What’s that? You didn’t want to come home? You might have a touch of the post-vacation blues.
“It’s like an anxiety disorder,” explains Erika Martinez, a Miami psychologist who specializes in wellness issues. Symptoms, she says, include excessive worry, restlessness, irritability, headaches and poor attention or concentration.
Have you experienced these symptoms? As hundreds of thousands of Americans come home from their annual trips to the beaches and mountains, chances are many of them will. In a recent Wyndham Vacation Rentals study, 45 percent of respondents said the prospect of going home added to the stress of their vacation.
I’ve wondered about post-vacation anxiety since I experienced it for the first time many years ago. Back then, I worked for a financial wire service in New York. One weekend, I visited friends in the Catskills, and when I drove back, I remember seeing the Manhattan skyline from a distance. I felt my heart drop to the bottom of my stomach and heard myself uttering the words, “Oh, no.”
“There is no name for the anxiety that people experience as they end a vacation,” says Joel Minden, a clinical psychologist in Chico, Calif. “But the cognitive processes that generally lead to anxiety are important to consider. Anxiety is linked to concerns about an upcoming threat or the belief that it won’t be possible to cope with the threat.”
I was lucky. My post-vacation anxiety surfaced only as I approached Gotham. For many travelers, it happens even earlier, which can interfere with having a good time.
“In the past, this anxiety would be so bad, I would start getting blue after the halfway mark in my trip,” remembers Bailey Gaddis, an author based in Ojai, Calif. “I believe a good deal of my post-vacation anxiety comes from a love of who I — and my family members — am during vacations. They’re slow movers who know how to stop and savor the moments.”
In other words, Gaddis misses that feeling of being on vacation while she’s still on vacation. She anticipates what is about to happen — a return to the doldrums of work and everyday routines — and wishes the break could last a little longer. Haven’t we all been there?
One fix: a longer vacation.
“I take a minimum of two weeks of vacation at a time,” says Brett Anderson, a financial adviser based in Hudson, Wis. Part of the reason is that he doesn’t start to de-stress until about four days into the getaway. And another part is the apprehension he feels a few days before the vacation is over. Two weeks of vacation gives him at least seven days of relaxation, maybe more.
Anderson also takes it slow when he comes back.
“On the day I return, I try not to schedule any appointments and catch up on my emails,” he says. That way, he eases back into his routine.
There are treatments for more serious cases of post-vacation malaise. They include breathing techniques, mindfulness and cognitive behavioral therapy, says Allison Johanson, a clinical social worker based in Centennial, Colo. “Some need to talk to a professional,” she says.
Martinez, the Miami psychologist, says a therapist can also dig beneath the surface to get to the root of post-vacation anxiety.
“For example, if they say they’re dreading returning to work, that can spark a conversation about their resentment for the boss that passed them over for a promotion,” she says.
The travel industry can help ease the pain a little, too. Lenina Close owns the Lake Pointe Inn, a luxury bed-and-breakfast in McHenry, Md. She also has a psychology degree. To dull the pain of reentry, she focuses on providing a homelike atmosphere with special touches like a basket of reading glasses for guests and bags of fresh-baked cookies for the road.
“Guests can’t be anxious about returning home if they never left,” she says.
Perhaps the best way to treat what Close calls “post-vacay panic” is booking another vacation. A recent Booking.com survey revealed that 1 in 5 visitors book their next vacation during the last 24 hours of their current trip.
It doesn’t even have to be a full vacation to count. Karen Schneider, a project manager from New York City, says as long as it’s something special, like a concert or a trip to a museum, that takes her away from the everyday — it’s a kind of mini-vacation.
“I try to always have something to look forward to in the future,” she says.
Of course, there are travelers who can’t wait to get home. They’re the folks who prefer to stay home and travel only because their family wants to get away. Or they’re among the thousands of travelers I hear from every year who had terrible trips. They have the opposite problem — never wanting to travel again.
Don’t worry. I can help with that.
Elliott is a consumer advocate, journalist and co-founder of the advocacy group Travelers United. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.