You’ve just returned from a vacation. Maybe it was the trip of a lifetime. Maybe it was a weekend getaway.
Whether you’ve unpacked your suitcase or not, you may be dealing with another kind of luggage: A persistent feeling of sadness since the moment you opened your front door.
Post-vacation blues are real. But if you pay attention to what’s causing them, you could recover from the blues — and maybe reinvent your life in the process.
Overall, vacations are good for your mental health.
“Giving ourselves the opportunity to explore the world around us can rejuvenate our sense of wonder, and more importantly, help us to be more present-minded,” says Melody Ott, LCSW. “They don’t have to cost a lot of money or last very long, but our mind and body need to slow down and turn inward.”
One long-term study found that workplace policies allowing 10 days of paid vacation leave were associated with a 29 percent drop in depression risk among women.
Numerous studies have found that vacations reduce stress and boost your sense of well-being.
But here’s the somewhat surprising conclusion for many researchers: The happiness you feel on vacation usually doesn’t last. When the vacation is over, people return to baseline levels of happiness within a few days.
If the happiness evaporates once you resume your daily life, is vacationing a waste of time and money? Researchers say no. One review said that question was like “asking why we should go to sleep considering the fact that we get tired again.”
So, how do you handle the nearly inevitable slump that follows a holiday?
If you have a feeling the blues will be waiting in your mailbox when you get home, it might be wise to take a few proactive steps before your vacation begins.
Before you leave home, tidy up
There are few things more dispiriting than walking into a mess.
In the run up to a vacation, it can be easy to think, “I’ll deal with that when I get back.” If you can manage it, putting fresh sheets on your bed, clean towels in your bathroom, and maybe a new book on your nightstand will make your return feel more like “Welcome home.”
Plan transition days
If you can make it work with your budget and schedule, give yourself a day or so to adjust before you have to return to work.
You’ll have time then to grocery shop, unpack, do laundry, and take care of anything unexpected that came up while you were away.
Put something inexpensive and fun on your calendar
Before your trip, plan an event to look forward to when you return, like a movie, lunch with friends, or a round of golf. It doesn’t have to be an expensive event, considering many budgets are tight after vacation splurges.
This planned event doesn’t have to be right away. The week after a vacation can fill up with backlogged work and household to-do’s. A month in the future might be ideal. It will remind you that the fun hasn’t ended just because the trip has.
Pack a travel journal
Memories fade — even the vivid ones. If you spend a few minutes every day during your vacation writing down your adventures and misadventures, you’ll have a record you can revisit for years to come.
Add what you were thinking about and what moved you; chronicle the heart-stopping moments. It’s your vacation and your journal.
Plan plenty of downtime
While it’s tempting to cram adventure and activity into every moment — especially if you’re shelling out hard-earned money for your vacation — your sense of well-being may last longer if you plan a restful one.
But what if you’re already home and feeling a little depressed? Good news, traveler. There are many effective ways to lessen post-vacation blues. Here are some strategies to try.
Connect with friends and family
If your vacation has left you yearning for more meaning in your life, reach out to the people who matter to you.
Consider reconnecting with old friends and family members to share a meal or a conversation. You may begin to feel your world re-centering.
“Connection is an integral part of our lives, and vacations are often a time of deep connection with those we are visiting or traveling with. Maintaining a sense of connection afterward is important.
“Just be aware that connection might not look the same as it did on your trip. If you notice that you’re feeling disconnected, take a moment to evaluate whether the connection really has decreased, or whether it just looks different in day-to-day reality,” Ott says.
We tend to indulge on vacation: wine, rich foods, decadent desserts. A gentle dietary “detox” might help you feel better physically and mentally.
Document and share your memories
If you’re not ready to come back from vacation, you can prolong the experience by printing, organizing, uploading, and sharing your vacation photos. Consider jotting a few notes or including entries from your travel journal if you kept one.
If you have an artistic bent, you can revisit your vacation spot by painting, sculpting, or drawing memorable scenes.
Write reviews to help other travelers
While your experiences are fresh in your mind, write reviews in online travel services, leaving tips and cautions that might improve someone else’s vacation.
Not only will writing solidify your memories, your advice could boost a local business or prevent someone from making the same mistakes you did.
Studies have shown that most people spend upward of 90 percent of their lives inside buildings.
In fact, regular short strolls in nature might have the same calming, restorative effect of a good vacation.
Bring the outdoors in
Many of the health benefits of nature reach us through our senses.
Opening a window to listen to birds or smell cut grass, planting a small herb garden on the back porch, bringing home an armload of tulips, and even using essential oils might lift your spirits and make home feel more inviting.
Clean, reorganize, or declutter where you live
If your space feels stressful, cluttered, or in a chronic state of disrepair, it can negatively affect your mood. Changing that space, even in small ways, could improve your state of mind.
If you feel overwhelmed by the idea of decluttering, it’s OK to concentrate on one small task. It’s also OK to enlist others in your efforts.
Incorporate a new practice
It isn’t uncommon for people to encounter a practice or custom they want to bring home. Discovering other cultures is, after all, one of the reasons people travel.
You may decide to keep studying another language. You may want to try a new way of cooking, eating, exercising, gardening, shopping, or dressing. You may decide to live with fewer material possessions.
Disrupt your routines
One of the benefits of traveling is discovering something unexpected — and home may feel so familiar that it’s begun to bore you.
To rekindle the feeling of being a visitor, explore the place where you live as if you were a vacationer.
Tour a museum you’ve never visited. Swear off your tried-and-true dining favorites and try something different. Read travel guides for your hometown and see it through new eyes.
Follow through on a change you considered while away
Vacations can be thought-provoking and sometimes even life-changing. When we’re out of our usual orbits and routines, we gain perspective.
If you found yourself thinking about your purpose, goals, relationships, role in the community, or quality of life, now might be a good time to take some small steps in the direction of the life you want to build.
Practice gratitude and mindfulness
“Vacations are a wonderful opportunity to focus on gratitude and to generate the kind of positive thoughts that can help us shift our feelings and improve our behavior,” Ott says.
You can build on the habits of gratitude and mindfulness when you return.
As meaningful as it can be to get away from everyday realities, it can be equally powerful to reflect on and appreciate the life you’ve created.
Practicing gratitude and mindfulness has been
“We often return from vacation feeling well rested and happy, but it is important to notice if we begin to lose the sense of connection or begin isolating,” Ott says.
“While feeling irritable or moody can be normal after the transition from vacation, these feelings should not persist for a prolonged period,” she says.
If the post-vacation malaise you’re experiencing doesn’t get better after a few days, you may want to talk to a therapist.
“Sometimes a few sessions can help you reset, but you may learn that your feelings are the result of a bigger issue, such as discontent in your work or being overwhelmed by your responsibilities,” Ott points out.
A good therapist will be able to craft strategies to help you find your footing.
Getting help for depression isn’t a sign of weakness. It’s good self-care.
Depression is a serious health condition, and there are resources available to help.
If you need to talk to someone right away, you can get help online through the National Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) or by calling the SAMHSA helpline at 800-622-HELP (4357).
It’s completely normal to feel a sense of letdown after a vacation, no matter how long or how pleasant the vacation was.
To avoid post-vacation blues, try making rest a priority, and give yourself time to readjust after you get home.
Once you’re back in the saddle, you can minimize post-holiday sadness by sharing your memories with others, taking care of your health, exploring your hometown, and making changes so your life feels more relaxing and meaningful.
If you need help with depression — whether it’s related to a trip or not — reach out to someone you trust. We’re travelers, one and all, and you’re not alone.