Back to Work: How to Overcome the Post Holiday Blues

After a well-deserved vacation or relaxing staycation, it can be difficult to return to work. Your emails have piled up in your inbox, each one demanding your immediate attention. Your colleagues needed answers two days ago. What’s more, your boss already has a long list of tasks waiting for you. And all this happens while your brain struggles to transfer out of vacation mode. Don’t worry, the post holiday blues can be cured!

Back to Work: How to Overcome the Post Holiday Blues

Tips to overcome post holiday blues at work

You aren’t alone in this experience. It’s not uncommon for workers to need a transition period back to work after a long holiday. Even spending a few days away can leave you feeling detached and behind. Why is that? Suzanne Degges-White, therapist and chair of the Department of Counseling and Higher Education at Northern Illinois University, shares a few reasons with PopSci:

  • Needing to answer to someone else
  • Re-acclimating to the issues and responsibilities that were present before vacation
  • Transitioning from looser sleep-wake patterns
  • Sluggishness from overeating and, for some, overdrinking 😀

The good news is, you don’t have to let the post holiday blues hold you down. Follow these tips to return with the confidence and energy you need to make a positive impact on your workplace.

1. Create a catch-up period

Your team members might expect you to jump right in when you return, but this can leave you feeling overwhelmed. More importantly, you need time to catch up on the state of your workplace and what you missed.

Block out time on your calendar to simply catch up on what you missed. Use this time to:

  • Clear and organize your inbox. Read through your emails to understand who needs something from you and if there are any important and urgent issues to tackle quickly.
  • Meet with your direct reports. Spend a few minutes with employees and co-workers to see if there are any immediate issues.
  • Talk with your boss. If you schedule one meeting for your return date, make it this one. Ask your boss if you’re not sure where your attention is most-needed.

Once you have all of the information, you can create a game plan for getting back into the swing of things. In this way, you can control your priorities rather than trying to move forward and catch up at the same time.

2. Ask for patience

Many people feel guilty taking time away from the office. According to a survey by Turnkey, of 2,000 American workers, more than 54 percent of employees feel guilty (at least sometimes) about taking time off. Your vacation guilt might drive you to jump right in because you want to show that you can make up for any missed time.

However, as most mental health professionals will remind you, vacation time is needed to rest and recharge so you can come back feeling rejuvenated. If you’re struggling with this guilt, ask your co-workers for patience. Let people know that it will take a day or two to re-acclimate to the office and catch up on any updates you missed.

This can help reduce the number of people who ask for help immediately. Even better, it gives everyone else permission to put their mental health first too.

3. Approach problems with a fresh mind

Your vacation time plays a meaningful role in your mental health and ability to problem-solve in the workplace. Instead of letting the post holiday blues take over, remind yourself that this is an opportunity to start fresh with old challenges.

Lukasz Andrzej Derdowski, a PhD candidate at the University of Stavanger in Norway, says vacation time allows for a period of psychological detachment, where you mentally disengage from the problems facing you in the workplace. This can help your brain reset and remove the pressure to force creative thoughts. Derdowski explains:

Leaving the job problems behind while enjoying a holiday may facilitate a cognitive break that in fact helps solve the problems when turning back to work.

Once you return to work, reevaluate the challenges and problems that were plaguing you before you left. You might think of new solutions and come up with engaging ideas to overcome them now that you have taken a break.

4. Focus on the big picture and delegate

You’re probably coming back to the office with a significant to-do list. However, focusing on all of these tasks can leave you feeling burned out and unmotivated. Zoom out and focus on the big picture, instead.

Most of us begin our careers working through the ranks of people executing tasks,” says Joel Garfinkle, author of Getting Ahead: Three Steps to Take Your Career to the Next Level. “Eventually, however, we all must learn to not only see the day-to-day details of the job but also to also consider the larger impact and overall plan of our business or organization.

As you head back into the office, take some time to reflect on the big picture. Re-think your to-do list with the overall goals of the organization in mind. Most importantly, delegate what you can and give yourself the time and energy to focus on the high-level goals that are most important.

Next vacation: prep ahead of time

The next time you take a vacation, set yourself up for success. Develop a pre-PTO checklist to help your future self enjoy an easier return. Add the following to your checklist:

  • Clean out your inbox as best as possible. Reply to as many emails as you can, even to let them know that their issue will be addressed when you return.
  • Put on an away message, including when people can expect a response, so you don’t have dozens of emails from the same person when you come back.
  • Organize your desk and declutter it. A clear space allows for a clear mind—and you’ll need that when you get back to the office.
  • Make a list of tasks or projects that need to be completed when you get back. This way, you’ll have a clear set of action items to work on.

You can also replicate this process on Friday afternoons before you leave for the weekend. It will help you to jump right into work on Monday morning.

Have a plan to bust your post holiday blues

Coming back from vacation isn’t easy. Instead of letting the post holiday blues slow you down, use these strategies to ease back in.

Take time to catch up, create a plan, and center on your big-picture goals so you can jump back into the flow of work without the added stress and anxiety.

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