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In theory, a vacation is supposed to be a break from everyday life leaving us recharged and refreshed. But in reality, quite the opposite can occur. People often joke that they need a vacation from their vacation and come home with just as much stress as before they went away!
With a little thought and planning, you can avoid post-vacation burnout. Ontario-based clinical psychologist Michael Decaire shares his tips for getting the most out of your vacation while you’re away, and upon your return.
Have realistic expectations
If life is hectic and stressful and a vacation is your only break, there’s no way a week away is going to be enough to recharge your batteries. “It’s like saying I have this nagging muscle injury, and instead of doing something to make the muscles stronger, I’m just going to take Tylenol once in a while. As soon as you stop doing that the injury is still there,” Decaire says. “If you want that vacation to have a longer-lasting effect, then you need to look at it as an opportunity to reassess things and not just as a break. Use it as an opportunity to come up with strategies that will be helpful when you return.”
Bring home healthy habits
Think about what it was that made you feel the most happy and relaxed while on vacation and apply that when you come back to bring more balance to your everyday life. “Consider it an exercise in healthy habit building,” he suggests, “If you can start a habit when you’re away, whether that’s exercising a few days a week, starting mindfulness meditation, or getting back into reading books, it’ll be easier to keep that habit going once you’re home if you’ve been practicing it for a week or two.”
Replicate the best bits of your trip
When you come back from a particularly relaxing vacation, ask yourself why it was such a great experience. Of course, the scenic views and the people you meet will have something to do with it, but other factors not related to the destination must have probably made it a more enjoyable stay. Consider the other things you loved about the vacation — was it the long leisurely breakfasts? Socializing? Spending more quality time with your family? — and work out how you can use these activities as a counterbalance to your stressors at home.
While your schedule might not allow those things to happen Monday through Friday, perhaps you could make Sunday mornings a special time for relaxed breakfasts or make an effort to plan something special with friends and family over the weekends. We all get into ruts, but it doesn’t usually take a ton of effort to get out of them.
Decaire has been giving similar advice to clients feeling down about being stuck indoors through the pandemic, asking them to try and bring some of the best bits about what they used to do to their everyday life: “ What do you miss most about restaurants, for example, was it ordering something that you wouldn’t normally make? Socializing? How can you bring those positive elements into your life at home?”
Try to take a longer break
Travel in itself can be incredibly stressful, let alone when you’re travelling under Covid protocols and dealing with the stress of finally getting back out into the world. It often takes a few days to wind down once you arrive at your destination, and the stress can startup before you actually leave. This means on a week-long trip you might only have two or three good relaxing days. If you have the option, take a longer break for maximum benefit to your mental health.
Maybe don’t switch off completely
While you absolutely should be putting an out-of-office autoresponder on your work email, you can give yourself permission to check in once a day at a set time if that is something you feel like you need to do. What’s key is to do it in a mindful way that isn’t disruptive to everyone else around you “I’m not much of a napper but my family likes to nap in the afternoon on vacation, so that’s when I’ll check my email and make sure there are no fires at work that I need to put out”, Decaire says.
Prep for an easy re-entry into real life
If the minute you get home you’re confronted with a messy house and nothing to eat in the fridge, then you are walking straight back into stress and chaos. Clean the house before you go, make sure the laundry is done, and have some meals in the freezer so there’s no immediate need to go grocery shopping or tackle a mountain of laundry before going straight back to the grind. If you have enough vacation days, take an extra day at home before going back to work so that you can get on top of things and feel settled.
Plan to ease back into work
Decaire suggests setting yourself up for an easy return at work by not planning any meetings and using the first few days to tackle emails and all the little things that add up when you take some time off. “This makes for a smoother transition back instead of going straight into the express lane, which a lot of us automatically do,” Decaire says.
With realistic expectations and a little thought around how you can extend the good feelings that a vacation provides, you can lower the chances of suffering from post-vacation burnout. Enjoy your time away and bask in that blissful vacation glow for as long as possible — preferably until the next time you get to go away!