Vacationing, stay-cationing, backpacking or lazy beach-ing… are the after effects of different kinds of vacations the same? Globally, psychologists have tried to make sense of vacations, whether active or relaxing, and see how they impact people and what can be done to get the most out of them before returning to normal routine life.
A large number of people tend to report their stress levels go up before a vacation and have trouble managing stress levels – rushing to meet deadlines, clearing their workload and so on. Because of this rush, they find it hard to ‘wind down’ when their vacation begins, and it can take up to a few days for some people to start relaxing. Then, before returning from vacation, tension levels start increasing again knowing that a pile of work will be waiting upon arrival. Before they know it, the vacation has come and gone with not much 'switching off' being done... sound familiar?
What causes vacation stress
At the start of a vacation, it's normal for some people to feel generally in a lower mood – that's because they're still tense from work with the body and mind needing time to wind down. However most people are roughly about 80% of the time in a high mood, feeling relaxed and ‘away’ from stressors back home. The final 20% of the vacation is divided into 10% becoming tense/grumpy and in a low mood again (because they're thinking about the logistics of getting home, food shopping, starting work on Monday, etc.) – this is what researchers in the Netherlands call a "holiday happiness curve".
A number of factors can impact mood levels whilst on vacation – ranging from weather, overall stress levels, relationships with people they are on vacation with, food, accommodation, illness and also length of vacation. People report higher mood levels if on vacations between 3-6 days – this is because they have only a few days off so they focus on making the most of their trip.
Despite negative things that can pop up during vacations, University of Washington researchers claim that vacationmakers generally remember enjoying vacations much more than they actually enjoy them at the time. they call this "the rosy-view effect". When we return, we tend to generally forget the negative things first and then once we get back into routine, unfortunately we forget everything else and, the vacation becomes a distant memory!
How to beat vacation stress
Researchers at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, claim that we need to apply a "peak-end rule" to our vacations: obtaining a high peak of enjoyment resulting in ending on a positive note. Adding to this, it is important to include memorable (positive ones of course!) experiences, pleasurable moments, togetherness, periods of relaxation, sharing positive family moments and so on. It's not the length of a vacation that matters so much for positive mood, it's how we spend it (mood) and how long we reminisce afterwards.
When returning from a vacation, stress levels can shoot up again, in particular if we know that there is a pile of work waiting for us or a range of other stressors that were there before we left for the vacation. Remember that if we focus on the negative aspects of returning, all the positive effects of the vacation will literally vanish, and it doesn't matter how long the vacation was for in the first place. Therefore, I cannot stress enough how important it is to refocus the mind on the positive aspects of returning home.
Benefits of going on vacation
• Having had different experiences
• Having had a break from the usual routine
• Foreign travel can spur creativity (according to the Kellogg School of Management) and increase work engagement and productiveness when we return
• Better mood, reduced emotional exhaustion, and relaxation (this reduces stress accumulated during work
• Physical health (studies involving male professionals found that the more vacations/breaks they took, the less likely they were to have a heart attack)
• Bonding with partners, family and friends
• ‘Recharging’ batteries
• And other benefits that are personal to you
Vacation benefits feel like they fade quickly when we return to piles of accumulated work. One way to avoid your work mounting up while you are away is to speak to your line manager/supervisor and/or colleagues about the workload and together, decide on what can be done within the time and resources available (e.g. delegation). This alone can massively help your stress levels when you return to work. Also, some people find it helpful to log-in to their work every morning (and/or evenings) for about 15 minutes, to check in and see if all is under control and deal with any burning issues if needed. Then they can relax for the rest of the day and know that they won't return to a crisis. There's no 'one-size-fits-all' approach, so make sure you try different routes and see which works for you.
How to avoid pre-vacation stress and post vacation blues
1. Plan at least a week ahead. Make lists of what you will need to take with you and what you still need to do before you leave (writing lists reduces stress as we don’t need to keep everything in our heads!).
2. Speak to your line manager/supervisor and colleagues about current workload – (i.e. make a plan re delegating work and/or dealing with only emergencies).
3. Research: read reviews about where you will be going and staying (e.g. travelfish, tripadvisor, lonelyplanet, etc.).
4. Be open-minded by being prepared for the unexpected and look forward to it.
5. Plan a budget but then add extra so you can do various activities and avoid running out of money which can cause huge stress and unnecessary arguments.
6. Allow yourself to enjoy!
7. Expect some difficulties to come up, that’s part of life, but don’t let it get to you – you’re on vacation, make the most of it, as you won't want to have regrets when you come back home.
8. Recharge your batteries and look forward to the positive things about coming back and working towards your goals.
9. Look forward to sharing your vacation photos and stories with others.
10. Look forward to going back to work, so that you can move on with things at
work, and plan your next vacation!
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