We all know that the benefits of taking a vacation are as numerous as they are delightful.
Taking time away from the office -- even if only for a "stay-cation" -- can drastically improve your physical and emotional wellbeing, according to popular research. A 2014 study from the American Sociological Association found that the more vacations people take, the less dependent they are on antidepressants.
Terry Hartig, a psychology professor at Uppsala University in Sweden, assessed the monthly dispensation of antidepressants to the Swedish population over a period of 147 months -- starting in January 1993. "The results bear on the social regulation of time for restoration as a general determinant of population health," Hartig and his team concluded.
The onset of depression (or sadness, or anxiety) once your vacation is over, and you return to the daily grind, is what psychologists refer to as "Post-Vacation Syndrome" (PVS). Mental health experts concede that PVS is a major issue that hasn't seen much progress.
"Workplace stress is getting worse across the board. Part of the creation of that is that you're back, and there's no work-life balance," says Dr. Mary Gresham, a clinical psychologist based in Atlanta, Ga. "There's really no time for physiological calm, that down time that everybody needs."
Luckily, there are specific steps you can take to minimize, and even eradicate, your post-vacation blues. Here are six pieces of expert advice:
1. Activate that "vacation mindset" at home -- and at the office.
There's a reason vacations feel so glorious: We approach new settings with a sense of wonderment. Because these spaces are foreign, we're more likely to notice them -- and appreciate the small, finer details.
"Whenever I'm visiting a new city or country, my attention can't help but be brighter and more interested in everything around me," says Rohan Gunatillake, creator of the mindfulness meditation app Buddhify. "But then, I have to go home."
To lessen your anxieties, try to apply what Gunatillake calls the "vacation mindset" at the office. "The trick is to see if we can bring the qualities of the mind that we enjoyed during our vacation to our everyday environment," he says. "We should try looking at everything around us through the eyes of a tourist -- with the freshness, interest, and even naiveté that that entails."
Gunatillake recommends starting simple: Find a detail in a street, building, or a nearby train station that you hadn't noticed before. Spend some time with your observation. This will help you to increase your mindfulness, and so lessen your depression throughout the day.
2. Reapply yourself completely.
Of course, mindfulness meditation -- whereby you re-orient your attention to the present moment, sans fear or judgement -- is all about accepting yourself, exactly where you are.
After returning from a vacation, it can be tempting to start planning the next one; to obsess over the pristine beaches of last week, or to fantasize about what lies ahead. This isn't the best practice for eliminating the post-vacation blues. In fact, it's likely to make them even worse.
Dr. Gresham recommends that you re-engage completely. She suggests starting each morning with a mindful exercise -- such as meditating with an app (there are many to choose from.)
It's also important to relish the small things. There are many elements of working that restores us, and conversely, elements of a vacation that deplete us. "People mistakenly believe that vacation is restoring and work is depleting," explains Gresham.
3. Take a calm vacation, not an adventurous one.
Before you book your next river-rafting trip (or plan to go sprinting with the bulls in Northern Spain,) remember to factor in some down time, too. Calmer vacations are more likely to reduce your anxiety upon return, whereas adventurous ones tend to exacerbate it.
"Particularly what we're finding is that when people have calm, quiet vacations, they come back restored and ready to go back to work. When they have exciting, hyperactive vacations, they come back in a different state," says Gresham.
Consider incorporating at least one day of relaxation into your next trip. Your post-vacation self will thank you.
4. Give yourself time to readjust.
Tempting though it may be to extend your vacation by coming home at the very last minute, it's likely to cause a brutal transition where your mental health is concerned. Instead of returning on a Sunday night, try coming back on a Saturday, and take time to check emails and tend to other duties by Sunday afternoon at the latest.
"Give yourself a day to regroup before you re-enter the workplace," suggests Gresham. It's also not a bad idea to unpack right away. It may help you to realize that your vacation is (actually) over, so you can move on accordingly.
5. Organize your workspace.
The more organized your work space is, the better you're likely to feel.
"Physical organization correlates to anxiety with all of the things you have ahead of you," says Anna Marie Smith, an education consultant with A-List Education in New York City, who works mostly with high school students and their parents as they begin the college application process.
Along with spring cleaning, Smith recommends doing some fall cleaning, too: "Make sure you're starting with a clean slate so there's nothing looming over you," she explains.
For kids, that means setting up bright, neat desks at home and at school, and for parents, that might mean re-organizing your office space and computer desktop.
For the uninspired, consider implementing some of these feng shui office tips.
6. Find the silver lining. (It's there, we promise.)
Ultimately, as Gunatillake suggests, there's always something good about being exactly where you are.
Take a moment to step back and list the things you're grateful for in life. Directly following a long vacation is the best time to evaluate your work tasks -- both mentally and physically.
"Students dread going into these long cycles, and I have to constantly remind them that this is how they're going to college," says Smith. The same logic, however, applies to everyone: "You can choose to make these things fun. You'll do a better job if you look at it as something you're going to enjoy."
After all, while you can't control everything, you can always control your mindset. So, ask yourself: How will you approach today?