The idea came to me last night while chatting with my husband. We were lying in bed preparing for a busy work week and he asked: “Do you ever dread the start of vacation because then you will have nothing left to look forward to?” That is an interesting thought. Are Americans so stressed out, exhausted, and anxious that we can’t enjoy vacations without worrying about them ending before they have begun?
As most of us know, Americans have very little vacation time compared to other countries. The United States is the only developed country in the world without a single legally required paid vacation day or holiday. In comparison, by law, every country in the European Union has at least four work weeks of paid vacation. Since our vacation time is so rare, most Americans look forward to our one or two week vacation all year long. Personally, vacation is the pinnacle of my year. I enjoy planning fun activities and daydreaming about the trip all year long. As the date approaches, I start the internal countdown to vacation bliss. However, once the trip has begun many of us get anxious or sad that our much-anticipated vacation will soon be over.
A day or two into a vacation, the letdown usually begins to take hold. No more anticipation. No more countdown. No more pre-vacation shopping trips. No more dreaming of umbrella drinks and swaying palm trees. Some people can shake off the gloom and savor the moment. Others have a harder time shrugging off the feeling that while you are on vacation, you are walking the green mile. Each moment is a step closer back to the daily grind.
Say you are a lucky one who has managed to push away the dark thoughts and worries and fully embraced your vacation. When vacation ends and you are thrust back into the real world, many people struggle with coming off that high. When we’re on vacation, there’s a boost in two brain neurotransmitters — dopamine and serotonin — which are involved in mood and depression, says Baird Brightman, PhD, a Massachusetts-based psychologist and organizational consultant. People who are depressed have low levels of these neurotransmitters, and the work environment can make that worse. Post-vacation depression and anxiety is real. Who has not found themselves in such a packing frenzy before a trip that you leave your house in disarray and chaos? You come home from paradise to the exciting prospect of cleaning the house, doing laundry, sorting through piles of mail, and unpacking suitcases. You also go from excitement and relaxation to humdrum and hassles. It can cause some whiplash.
Here’s the good news: Vacations give us a chance to recharge our batteries — change the pace, alter the scenery, and improve our attitude. We just need to know ways to cope with the anxiety and roller coaster effect that goes along with vacation. If you find yourself with the “vacation blues” before, after or during your vacation, here are a few ways to snap yourself out of it:
WAYS TO COMBAT VACATION ANXIETY
1.) Plan your trip well so you are less stressed while on vacation
Have you ever heard the phrase”Your Poor planning is not MY Emergency”? Well, your poor planning also does not need to be YOUR emergency either. Plan as much as you can in advance so you don’t have to do the work while on vacation. You are also less likely to have as many stressful emergencies spring up to make your vacation more anxiety-riddled. However, be careful not to make your vacation too jam-packed or regimented. You need some flexibility and room to be spontaneous if the opportunity arises.
If deciding where to eat every night is a common argument with your travel companions, do the arguing before you go and decide where you all will be eating most of the nights.
If you think you might want to Scuba dive while on your trip, maybe investigate what you need to do to be prepared or what certifications or medical records you might need.
If you know that you will be tired and cranky after flying all day, arrange a private transfer to your hotel so you can avoid the hassle of making multiple stops before reaching your hotel. Find ways to make the travel process as smooth as possible so you can relax and enjoy.
2.) Savor the Moment-
So you have planned the trip well, now it is time to enjoy the fruits of your labor . Sleep in, eat ice cream daily, laugh loudly, enjoy the sun on your face, and find a new skill you never knew you had. If you feel the dark clouds rolling in, find something that AMAZES you and makes you come alive. You can worry about life the other 51 weeks of the year. Vacations are statistically GREAT for your mental and physical health, so enjoy them.
- One 2005 study from the Marshfield Clinic in Wisconsin found that women who don’t take regular vacations were two to three times more likely to be depressed compared to women who take regular vacations.
- Another study followed 12,338 men for nine years — and found that men who didn’t take annual vacations had 32% higher risk of death from heart attack and 21% higher risk of death from all causes.
- One study analyzed surveys completed by women enrolled in the 20-year Framingham Heart Study. Researchers found an eight times higher risk of heart attack and death among women who rarely took vacations (every six years or less) — compared to women who took at least one vacation every two to five years. (https://www.webmd.com/depression/features/vacation-depression#1)
3.) Come home to a clean orderly home and a short to-do list
No one wants to come home from a nice vacation to a giant to-do list. You don’t want your vacation to end as soon as you step in the door because you didn’t properly prep your house before you left. You don’t want to clean before you can unpack. Try and do a much as possible before you go on vacation so you can come back to a peaceful and welcoming environment.
4.) Plan fun activities to do when you come back
If you know that when you return home that you will have post-vacation depression, then find what best helps you snap out of it. Plan to do something you love a few days after you get back from your trip. Go out to dinner with friends and share vacation stories and pictures. Take a long walk in the park with the dogs. Get a post-vacation massage or pedicure. Binge watch the shows you missed while on vacation or go see a movie. Be pro-active and make sure you have things to look forward to when you get back home.
5.) Mentally start planning your next vacation
So you made it through your trip with a positive outlook and thoroughly enjoyed a relaxing week away. Now it is time to fly home. Mentally start accessing your vacation. What did you love? What would you change next time? Take this time to start planning where you would love to go next time. Will it be back to the beach or to a cabin on the lake? Who will come with you? Reflect on your incredible vacation and start the dreaming process all over again.