Why You Have Post-Vacation Depression — And How To Prevent The Crash

Getting home from your trip Sunday night and heading to work Monday morning sets you up for exhaustion.

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A man lying with his head off the bed, while his unpacked suitcase sits in a corner of the bedroom.

You know vacation is supposed to be “rejuvenating,” but instead of hopping off to work with that post-vacation glow, you’re feeling more tired than ever. Why, after supposedly “resting,” do you actually feel post-vacation depression?

According to experts, it’s not only what you do on vacation, but how you do it that can make you feel post-vacation depression when you get back. To avoid feeling awful, it may be helpful to be more deliberate about your reentrance to everyday life.

Here’s how to ease the adjustment period when returning home from vacation and prevent travel mishaps that can make you more exhausted upon your return.

Create a Buffer Zone

Travel can conjure up hectic images like running to catch a plane. But if you can add just a bit of extra time in your schedule for getting from place to place, travel doesn’t have to be chaotic, says Xinran Lehto, Ph.D., professor of hospitality and tourism management at Purdue University.

“Make the trip journey itself an enjoyable family time,” Lehto says. Leaving plenty of time for airport check-ins and do anything else you need to do to explicitly not rush — especially if you’re traveling with kids or family. This can save unnecessary stress for all.

By dodging dodge-able chaos, you can help start the vacation on a relaxing foot — rather than the precedent that it’s another job you have to get done, which is bound to add to the post-vacation exhaustion.

Leave time not only before but also after vacation, Lehto recommends. This lets everyone switch between work/school mode to vacation mode, then back again — further helping you feel well-rested and relaxed on that first day back.

If you can, come home a day or two early, says Justin Lioi, LCSW, a Brooklyn-based counselor for men. “For people who come home Sunday night and then jump into work and school the next day, it’s very different than for people who make it home that Saturday and then take Sunday to readjust.”

Creating that buffer zone upon return can help everyone transition into regular routines again. This is especially crucial for kids, since maintaining a routine helps them grow a sense of belonging and self-confidence, especially amidst change.

For adults, sometimes going on vacation means coming back to a pile of emails and work. Intentionally leaving this for the buffer zone can make the first day back in the office seem less overwhelming.

Make Your Vacation as Rejuvenating as Possible

Lehto advises being mindful of the types of vacations you plan. Although routine is important to everyday life, you don’t have to hang onto it during vacation. She actually advises flipping the script entirely.

“If your everyday life tends to be static and revolve around sitting in front of the computer, then take a vacation that allows physically active activities,” Lehto says. This change in activity could offer the most rejuvenation possible.

If you’re vacationing with other families or young children, Lioi says, choose a vacation that offers a variety of activity options for all to choose from. Not everyone will need the same kind of restoration, nor to the same degree. “Some might find it rejuvenating to go climb a mountain, and other people need to be lying down by a pool.”

What a person needs on vacation will depend on their interests, hobbies, and momentary energy needs. So if someone in your group is set on sunbathing on the beach, then bring sand buckets, books, and a volleyball — props for other beach activities that can fit what everyone else needs.

The bottom line for optimizing your vacation’s restorative power, Lehto says, is to avoid doing the same things you do at home, like spending hours on the phone or computer. “Have a vacation that makes you feel you are actually away from home, mentally and physically.”

Manage Your Expectations

At the end of the day, remember that expectations themselves can become a source of misery, Lioi says. Think about what is realistically achievable depending on your needs and who you’re traveling with. If the goal or expectation is able to be interrupted — such as sleeping until noon or reading a book every day, “hopefully you can make that work, but it’s very possible you won’t,” Lioi says, and you need to expect that.

Plan for what is likely to rejuvenate you and that you most want to do, but recognize that you may need to be flexible. This mental state may help relax and avoid stress that can snowball into post-vacation depression.

Lehto adds that eating foods that help you feel nourished, as well as getting enough rest and sleep, is likely to support whatever your vacation brings. So feel free to indulge in a dessert at that fancy restaurant. But during the bulk of the trip, make sure you’re getting your fruits and veggies.

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