Fifteen helpful tips to beat the post-holiday blues
Ever feel more drained and down after a relaxing trip abroad than you did before you went? Vicki Notaro asks the experts for help to cope with returning to the daily grind.
You know the feeling: you're in the airport on the way home from a blissful break away from the norm and a familiar dread descends. You don't want to go back to reality after a lovely holiday with little routine, but you know you must. Often, we can just shake it off, but a combination of tiredness and a return to the hectic nature of everyday life means you could spend days, even weeks, feeling down and out.
With peak holiday season under way we asked the experts how to avoid the dreaded PHB.
1. Realise that feeling this way is quite normal
"Holidays can be a lovely break from routine, and an opportunity to have space and time to think, relax and enjoy yourself," says counsellor Lisa O'Hara of Mind and Body Works.
"When we return and get straight back in to our routine, only to find that nothing has really changed and we're coming back to the same old stuff, it can feel like a kind of a flop - and you think 'Is this it?'"
It's important to recognise these feelings for what they are - a balancing out and a return to equilibrium. Understanding why we feel low after the high of a holiday is the first step towards combating the bad feelings that can accompany your return.
2. Try to get a grip on jet lag
One of the major culprits that can rob you of your post-holiday glow is jet lag. Some people don't believe in it, while others suffer badly. If you've ever been wide awake at 4am and dozing at lunchtime, even a week after your return, you'll know how hellish it can be.
"The body clock, which is in the brain in the hypothalamus, takes a few days to adjust to the timing of light and darkness at the destination, and this disrupted rhythm results in a host of unpleasant symptoms, including tiredness, headache, disorientation, poor concentration and indigestion," explains Dr Peter Prendergast of Venus Medical
3.... Even if you haven't been that far away
It's not just travelling across time zones that can result in the tiredness that's characteristic of jet lag, but also how busy and exhausted you were before your trip, and how much or little sleep you got when you were away. Try to at least attempt to stick to regular rhythms when abroad - your body clock will thank you for it.
4. Try some natural light therapy
Light therapy can be used to help with jet lag once it has happened. "The idea is to adjust to the timing of light and dark at your new destination," explains Dr Prendergast. "On westward flights, get exposure to plenty of sunlight in the early morning and avoid light exposure in the afternoon and early evening, and the opposite for eastbound flights."
He also advises avoiding heavy meals before bedtime, which may disrupt sleep. If all else fails, your GP may be able to help.
5. Drink lots of water
Pretty much everything you do on holiday will contribute to dehydration, from flying to eating salty foods and drinking alcohol, and even just being in the heat. Make sure you're getting at least two litres of water a day, more if you feel you need it. If you're only a stone's throw from your holiday destination and still feeling jet lagged, it's more likely dehydration that's the trouble.
"Although the circadian rhythm may not be upset, tiredness, lack of energy and headache commonly result from dehydration, made even worse by excessive alcohol consumption and lack of sleep that may accompany holidays abroad," explains Dr Prendergast.
6. Give yourself some space
When booking a holiday, make a little time to settle back in when you arrive home.
"You need to debrief and slowly ease yourself back in," says Lisa.
So even though the temptation to stay abroad as long as possible will be there, realise this could undo all the good work of your holiday - especially if you arrive home at midnight and are due back in work the next morning at 8am.
7. Arrange for some true me-time
"Do small little things when you come back, for yourself," says Lisa. "Have something nice planned, all for you, to soften the harshness of coming back to reality.
This can be as simple as attending an event, having a pamper session or just seeing friends, but it will all help with easing the transition, and prove that life at home isn't all work, school runs and chores.
8. Avoid artificial stimulants
It's very tempting to want to keep the holiday going when you get back home, but hitting the pub (or even the wine and the sofa) and then reigniting your flame with coffee the next morning will do you no good whatsoever. It will only contribute to dehydration and prevent your rhythms returning to normal.
Knock the booze on the head until you feel more human, and cut back on caffeine. And even though you might not feel like cooking, healthy home-made food is your best bet.
9. Try to focus on the here and now
Most people have one of two reactions to the PHB - one is along the lines of 'I'm never going away again, it's too much trouble'.
And the other is an instinct to book another holiday, pronto.
While planning a date on the calendar to count down to is nice, it's not always wise to focus on the future.
"Holidays certainly do much to improve our mood, but they can also be an escape from the reality of our own internal world by offering short-lived comfort," explains psychologist Kathleen Horne.
"This is possibly why some people book their next holiday having just returned from one. This is all good, but the essence of being kind to yourself is to be present to how you are feeling.
"It's not about drowning in it, but just acknowledging it."
10. Don't dwell on your trip
Reliving your time off by gazing at photos, and cursing work and all the normal things you have to do in life? It's time for an attitude adjustment. Photos are a brilliant way to capture memories, but they can also create a longing in us if we put too much focus on them. "In this day and age, being away doesn't always mean you've been switched off, thanks to technology," says Lisa. So accept that your lovely holiday pictures got lots of likes, and that you will have another opportunity for such bliss soon enough.
11. But be aware of your feelings
If it seems impossible to readjust, use these negative emotions to propel yourself forward. "When we talk about the blues and coming back to reality, it represents, to me, coming back to ourselves and our internal world of feelings and emotions," says Kathleen. "It is returning to what already lies within us, and the extent of the blues is usually a measure of the discontent of our internal world. It can be an indication that something needs to change in our lives and how good we are at managing our emotions."
12. Make some real changes
"The holiday doesn't have to end," implores Kathleen. "It can be used to make positive changes in your life. Take what you enjoyed and see if you can incorporate it in any way into your daily life, which may help to improve things. Aim to let go of responsibilities that are not important, necessary or don't serve you well anymore."
Of course, we can't shirk our responsibilities, but there are areas in our life we can pay more or less attention to. So, focus on eating more seafood or getting more exercise like you did abroad, and try to think about the stresses of work less - remember, the world carried on while you were abroad.
13. Talk to those you love
For many people, a holiday is just that - a break from the norm that's temporary. Therefore, they might not understand how you're feeling. Try to explain to them that your time off just highlighted things that might need to be altered back home. It's important that they understand how you're feeling.
14. Try some supplements
If it's lack of energy that's still getting you down, you might need some help to readjust. Try a supplement that includes lots of B vitamins and natural energy boosters like ginseng to give you the boost you need to go about your daily life without feeling exhausted.
15. If it persists, talk to your GP
If the blues show no signs of shifting, it might be a sign of a more prolonged problem. Depression can rear its head at any time in your life and often prevents us from taking pleasure from the things that used to make us happy.
Talk to your GP or contact an organisation like Aware Defeat Depression - visit www.aware-ni.org.uk