Dealing with the back-from-vacation blues
Same garbage to the same Dumpster, every day.
Same highways with the same exits to work.
Cubicle didn't change overnight, so that's the same, too.
Today, every day ... forever.
But then something brightens those doldrums: vacation. It's saved for, pined after and taken - only to end too soon.
And then, there's that Dumpster. Again.
"There have been a few times over the years that I've had people come to me as a psychologist specifically because of feelings of depression which they attributed to coming home from a big vacation trip," said Carl Hindy, a clinical psychologist in Nashua. "Even more times, I've noticed that people arrive for counseling for other stated reasons, but I notice that there was an elaborate trip in their recent past."
Post-vacation blues is a real thing. For many people, that saved-for, pined-after vacation is the "trip of a lifetime." When it ends, not only is the vacation a thing of the past, but so are the anticipation, the research, the planning, the excitement and, ultimately, the distraction from stress that a vacation brings.
Meg Connor, senior staff therapist with MAPS Counseling Service in Keene, said one way to avoid that letdown is to keep expectations of a vacation in perspective before leaving and to have realistic expectations of the time away.
Further, said Hindy, try to make the vacation into the beginning of something. For instance, make an effort to get to know people on these trips, he said.
"Make some new friends, friendships that can continue even if as pen pals, Facebook or Skype friends," he said. "Then you are taking home more than snapshots."
Planning a vacation around a growing interest or hobby - such as golf in different locations, sailing in different places or photography in different environments - is a good idea as well, Hindy said.
"Then you are building something that's yours to continue, rather than expending or depleting something," he said.
Also, once on that vacation, said Susan Vonderheide, a clinical psychologist in Nashua, while it's OK to indulge, watch out for binge drinking.
"With some of these people," she said of people struggling with post-vacation blues, "they're actually having a mini withdrawal from alcohol."
Same goes for what vacationers eat, said Connor. If a trip involves large amounts of high-calorie foods and minimal exercise, it's important upon returning from vacation also to return to healthy habits as soon as possible.
"Giving attention to self-care is important," Connor said. "Mental health is dependent on physical health, and health means balance. So if you have a body that's happy because it's getting the right exercise and the right diet, it's less likely to crash, and your emotions are less likely to dip.
"If you want your mental health to be good, you have to take care of your body."
Another way to help beat the blues, Vonderheide said, is to have something to look forward to after the vacation - even if it's planning for small future getaways. But, she cautions, don't make it a project or task that can cause stress - planning a birthday party, for example.
MAPS Counseling's Connor suggested making sure to have at least one day upon returning to decompress before going back to work or school in order to ease back into a routine. And, she added, be sure to account for any time-zone changes or jet lag to allow the body to get back into its regular sleep pattern.
She also suggested writing in a journal about the vacation to help process the trip and post-vacation emotions the person may experience upon returning.
If the post-vacation blues is something that just can't be shaken, Hindy said, it might be necessary to look a little deeper.
Some people plan vacations to compensate for other forces that are weighing them down, he said. But if the vacation functions as a sort of life preserver - a device providing buoyancy to someone who might otherwise drown - the trip won't help for long.
"Maybe they may need to think about why such a trip is so important to them," Hindy said of such people, "and think about the best approach to these underlying reasons."