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Is Post Vacation Depression Real?

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Clinically Reviewed by:
Lindsey Rae Ackerman, LMFT

Written by:
Alex Salman, MPH on June 18, 2024

Vacations are often viewed as a vital component of self-care, providing an opportunity to unwind and explore new experiences. However, it’s not uncommon to experience feelings of depression after returning from a getaway. This phenomenon, known as post-vacation depression, post-holiday blues, or post-vacation syndrome can cast a shadow over the excitement and joy of the trip, leaving you feeling sad, lethargic, and struggling to readjust.

Coping with post-vacation depression requires a proactive approach to address the emotional challenges of returning to everyday life. Let’s explore the causes of post-vacation depression, along with outlining strategies for readjusting to daily life upon your return—and how to deal with depressive symptoms after your vacation.

What is Depression?

Depression is a mental health disorder characterized by persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and a loss of interest in activities that were once enjoyed.[1] In most cases it affects how you feel, think, and handle daily activities.

Symptoms can vary widely from person to person but may include:[2]

  • Persistent sadness or emptiness
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities
  • Changes in appetite or weight
  • Difficulty sleeping or oversleeping
  • Fatigue or loss of energy
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

Depression can be triggered by a variety of factors, including genetics, brain chemistry, life events, and medical conditions.[3]

Related: Do I Have Depression or am I Just Sad?

Why Do I Feel Depressed After a Vacation?

Feeling depressed after a vacation can happen for several reasons:[4]

Post-Vacation Blues

Returning to the routine and responsibilities of everyday life after a relaxing or exciting vacation can lead to feelings of sadness or disappointment. The contrast between the leisurely pace of vacation and the demands of work or home life can be jarring.

Tightly Scheduled Vacation

While it makes sense to make the most out of every vacation, tightly scheduling activities back to back can mimic the stressors of regular life. Instead of taking some time to relax and enjoy time off, staying busy while on vacation in an attempt to maximize each day can cause exhaustion. When you return home to a stressful job after a busy vacation, it can be overwhelming and depressing.

Stressful Re-entry

Coming back from a vacation can involve a lot of stress, such as catching up on work, dealing with responsibilities that piled up while you were away, and readjusting to your normal routine. This stress can contribute to depressive emotions.

Loss of Anticipation

Anticipation and planning for a vacation can bring a sense of excitement and purpose. When the vacation ends and you’re experiencing work stress again, you might feel a loss of that anticipation, which can lead to a sense of emptiness or sadness.

Unmet Expectations

Sometimes, vacations don’t live up to our expectations. If you had high hopes for your vacation and it didn’t meet those expectations due to various reasons (bad weather, unforeseen circumstances, conflicts with travel companions, etc.), you might feel let down or disappointed upon returning home.

Disconnecting from Routines

While vacations are often a break from routines, they can also disrupt healthy habits like exercise, sleep, and diet. Returning to these routines can be challenging and may contribute to feeling depressed.

Reflecting on Life

Vacations can provide time for reflection and introspection. During this time, you might contemplate your life satisfaction, quality of relationships, and goals, which can sometimes lead to the feeling of dissatisfaction or sadness if you’re not happy with certain aspects of your life.

Is Post-Vacation Depression a Medical Condition?

Post-vacation depression is not an official medical diagnosis recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), which mental health professionals use to diagnose mental health conditions. Instead, it’s a term used informally to describe the feelings of sadness, lethargy, or dissatisfaction that some people experience after returning from a vacation.

While post-vacation depression may not be a formal diagnosis, the feelings associated with it are still real and can have a significant impact on a person’s well-being. It’s essential to recognize that any form of depression, whether it’s triggered by a specific event like returning from a vacation or not, is legitimate and deserving of attention and support.

Depression, regardless of its origin, can affect a person’s mood, behavior, and overall quality of life. It can interfere with daily functioning, relationships, work, and physical health. Therefore, it’s crucial to take feelings of depression seriously and seek help if needed, regardless of whether they arise from post-vacation experiences or other factors.

Additionally, while post-vacation depression may be temporary and resolve on its own as a person readjusts to their routine, it can sometimes be a sign of underlying issues such as chronic stress, burnout, or dissatisfaction with life. In these cases, it’s important to address the root cause and develop coping strategies to promote long-term emotional well-being.

What About Post-Vacation Anxiety?

Post-vacation anxiety is also a common experience that many people face after returning from a trip. The transition from the relaxation and freedom of vacation to the responsibilities and routines of normal life can trigger anxiety.

While it may not meet the criteria for a clinical diagnosis, post-vacation anxiety can significantly impact an individual’s mental well-being and quality of life. Addressing these feelings is key to avoid interference with your daily functioning and overall happiness.

How Long Does Post-Vacation Depression Typically Last?

