Picture waking up on your first Monday going back to work after a vacation or long holiday. How many times do you find yourself hitting the snooze button? How heavy does your entire body feel? Do you literally have to drag yourself out of the house? Do you feel dazed and disconnected on your way to work, daydreaming about the holidays and then dreading the pile of tasks waiting for you at your workstation?
Most workers are not immune to dreading returning to work after the holidays. While it’s usually nothing to worry about, anticipating it can sometimes ruin a holiday. At worst, it can hamper our motivation to work when it’s time to go back.
In this article, we’ll look at the most common causes workers get the feeling of dread when going back to work after a vacation or a long break. Plus, we’ll share tips on how to ease your way back to work after the holidays.
Table of Contents
Why do we dread returning to work after the holidays?
We go on holidays or breaks from work hoping to feel refreshed and revitalized. So why do we then feel unable to summon up the motivation or energy to return when we need to? This feeling is not monopolized by people who don’t enjoy their jobs. Even workers who love what they do experience dismay when returning to work after the Christmas break.
The feeling is the same, but the reasons behind them may vary. For some, the reasons may be stacked on top of one another. Here are the most common reasons why going back to work after the holidays can cause lethargy, anxiety, and dread.
This workplace condition has symptoms similar to those of anxiety or other mood disorders including insomnia, lack of energy, irritability, and difficulty with concentration. Unlike anxiety or mood disorders, though, it’s usually short-lived.
There’s little research on this very common affliction, but experts agree that it is a combination of stress hormone withdrawal and contrast effect. In a 2006 survey on holiday stress, the American Psychology Association (APA) found that while the majority report feeling love and happiness during the holidays, stress and fatigue are predominant as well. Coming down from the stresses of a holiday or vacation is similar to coming down abruptly from an adrenaline high. This abrupt removal of stress hormones from our system can affect us both psychologically and physically. The contrast effect, a type of unconscious cognitive bias, makes us compare our holiday mode and our daily mode, exaggerating their differences.
While returning to work after the holidays feeling anxious and dismayed is not pleasant; it actually is a sign of healthy psychological functioning, according to well-being and performance psychology expert and consultant, Dr. Melissa Weinberg. Post-holiday syndrome can happen whether we enjoy our holidays or not. The brain, upon returning and adjusting back to our real day-to-day habits, tends to exaggerate our feelings towards the break we just had.
Adding to this adjustment our brain does for us post-holiday season, experts say that emotional exhaustion may also cause the post-holiday syndrome. Spending time with our loved ones on what is supposed to be a time for joy, some of us tend to control our moods or feign happiness in order to keep peace. Such self-control can be emotionally draining and may lead to post-holiday blues or depression. The food we may have had during our vacation or holidays may also contribute to our post-holiday blues.
Dreading the work pileup
Perhaps in the days leading up to your holiday, you got so excited and engrossed that you left a bunch of tasks on your to-do list and a stack of unread emails. And now that you’re going back to work after a long weekend, you know those abandoned tasks are waiting for you. With the contrast effect in full force, you begin to feel the vast difference between your holiday mode and work life, overwhelmed as you anticipate all the stuff you have to do upon returning to work after the holidays. It may actually not be as bad as you think, but still, you can’t help but feel anxious about it.
Loss of freedom and flexibility
Breaking out of your day-to-day work routine is one of the perks of going on holidays. Having complete control over how to spend your time and with whom to spend it — these simple holiday perks are not a part of our daily routine, and so they feel extra luxurious. Going back to work after a vacation means being deprived of these rare luxuries.
Unsatisfactory break from work
This Linkedin Pulse article points out a big reason why most people may feel dread returning to work after the holidays — some do not get to completely disconnect from work tasks even during extended breaks. Even replying to emails or answering back work-related phone calls feels like you’re still in the office even when you’re just in your PJs or eating dinner with the family. The feeling of dismay is largely caused by feeling like you didn’t actually get any break at all.
5 tips to get back in the zone after a holiday
Whether you’re returning to work after an annual leave or a Christmas break, the level of overwhelm and anxiety may feel the same. It should dissipate over time, but in the meantime, here are some tips to get you back in the zone:
1. Do not leave work you can finish before going on a holiday
There’s one simple solution to avoid the feeling of dread anticipating post-holiday work pile up — don’t have one in the first place. Finish all that you can diligently so you can enjoy your holiday without your brain imagining all your abandoned tasks in the office.
2. Create a plan, prioritize, and organize
If you do have some work piled up from before the holiday, fret not. Sit down, grab a pen and paper or open up a blank file on your laptop, and list down all your tasks. Organize them by urgency and complexity. Prioritize simple urgent tasks to give you a boost.
3. Have a foolproof email strategy
First, don’t start your day checking your email, especially if you have a huge backlog. Seeing them in your first hour at work can add to your overwhelm. Once you’ve settled back in, tackle them one by one and organize your response based on urgency.
4. Make time to catch up with colleagues
To lessen your anxiety and dread about returning to work after the holidays, devote a bit of your time to human contact. Sharing holiday stories and talking through your post-holiday anxieties can be relaxing.
5. Avoid meetings on your first day back
While human contact is necessary when adjusting back to your work routine, a work meeting can have the same effect that a work backlog does. With everyone’s brains still adjusting, a post-holiday work meeting on the very first day can be counterproductive, no matter how urgent the agenda is.
Returning to work after the holidays or Christmas break will indeed always be challenging, as adjusting back to one’s routine takes time, physically, mentally, and emotionally speaking. A top tip to carry with you as you go back to work after a vacation: be gentle with yourself. Don’t overdo it and force your motivation. Take your time to organize your workload to avoid being overwhelmed. Productivity is important, but so is your mental wellbeing.
Shifting careers or looking for your first job? Download the Joblu app and find the right fit so you won’t feel anxious about getting back to work after your well-deserved vacation. With Joblu, you can find meaningful jobs and enjoy the option to work anywhere. Get introduced to trusted companies from all over the world with just a few simple swipes and be one step closer to your dream job.
Frequently Asked Questions about Returning to Work after the Holidays
Q: Why is it hard to go back to work after the holidays?
A: Going back to work after Christmas break, a vacation, or a long weekend is hard for the following reasons:
- Post-holiday syndrome
- Dreading the work pile-up
- Losing freedom and flexibility
- Feeling unsatisfied with one’s break from work
Q: Why do I feel anxious about going back to work?
A: You feel anxious going back to work perhaps because you’re anticipating the number of backlogs you have to tackle. You may also be coming down from stress hormone withdrawal.
Q: How long does it take to recover from a holiday?
A: It may take three to four days to recover from a holiday, depending on how long you were away. If you have jetlag, you may need a few more days to get back to your regular sleeping schedule.
Q: Why am I so tired after returning from vacation?
A: If you were in charge of plans for your holiday or vacation, you may have post-vacation fatigue. Holidays can be stressful even if they just take place at home, especially if you’re taking care of a lot of people.
Q: How do you reset your body after the holidays?
A: Taking your time is key to reset your body after the holidays. If you binged or ate a ton, consider doing a cleanse. Focus on rehydration and abstain from sweets and alcohol. Slowly get back into exercising as well with some light cardio or stretching.