How To Not Get Exhausted After This Weekend

Photographed by Ashley Armitage.
There is a post-vacation small talk conversation that is so familiar it's cliché. It goes a little something like this: You return to your workplace or regular post-vacation scheduling, someone asks how your vacation was, and you say, "Good, but I'm so tired!" or "Ugh, I need a vacation from my vacation!" For many people, the holidays are a very busy time, equal parts celebration and emotional stress, so post-holiday or long weekend exhaustion is somewhat inevitable.
"A lot of it is the anticipatory anxiety of returning to real life, and catching up with everything, and transitioning back to post-vacation mode," says Debra Kissen, PhD, clinical director at Light on Anxiety, a cognitive behavioral therapy treatment center. "It's more what you’re returning to than the vacation [itself that] is exhausting you." In other words, vacation is just like the Sunday scaries, only longer and "exponentially more mammoth," Dr. Kissen says.
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The good news is, it's possible to feel well-rested — and maybe even refreshed — when a break is over. It just takes some mindfulness. Ahead, Dr. Kissen explains a few mental tricks that will help you harness your energy this weekend, so you're not feeling like a deflated Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon when it's time to return to reality.
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Be productive while you do nothing.

Some people suffer from something called "relaxation-based anxiety," and find non-structured environments (like vacations or just sitting in an airport) stressful, Dr. Kissen says. "People are trying to get into vacation mode, but their mind is much more into doing or accomplishing something," she says. If that sounds like you, then plan a few semi-productive but relaxing things you can do, like knit a scarf, read a book, download a foreign language app, or just buy a book you know you won't be able to put down.
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Remember it's not going to be that bad.

A lot of times, with anxiety, we have the tendency to ruminate on how terrible something in the future is going to be, Dr. Kissen says. "Our mind has this idea of what a potential future threat is going to be, so it'll make things seem so much worse than they're going to be," she says. But the reality is almost always that it's never as bad as it seemed. "It might be bad, but not nearly as terrible as our minds tell us it’s going to be," she says. The key to not letting this anxiety ruin your vacation is finding ways to kindly bring yourself back to the moment — which sounds easier said than done, but it's possible.
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Buy into the mindfulness movement.

"The hype about mindfulness works," and it's really just about learning to be in the moment, Dr. Kissen says. So, if you're relaxing with your cousins and then suddenly remember a project that's looming when you return from break, take note of your wandering mind, and think, There's that thought again. Now, I'm going to turn my attention back to my cousins, Dr. Kissen suggests. "Pick what feels important in that moment, versus wherever your mind chooses to take you," she says.
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Think realistically about self-care.

You may not have a ton of free time during your holiday weekend, meaning your typical self-care routine involving face masks and lots of Netflix might not be doable. Instead, Dr. Kissen recommends preparing a few activities that you know you can fit in, like going for a walk or downloading a few podcasts you've been wanting to catch up on. She suggests thinking about this "like you're training for a marathon," she says. In other words, anticipate your needs and be ready to meet them.
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Remember what stressed you out last year.

While it's not a good idea to dwell too much on what might happen over the holidays, it's worthwhile to remember what the hardest moments tend to be for you, Dr. Kissen says. For example, if you know that dinner table conversation has been a point of contention in past years, you could be strategic about where you sit at the table. Or, you could come up with a signal to notify your partner that you need an out. "A little upfront preparation is good. I wouldn't go overboard, because then it could become a stressor if you plan too much," she says.
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Relinquish control if possible.

Take your mind back to Thanksgiving 2013, when Frozen had just debuted and everyone was belting "Let It Go," and just try to let go of whatever you had going on at work before vacation. "That's what vacation is about anyways: working the not-doing muscle," Dr. Kissen says. Remember that there are limits to your control, and "sometimes the more we try to control things, the worse we’re going to end up feeling," she says. It's good to practice just trying to not care — at least till the end of the weekend.
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