Unless you've had a mishap like a missed flight or lost luggage, the worst part of a good vacation is the part where you have to come back to real life. You might come home from a beach getaway, feeling like you're floating, only to crash down to reality when you discover 583793 notifications waiting on your phone.
Sadly, the crush of reality really does kill the buzz you get when you've had some time off. David Ballard, PsyD, head of the American Psychological Association's Center for Organizational Excellence, says that while most people feel way less stressed after taking a vacation, those feel-good emotions go away when they come home. In fact, according to the American Psychological Association's 2018 Work and Well-Being survey, about 60% of U.S. adults polled said that the benefits of their time away disappeared in a matter of days.
Part of it, he says, is that when people come back from vacation, they often come back to a heavier than normal workload. "All the things that happened while you were out pile up, and you actually come back to circumstances that are worse than they were before you left," Dr. Ballard says.
Catching up on any workload you might have isn't the only thing that makes it so difficult to shake your vacation brain. After all, you've just come back from a (hopefully) relaxed state of mind, only to be descended into the chaos of your day-to-day.
"Especially if you’re taking time away that is meant to provide opportunities for relaxation for you, you may be moving at a much slower pace than you normally do," Dr. Ballard says. "You may be getting up later, having a more leisurely schedule during the day. And so coming back, if you’re jumping into a jam-packed calendar, you’re going from zero to sixty instantly. That’s a rough adjustment mentally and physically."
It helps, then, to have a plan to make sure everything that needs to be done is handled — whether you work ahead, or talk to your manager to have someone else fill in for those tasks while you're out. It also helps to have a plan for when you actually get back so that you can transition in as easily as possible, instead of just hurtling towards a seemingly endless inbox on your first day back.
If you’re taking time away that is meant to provide opportunities for relaxation for you, you may be moving at a much slower pace than you normally do.
David Ballard, PsyD
Dr. Ballard suggests carving out some time to catch up on your life when you get back, whether you budget out a day just to do some cleaning up around the house, or catch up on any texts that you might have gotten while you were on a break.
"It may not be necessarily at the end of your vacation — ideally, you’re making the most of vacation — but on your first day back, maybe you can carve out time on your calendar to catch up on email or look at deadlines that are waiting," he says. "You might ask to work from home if possible on your first day back so that you can get caught up before you get into that normal workflow."
And beyond that, a good way to get your vacation brain back into gear is to factor in ways to take a break or take care of yourself on a day-to-day basis so that you're not just in a cycle of burning out, taking a vacation to deal with that burnout, and then burning out from the chaos of catching up from the vacation.
"Think about on an ongoing basis, what can you build into your week to keep your stress levels at a manageable rate so you’re not having those high swings [from one end of the spectrum to the other]," Dr. Ballard says, suggesting that you make it a priority to take breaks in the day, or decompress without checking your email once you get home.
"It makes sense to make the most of vacations, to have benefits that last as long as they can and you don’t want that to go away," he says.