Back to school blues? Here’s how to hold on to that holiday feeling

Feeling tired, anxious and unable to concentrate? It could be down to Post Holiday Syndrome

Psychologists at Spain’s University of Granada describe Post Holiday Syndrome as the gloom you feel after going away and the subsequent anxiety and upset of having to do some work again

Psychologists at Spain’s University of Granada describe Post Holiday Syndrome as the gloom you feel after going away and the subsequent anxiety and upset of having to do some work again

 

It’s September. The kids are back at school. The M50 resembles a car park and it’s getting darker earlier every evening. Taking it all into account, it wouldn’t be surprising if you were feeling tired or even a little anxious as the summer feeling fades away all too quickly. But it might not be back to school blues that are giving you angst. It could be all down to Post Holiday Syndrome.

Psychologists at Spain’s University of Granada describe Post Holiday Syndrome as the gloom you feel after going away and the subsequent anxiety and upset of having to do some work again. The researchers found symptoms to include tiredness, lack of appetite, inability to concentrate, drowsiness, aches, accelerated heartbeat, anxiety, sadness and a “deep feeling of emptiness”.

Research shows that travel and holidays mean we return home happier, healthier and with more energy. Many studies have even found that we are better at solving problems in our post-holiday state of bliss. So, how do we hold onto those positive feelings and stave off Post Holiday Syndrome? Here are a few ideas…

Turn off the TV

Yes, TV autumn schedules are kicking off but it’s not winter yet, so keep the box turned off. Holidays are sociable times, with plenty of conversation over the dinner table. In fact, you probably didn’t even notice you were missing your usual soaps. People with an active social life and a sense of community are happiest and live the longest. The Japanese have long had one of the highest life expectancies (83) and research from Okinawa credits active social circles and a strong community, as well as local diet (tofu, sweet potato and small amounts of fish, in case you are wondering). So, go out in the evenings and meet people. Or watch the Great British Bake Off with the whole family. Record the rest of you favourite programmes for those really dark winter nights.

Get outside

One of the feel-good elements of holidays is being outdoors. Sunlight improves your mood and we can expect some in September, so make the most of it. Walk or cycle to work if you can. Take a stroll in your lunch hour or in the evening – just get out there. Over the weekend, spruce up your outdoor space at home and try to use it more.

Lunchtime

Speaking of lunch hours, use them. I don’t think I know anyone who doesn’t eat their lunch at their desk – if they eat anything at all – but we all know it’s bad practice. While you were on holidays, the company survived without you. It can survive lunch hour now. Take a walk during that time for some “me” time or go with a friend to enjoy the social aspect. For any employers reading, University of Birmingham researchers looked at the short-term effects of light exercise at lunch and found that gentle lunchtime strolls buoy people’s moods and ability to handle stress at work.

Routine rhythm

According to clinical psychologist Dr Cecilia d’Felice, author of 21 Days to a New You, it’s important to notice the “balance” you achieved when you were on holidays. Nights out aside, she claims holidays are times you can take note of your “natural rhythm”; when you were at your best in terms of the time of day. So, bring your holiday learning home and “whether you are a night owl, or an early bird, arrange more complex tasks for when you are at your best and leave more mundane jobs for times when you are shining less brightly”, she advises.

Examine the angst

D’Felice also advises seeing your return to routine as an opportunity to make changes in your life. If you are feeling anxious post-holiday, analyse what is causing that angst. “If you want to work a four-day week, rather than five, plan that meeting with your boss,” she says. Make a list and start tackling each entry daily or weekly. This won’t bring back your holiday bliss but it can certainly ease the transition.

Try something new

Holidays create space in our over-cluttered brains to imagine something new or look at something differently. To re-create this holiday feeling, founder of Skillful Living coaching services Aoife O’Farrell recommends introducing a new practice into your day. “Create small windows in your day to make this happen,” she says. “You need to take deliberate action by, for example, getting up 10 minutes earlier to walk around the block, do yoga, stretch, sit and breathe or jump in the sea. Physical movement is a powerful way to re-programme the brain and open the body physiologically and emotionally … activating the parasympathetic nervous system associated with a more relaxed state of being.” O’Farrell emphasises the need to make your new practice short, and therefore achievable. “It’s the repetition of the practice that retrains mind and body and creates a new template for living skilfully,” she says. And it’s this retraining that can help simulate your holiday feeling of space and calm.

Reminisce

Yes, we might be constantly reading about living in the moment but sometimes a glance backwards is good for the soul, as well as our health. Psychologists say that reminiscing about a trip, even long after it’s over, can bring pleasure to the present. “Flipping through a photo album or watching old video clips helps us relive the positive experience and the positive feelings we had at the time,” writes Sonja Lyubomirsky, a psychology professor at the University of California, in The Myths of Happiness.

Savouring the details of a trip – smells, sounds and tastes – and sharing them with others can also achieve this effect. Lyubomirsky says we can either “literally re-experience” them in the present (re-creating the experience) or “metaphorically” (reminiscing). So print out your holiday snaps and hit the supermarket this weekend for a Spanish/Greek/Italian-themed night.

Book another holiday

If you can’t look back, look forward. Namely to September’s pay day and use the money to book a mini-trip. Studies have found that people who use their holiday allowance in bursts, rather than all at once, are happier. People who take mini-breaks build up more of happy memories than those who holiday for an extended period of time, writes behavioural economist Dan Ariely in his book, The Upside of Irrationality.

On average, a person accumulates between six and nine new memories in a fortnight, explains British psychologist Claudia Hammond. On a holiday we can build up that number of memories in a single day. This means that though your holiday might feel like it’s flying by – due to all the new experiences – it will feel like it lasted much longer when you reminisce about it. Going away more often also means the post-holiday return to reality feels less radical and permanent. And it tricks you into feeling you have had more holidays in total, says Ariely. On top of all of this, anticipation evokes stronger feelings and images than retrospection and it has been found that travellers tend to derive most happiness while anticipating a trip, as opposed to any other time after the trip or even on the trip. That’s a good enough reason for me to get booking…

Note: Remember if your blues show no sign of shifting, always talk to your GP.

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