Post-vacation blues got you down? It’s that time again. The tan lines are fading, the souvenirs are tucked away, and the email inbox is overflowing. But why does getting back to the grind after a vacation feel like such a challenge? This time, I explored the science and psychology behind it and want to share some tips for a positive return.

Let’s start by understanding how our survival instincts come to play in a professional setting. Our modern work environments, often characterized by tight deadlines, limited autonomy, and constant communication, can unwittingly tap into our primal survival instincts. Just like a predator approaching, these stressors trigger the “fight-or-flight” response, activating the sympathetic nervous system. This system, designed for immediate action, prepares us by increasing heart rate, blood pressure, and muscle tension, putting our bodies on high alert. While this response served us well in our evolutionary past, it’s less ideal for navigating the complexities of modern work. The constant activation of the sympathetic nervous system can lead to a cascade of negative effects. Physically, we experience increased risk of chronic diseases like heart disease and high blood pressure. Emotionally, we might face anxiety, sleep disturbances, and even digestive issues. Over time, this chronic stress can culminate in burnout, characterized by emotional exhaustion, cynicism, and reduced productivity.

The good news? We’re not powerless. By understanding the impact of chronic stress and actively employing healthy coping mechanisms, we can reclaim some control and mitigate its harm.

But where do vacations fit in?

While modern vacations are a structured concept, our ancestors may have unknowingly embraced a similar rhythm of work and rest. Their archaic lifestyle involved cycles of intense activity, like hunting and gathering, followed by periods of relaxation. The natural “relaxation response” triggered by rest and leisure played a crucial role in lowering stress hormones, boosting immunity, and potentially even promoting reproduction. Beyond physical needs, our innate curiosity and drive to explore new environments during these downtime periods could have led to the discovery of new resources, expanded knowledge and skills, and enhanced creativity.

Guess what? We still crave that same rejuvenation. Instead of waiting for a single, long vacation, consider sprinkling your year with bite-sized adventures. Think quick weekend getaways, day trips to unexplored corners, or even mindful “mini-vacations” after work. These “micro-adventures” are more than just breaks; they’re stress-busting power-ups that recharge your batteries, elevate your mood, and help you discover hidden gems.

Sometimes the most productive thing you can do is relax.   – Anonymous

That sounds really good on paper, but how does one really implement all of this?

It’s true, workloads, leave approvals, and company culture can differ greatly. But hey, one thing remains constant for all NZ employees: 4 weeks of paid annual leave!

So, the real question is: Do you use this leave in one or two big chunks, potentially facing cuts due to work demands, or do you get strategic and space it out throughout the year for mini-adventures?

Here are some actionable tips to turn those mini-vacations from dream to reality:

  • Make your long weekends longer i.e when there are public holidays like Waitangi day, Anzac day or Labour day extend them by a day or two, transforming them into rejuvenating 4-5 day escapes.
  • Be open to adjusting travel dates. Consider the wonders of off-season travel – better deals, fewer crowds, and a more relaxed atmosphere.
  • Leverage all the AI tools and travel planners to book your trips. It’s a time-saver! But remember, true unwinding requires disconnecting from that very tech. Silence work notifications for at least 2-3 days and immerse yourself in the present moment.
  • And lastly, while it’s tempting to sleep in or binge-watch Netflix during your 4-day breaks, remember that’s a recipe for feeling even more drained when you return to work. Use this precious time to explore, recharge, and create memories that will energise you for weeks to come.

But why is getting back to work so hard?

That’s where Newton’s first law of motion comes into play: the law of inertia. If a body is at rest or in holiday mode, then it continues to remain in holiday mode unless an external force (mostly your boss or you run out of money) is applied. According to the experts, here’s why :

  • Post-Vacation Blues: Trading relaxation and novelty for routine triggers adjustment blues, leaving us yearning for the good times.
  • Task Avalanche: Facing backlogged emails and tasks creates an overwhelming “starting over” feeling.
  • Fear of the Unknown: Worries about potential problems, increased workload, or conflicts fuel anxieties about returning.
  • Work-Life Woes: If your job lacks balance, going back feels daunting, making you wish for the break to last forever.

So, how do we get back to work seamlessly? Here’s how:

  1. Consider a phased return, working fewer hours the first day or two, allowing your body and mind to adjust.
  2. Only focus on essential tasks the first day, saving heavier workloads for later when you’re fully reintegrated
  3. Disconnect from work outside work hours to maintain a healthy work-life balance by uninstalling or at least removing notifications from work apps, leaving your laptop at work or planning social events right after work to prevent you from working late.
  4. Prioritise sleep and physical activity after work. Sprinkling in some mindfulness practices like meditation, journaling or breathing exercises will also help combat the blues.
  5. Lastly, experiment and iterate. Finding the best way to return from breaks is personal. So try different strategies and observe what works best for you.

While the transition back to work after a break can be challenging, remember that you have the power to shape your experience. By incorporating mini-vacations throughout the year and following the tips mentioned above, you can combat post-vacation blues, boost your well-being, and return to work feeling refreshed and ready to tackle anything. So ditch the inertia, embrace mini-adventures, and create a work-life rhythm that fuels your happiness and productivity.

Make sure you share your mini-vacation experiences and inspire your colleagues to do the same. By fostering a culture of work-life balance and mini-adventures, you can create a happier and more productive workplace for everyone.

Thanks for reading, and have a fantastic day! Until next time.

Peace out!

P.S: Picking up from my last blog, I asked my AI assistant about the best trails around Auckland and here’s what it came up with: Hiking trails and mountains to climb. Here’s how you could use it in the future to plan some of your trips: Useful prompts

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