How to deal with vacation anxiety: From mindfulness to avoiding social media

Experts explain that it’s common to feel uneasy when we first go on holiday, as our mind may have difficulty coping with the sudden change in pace and the lack of structure

Vacation Beach

Luis is a marketing executive at a technology company. His job is demanding and his routine is filled with meetings and deadlines. Luis largely associates his self-esteem and personal worth with his job performance. And although he loves his job, he also longs for his vacation. However, every time he goes on a holiday, he feels anxious. During his first few days off, he feels restless and irritable. Although he is physically away from work, mentally he is still there, compulsively checking his email. He finds the lack of structure disconcerting and has difficulty relaxing. He feels guilty about not “doing anything productive” and this triggers his anxiety.

Luis is a highly committed and dedicated worker who struggles with Leisure Syndrome: “His mind is so used to being busy that he finds it difficult to adapt to the time off and lack of structure that comes with the vacations. Although he craves rest, his own mind gets in the way of him fully enjoying herself,” explains Isabel Aranda, a health psychologist and Chief Content Officer at TherapyChat.

Aranda explains that vacation anxiety is not a psychological problem, but rather a response to an abrupt change in our daily routines. “When we work, our mind and body get used to a constant rhythm of stress and activity. When we go on vacation, this rhythm is interrupted and can generate anxiety.”

“Experiencing initial anxiety during the vacations is a normal reaction to the change of pace in routines,” she adds. “Over time, most people adapt to the new leisure routine and anxiety symptoms ease.”

Symptoms of vacation anxiety can vary from person to person, but according to Aranda they usually include restlessness, difficulty relaxing, irritability, insomnia and even a sense of emptiness or lack of purpose. “You may find yourself compulsively checking your work email or worrying about the tasks you left pending,” she explains.

Alejandra Nuño, a sociologist and consultant in sustainable growth, health and organizational wellbeing, points out that vacation anxiety is more likely to affect people in high-stress jobs, as well as freelancers “who can’t even think about vacations because free time is a luxury.”

The problem can be triggered by the change in routine, the lack of structure, and the feeling of missing out that might come from being disconnected from work. Having unrealistic expectations about the vacations can also be a trigger, as “any little setback or stress can cause anxiety,” says Aranda.

Here are some tips from the experts on how to address the feeling.

Gradually transition

Aranda recommends gradually transitioning into your vacation. “Instead of jumping from a full work week to complete time off, try to reduce your workload gradually.” And, above all, don’t forget to set an “out-of-office” message on your work email and calls.

Get organized

“Establish a daily routine: even if you’re on vacation, having some structure can be helpful. It could be as simple as getting up and going to bed at the same time every day or planning a relaxing activity for each day,” says Aranda.

Meditation, mindfulness and exercise

“Try to spend a few minutes every day to focus on the present moment and release worries and tensions,” advises Aranda, who also recommends physical exercise: “It’s a great way to relieve anxiety. Whether it’s a walk in nature or a yoga class, moving your body can be hugely beneficial.”

Allow yourself to feel bored

“We turn to screens when we’re bored, stressed or lacking affection,” says psychiatrist Marian Rojas, author of the bestseller How to Make Good Things Happen to You. “But boredom is not bad: it is the cradle of creativity and wonder. And if we are not able to deal with stress and anxiety, we will have zero tolerance for frustration.”

Avoid social media

Researchers from Stanford and New York University recently conducted a study on the welfare effects of social media. In their experiment, the researchers divided the 2,844 participants into two groups: one half was not allowed to use Facebook for 30 days; and the other could continue to connect whenever they wanted. The results were enlightening: in the first group, depression and anxiety fell and general well-being increased. What’s more, staying off Facebook meant they had an extra 90 minutes a day to spend with family and friends. Interestingly, too, they also spent less time online.

Alejandra Nuño also says that social media can also create stress if we feel pressured to post photos of idyllic vacations and of ourselves looking our best.

Seasonal anxiety vs chronic anxiety

Some people who experience anxiety on the first days of their vacation may tend to feel anxious in other situations in their lives. This may indicate a generalized anxiety disorder, characterized by chronic, excessive worry and stress. "However, not all people who experience anxiety during the first few days of vacation will have high levels of anxiety in their daily lives. Some will only experience anxiety in response to specific changes in their routine or environment, such as the vacations. It is critical to remember that anxiety is not 'one size fits all.' Its manifestation and triggers can vary greatly from person to person. Initial vacation anxiety may simply be a reaction to a temporary change in a person's routine, and not necessarily an indicator of chronic anxiety." 


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