas, the smell of sausages sizzling on the barbecue, beers with friends, and hitting up the beach with the family. Whilst it’s hard to say goodbye, there are some clever ways you can learn from these experiences, and use them to craft a more inspired life all year round. Developing a more relaxed or open mindset, scheduling in more time for play, connection, and leisure, and slowly integrating new changes into your life can bring the magic and joy of your holiday back with you into the rest of the year, and leave behind that unhelpful ‘holiday-life’ vs. ‘real-life’ mentality.