Post-vacation depression is the term for the negative emotions or depression people may experience when returning from vacation.

Although being on vacation may help to relieve stress and improve mood, the positive effects may not always last on returning home.

People may experience emotional discomfort, nostalgia, or an increase in stress when returning to their regular routine, work, or studies.

This article looks at what post-vacation depression is, its symptoms, ways to prevent it, and how to cope if someone is experiencing it.

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Post-vacation depression is not a clinically recognized condition but refers to the depressed state people may experience after returning from vacation.

People may also refer to post-vacation depression as post-vacation syndrome, post-holiday blues, or holiday syndrome, which first appeared as a concept in the 1950s.

Symptoms of post-vacation depression may interfere with a person’s day-to-day life, including personal relationships and performance when returning to work or studies.

People may experience the following symptoms with post-vacation depression:

  • vague anxiety
  • increased irritability
  • feeling nostalgic
  • difficulty sleeping
  • general discomfort or unease

Symptoms may last up to 2 weeks after returning from vacation and affect how a person performs at work or school or in their relationships.

Symptoms of depression include:

  • persistently feeling sad, anxious, or empty
  • feeling hopeless or pessimistic
  • feeling irritable, frustrated, or restless
  • feeling guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
  • loss of interest in usually enjoyable activities
  • fatigue or lack of energy
  • difficulty concentrating
  • changes to sleeping patterns
  • appetite changes
  • unexplained weight changes
  • unexplained physical aches and pains
  • suicidal thoughts or actions

If people experience some of the above almost daily, for most of the day, for 2 weeks or more, it may indicate depression.

Post-vacation depression may occur for a number of reasons.

Although research has found that vacations may help to improve mood, reduce mental stress, and increase life satisfaction, the positive effects may disappear within the first week of returning to everyday life.

On returning home, people may feel pressure to immediately get back to work and their daily routine, which may cause mental stress to increase again.

Going on vacation is a potential way to recover from work-related stress. In a 2020 study of 60 workers, researchers measured psychological changes that occurred before, during, and after vacation.

There was no change in negative emotions, stress, and aggression before the vacation, but these all decreased significantly afterward.

Researchers found that some benefits only occurred in people with low work stress. In some people, work stress appeared to spread into the pre- and post-vacation periods, which may reduce the vacation’s positive effects.

Some theories around post-vacation depression include the need to make adjustments between vacation and the routine of everyday life.

When returning from a different country, some people may need to reintegrate into their day-to-day life and society.

People may also have negative side effects of vacationing that may affect them post-vacation, such as sunburn, insect bites, excessive food and alcohol consumption, or infections.

Stress in the workplace or school may contribute to post-vacation depression. Vacations may provide an escape from a stressful situation, such as conflict or harassment at work, which people then have to face when they return.

Putting a plan in place before going on vacation may help to prevent post-vacation depression on a person’s return. People can take steps to alter how they transition from holiday back into their regular life. This could include:

  • allowing a day or two to adjust between returning from holiday and starting back to work
  • returning to a person’s regular sleep schedule
  • planning some enjoyable leisure or social activities
  • having a positive routine in place so people can begin work calmly
  • keeping up regular physical activity
  • practicing relaxation techniques, such as meditation

People may also want to plan a fun activity to look forward to for the weeks or months following their vacation. Planning a future vacation, even far in advance, may also help remind people they have another break to look forward to.

If someone has an unresolved conflict at home or work that contributes to post-vacation depression, taking action to deal with these issues before going away may help.

People may find documenting their trip in a journal or scrapbook, or making an album of photos, may help them cope with negative emotions post-vacation.

A 2020 study found that participants who created scrapbooks to capture memories helped provide psychological comfort.

Keeping souvenirs from their vacation or giving a souvenir to someone may allow people to share vacation experiences. It may also strengthen their intention to revisit a place they enjoyed.

People may find that practicing mindfulness helps reduce anxiety and depression. It can help prevent them from focusing excessively on the past or the future. Ways to be mindful include:

  • taking deep breaths through the nose and exhaling through the mouth, while counting
  • taking a walk and engaging the senses to notice the surroundings
  • eating slowly and savoring each bite to notice the textures, smells, and taste
  • scanning the body by bringing attention to each area and focusing on how it feels

If people are experiencing work-related stress, the American Psychological Association (APA) suggests the following ways to help manage it:

  • using a journal to keep track of situations that cause stress and how a person responded to it
  • finding healthy ways of coping with stress and tension, such as exercise and good-quality sleep
  • prioritizing self-care and making time for enjoyable hobbies or activities, such as reading a book, going to a concert, or spending quality time with family
  • creating work-life boundaries, such as not checking emails outside the workday or not answering the phone after certain hours
  • allowing regular time to rest and recharge away from work
  • talking with a supervisor to create a plan to help manage work-related stress
  • talking with trusted friends, family, or colleagues, and asking for support

If someone is experiencing post-vacation depression and requires support, they may want to ask their employer whether they offer an employee assistance program.

An employee assistance program may provide resources for coping with stress, counseling, or referral to a mental health professional. People can also talk with their healthcare professionals about their mental health.

If someone continues to feel the effects of post-vacation depression, they may want to talk with a therapist or psychologist who can help suggest coping strategies and treatment options.

A person who needs immediate support can call:

People may experience post-vacation depression after returning from a holiday. They may feel sadness, a low mood, or increased stress when returning to their everyday responsibilities and routine.

Allowing a few days to readjust before returning to work may help, as well as planning enjoyable activities when returning and documenting a trip to capture memories.

If people are experiencing work stress, they may want to put measures in place or talk with their employer about ways to manage stress.

If feelings of depression continue, people may want to talk with their healthcare professional or a mental health professional for advice.