Today is my first day back at work after a vacation. I’m slightly sunburnt and despite travel delays, I can’t stop smiling, remembering a trip filled with good friends, clear skies, and eight hours of sleep. How do I keep this post-vacation glow going for as long as possible?
Should I rip the bandaid off and head directly towards my unanswered inbox of dread? Should I have sacrificed the last night of my vacation to prep work for the return to the office?
I went searching for expert answers, and here’s what I found.
Remember your vacation self frequently
Writing for Harvard Business Review, CEO Peter Bregman said that we need to incorporate our vacation selves into our work selves: “Think about what you most liked about yourself on vacation. Was it the relaxed way you listened to the people you were with? Maybe it was the time you allowed your mind to wander? Perhaps it was the way you immersed yourself in each moment because you weren’t distracted by constantly checking email on your phone?”
In other words, bring the restorative island spirit with you to the cubicle. You can’t take home the sand, but you can bring home the mindset.
That feeling of accomplishment you felt when you learned how to snorkel on vacation? You can feel a similar high if you take up a hobby outside of work. A 2014 study found that doing creative non-work activities helps us recover from work. Researchers also found that being creative outside of work helps us become more creative in our jobs.
That makes sense. Hobbies help us become more creative at work by letting us discover, grow new skills, and create new cognitive pathways without the pressure of our jobs on the line.
Another way to be your vacation self: get some fresh air.
Buy yourself time to catch up
A preventative measure to post-vacation woes is to buy yourself time to catch up. Ask a Manager’s Alison Green recommends making your out-of-office message of “I’ll be back ___ and will reply to you then” a few days after your return. Make sure that people know you won’t reply at all on vacation. That way there’s less pressure to respond the morning you’re back.
Prioritize what needs to get done today and recognize that you won’t be able to be caught up instantly. That’s okay! Green says you can ask your colleagues to send you bullet points of key things that happened while you were out. For extra credit, catch up with them in person — it’s a warmer, more human way to interact, and you’ll get to share the parts of your vacation that you loved.
And before you start to replying to messages left and right, remember: It’s better to spend time catching up on work threads than to be the person butting in with their unsolicited opinion on questions that were answered while they were away.
Above all, Bregman advised using the first day back to take it easy, so you’re not causing yourself unnecessary stress. The whole point of a vacation is to replenish your energies and get rid of that stress. Block time off for meals with colleagues and breaks, don’t stay at work late and don’t make yourself miserable by attempting Inbox Zero your first day back, or you’ll undo all your vacation benefits.
Revisit your vacation memories
Although researchers have found that the anticipation of a trip gives us more of a high than trip retrospection, there’s still value in reflecting.
Psychologists believe that remembering your best vacation memories — seeing old friends, seeing cool sights, learning that cool thing you’ve been wanting to try— helps us carry that vacation good will to the present. Remembering the details of our trip helps us “relive the positive experience and the positive feelings we had at the time,” psychology professor Sonja Lyubomirsky wrote in her book “The Myths of Happiness.”
And know that the post-vacation glow helps others glow too. A 2013 study on “collective restoration” found that the restorative effects of a vacation positively affected the well-being of others.
Researchers fount than an increase in vacationing workers in Sweden caused a decline in antidepressant dispensation among the whole population, workers and retirees alike.
Researcher believed that “having more time allows people to travel farther, reach more places and other people, and restore a broader range of depleted resources to a greater degree. Having accessible contexts of companionship, engaging activity, and aesthetic pleasure can enable faster, more complete restoration of individual and relational resources.”
So vacations are not just fun, they’re critical for us to keep going at work. Not enough of us, particularly millennial women, are going on them out of guilt we’ll be seen as lazy.
The solution to keeping our post-vacation highs going is to remember the spirit and memories of how those vacations made us feel and to apply those lessons to our working lives. You can’t live your whole life hunched, waiting for vacation to give you a respite; instead, try to find enjoyment in every day.
And keep planning ahead. The ultimate remedy to our post-vacation crashes is going on more vacations.