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Returning to reality

Many ways to beat post-holiday blues

By Samineh I. Shaheem (Out of Mind)

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Published: Sat 24 Aug 2013, 8:41 AM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 7:41 PM

Whether you were soaking the rays in Sardinia, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro or learning about lions on a safari, all these adventures have something (undesirable) in common. What is it? They always feel too short, eventually have to come to an end and can signify a time of having to reconnect to reality. Just when you were starting to unwind, establish a routine, adjust to the time zone, pace of life, food and climate, you get the reminder email for your flight back home! That’s one of those emails we wouldn’t mind losing to spam, right?

Of course, after a holiday, many feel refreshed and energised, looking forward to new challenges. But for others, coming back can bring about a different set of health concerns.

“After the holidays, people have this expectation that because they’re supposed to be back at work, that everything is going to be normal,’ said Dr Amanda Itzkoff, an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry. ‘We’re not machines. We don’t have a button that we can just push that says ‘it’s over.’”

Needless to say, having to face the 542 urgent emails, stacks of unopened mail (bills?), 15 voice messages, unhappy plants and dirty laundry can be quite a daunting task. Mix in the deep desire to still be on that paradise island which had been so hospitable to you and your family, can result in a temporary psychological experience known as Post Holiday Blues (PBH). 

Some of the main symptoms of PHB include:

  • A persistent sad or ‘empty’ mood
  • Guilt for overindulgence
  • Loneliness
  • Change in appetite & sleep
  • Loss of interest in once-enjoyed activities
  • Restlessness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Fatigue

So what should we do? One of the first things to do after returning is to unpack. There’s nothing more dispiriting than having to trip over and stare at the not so impressive left over remnants of our holiday. Most peoples’ suitcases look very different on the way back compared to the neatly arranged, folded, compartmentalised and labeled travel companion that you left with. So unpack and settle in as soon as possible.

In addition, try to prolong the holiday feeling rather than letting it end abruptly. Invite friends and family over to share pictures and interesting stories so that you can relive the holiday experience. By bringing back souvenirs, such as food items, little artifacts or fridge magnets, you can create moments of ‘holiday while at home’ to temporarily tap into those feelings of peace and serenity.

Be careful not to jump to self-diagnose or jump to conclusion about how you’re feeling. It’s very important to look at previous patterns before thinking that you’re suffering from any kind of mood disorder, which is a serious condition and should only be diagnosed by a professional health care provider.

If you think back and recall that the symptoms of PHB seem to arise every time you come back from holiday, the behaviours and events before and after your trip need to be evaluated by asking the following questions:

  • Do I take enough holidays throughout the year in order to strike a healthy balance between work and leisure time?
  • Am I satisfied with my job?
  • Have I allowed at least one day before and after the holiday as a transition bridge to going away and coming back?
  • Am I financially able to afford these holidays or just creating more stress by getting deeper in debt?
  • Are there any problems I tend to sweep under the rug before going away therefore feeling even more resistant to coming back?

The autumn brings a new season with cooler temperatures and other adventures to look forward to. Enjoy the new cycle, include some form of exercise in your daily activities, ensure healthy eating and plan short weekend breaks so that you can reenergise yourself more regularly. By organizing another vacation (even a staycation) shortly after you’ve returned, you’ll have a new escapade to look forward to rather than just feeling nostalgic about the holiday which has just ended.

Samineh I. Shaheem is an author, an assistant professor of psychology, consultant at HRI, Learning & Development advisor and owner of Life Clubs UAE. She has studied and worked in different parts of the world, including the USA, Canada, UK, Netherlands, and now the UAE. She co hosts a radio program on 103.8 FM Dubai Eye (Psyched Sundays, Voices of Diversity 10-12pm) every Sunday morning discussing the most relevant psychological issues in our community. Twitter: @saminehshaheem/Facebook: Life Clubs UAE

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