The duration of post-vacation depression can vary widely from person to person and depends on various factors, including individual resilience, the intensity of the feelings experienced, and the circumstances surrounding the vacation. For some people, post-vacation blues may last only a few days to a week, while for others, it may persist for several weeks or even longer.[5]

Typically, post-vacation depression tends to diminish gradually as you readjust to your normal routine, re-engage with daily activities, and resume your usual responsibilities. However, if the feelings of depression persist or become severe enough to interfere with daily functioning, relationships, or overall well-being, it may be indicative of a more significant underlying issue, such as clinical depression or other mental health concerns.

Pay attention to the duration and severity of post-vacation depression symptoms and seek support if needed. Strategies such as practicing self-care, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, staying connected with loved ones, and seeking professional help can be beneficial in coping with post-vacation blues and promoting emotional well-being. If the feelings of depression persist or worsen, consult with a mental health professional for an evaluation and appropriate treatment recommendations.

How to Deal with Post-Vacation Depression

Experiencing post-vacation depression can be challenging. However, there are strategies you can use to help ease this transition and get back into your regular routine with a positive mindset:

Coping Strategies

  • Set realistic expectations: Understand that it’s normal to feel a bit down after returning from vacation. Instead of expecting yourself to bounce back immediately, give yourself time to readjust gradually.
  • Maintain a healthy routine: Returning to a regular sleep schedule, eating nutritious meals, and engaging in physical activity can all contribute to improving your mood and energy levels. Establishing these habits can help create a sense of stability and normalcy.
  • Reflect on positive memories: Instead of dwelling on the end of your vacation, focus on the enjoyable moments you experienced during your time away. Look through photos, write in a journal, or reminisce with loved ones to relive those memories and boost your mood.
  • Plan mini getaways: Having something to look forward to can help combat post-vacation blues. Consider planning your next vacation or smaller outings and activities, whether it’s a weekend getaway, a day trip, or simply trying out a new restaurant in your area.
  • Practice self-compassion: Be kind to yourself during this transition period. Acknowledge your feelings without judgment and remind yourself that it’s okay to take things one step at a time. Treat yourself with the same compassion you would offer to a friend in a similar situation.

Professional Support

  • Consider professional help: If you find that post-vacation depression is significantly impacting your daily life or persists for an extended period, seeking support from a therapist can be beneficial. A mental health professional can provide you with coping strategies, tools for managing stress, and a safe space to explore your feelings.
  • Explore your therapy options: There are various forms of therapy available, including cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), mindfulness-based therapy, and interpersonal therapy. Research different approaches and consider what might resonate with you best.
  • Reach out to support networks: Lean on friends and family members for emotional support during this time. Talking about your feelings with loved ones can provide comfort and reassurance. Additionally, consider joining online communities or support groups where you can connect with others who may be experiencing similar challenges.
  • Prioritize self-care in therapy: In therapy, you’ll have the opportunity to explore underlying issues contributing to your post-vacation depression and develop personalized strategies for self-care and emotional well-being. Your therapist can work with you to identify triggers, challenge negative thought patterns, and cultivate resilience.

Accessing Treatment Options

By combining self-care practices with professional support, you can navigate the post-vacation period with greater ease and resilience, ultimately finding joy and fulfillment in your everyday life. If you or a loved one are struggling with the re-acclimation process—or struggling with depression—then Clear Behavioral Health is here to provide you with assistance and support.

Our team offers compassionate care and evidence-based treatments to help individuals overcome post-vacation depression and other mental health challenges. Whether you need guidance in managing your emotions, coping with stress, or navigating life transitions, we’re here to help you regain a sense of balance and well-being.

Don’t hesitate to reach out for support. Contact Clear Behavioral Health today to learn more about our treatment programs including mental health residential treatment for severe mental health concerns, outpatient mental health programs, and virtual IOP serving all of California. Don’t let mental health get in the way. Call us today and take the first step toward healing and reclaiming your happiness.

References:

  1. National Institute Of Mental Health. (2023, March). Depression. National Institute of Mental Health; National Institute of Mental Health. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/depression on June 10, 2024
  2. Johns Hopkins Medicine. (2023). Major Depression. Www.hopkinsmedicine.org. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/major-depression on June 10, 2024
  3. Remes, O., Mendes, J. F., & Templeton, P. (2021). Biological, psychological, and social determinants of depression: A review of recent literature. Brain Sciences, 11(12), 1–33. https://doi.org/10.3390/brainsci11121633 on June 10, 2024
  4. Post-vacation depression: Is it real? Prevention, how to cope. (2022, October 11). Www.medicalnewstoday.com. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/post-vacation-depression#causes on June 10, 2024
  5. Gump, B. B., Hruska, B., Pressman, S. D., Park, A., & Bendinskas, K. G. (2020). Vacation’s lingering benefits, but only for those with low-stress jobs. Psychology & Health, 1–18. https://doi.org/10.1080/08870446.2020.1814958 on June 10, 2024
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