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Already feeling like the calmer, stress-free ‘holiday you’ is a distant memory? You’re not alone.

You deleted Slack from your phone, turned off your notifications and crafted an out-of-office message that was just the right level of passive-aggressive before heading off on holiday. But instead of returning to work filled with energy and brimming with motivation, that post-holiday zen feeling seems to have dissipated as soon as you opened your laptop.

Sound familiar? You’re far from alone. In a 2018 study of more than 1,500 workers, almost a quarter of the participants (based in the US) said they felt that the mental benefits of taking a holiday disappeared as soon as they returned to work, while 40% said the benefits only lasted a few days. “We live in a culture where it’s very ‘hustle hustle hustle’. While we’re away, cheap viagra soft canadian pharmacy now this continues, and we often come back into work having to pick a lot of things up from the time we’ve been away,” notes coach and culture consultant Zoe Mallett. “Handovers before we go away aren’t really handovers, they’re more ‘hold this just in case it sets on fire until I’m back-overs’.” 

However good your intentions, as soon as your work and social life returns to its usual pace, falling back into bad habits can be all too easy: eating lunch at your desk, slumped over your computer; overloading yourself with responsibilities because we feel guilty about the time off we’ve just had; and scrolling through work emails just before bed (really, is there a worse way to prepare for a night’s sleep?).

If you’ve previously experienced burnout (like 79% of UK workers, according to a 2021 survey) this speedy slide back into the hamster-wheel routine of work-home-sleep can feel especially concerning – as if all the positive adjustments you’d made during your break weren’t worthwhile.

“Burnout is the result of giving out more than we are taking for ourselves,” says Dr Elena Touroni, consultant psychologist and co-founder of The Chelsea Psychology Clinic. “If this balance falls out of whack, over time we’ll find that our psychological and physical resources simply burn out. When we’re on holiday, we tend to unwind and do nourishing activities that benefit our wellbeing, but when we return and the busyness of everyday life catches up on us, we easily neglect those nourishing activities.”

What are the warning signs of burnout?

A lack of energy and motivation are important red flags to look out for. Find yourself forgetting simple things, or “you’re in meetings but you don’t really feel present?” These are also signs that you’re struggling, Mallett says, as are “not looking forward to the things you used to,” and “feeling like you’ve only just nodded off” when your morning alarm starts beeping.

It’s important to remember, too, that the causes of burnout aren’t always rooted in our work environment. “Stress can be put onto us by situations and people – we don’t necessarily have to want to achieve something or feel pressure to make something perfect to experience burnout,” Mallett says. “You could be involved in a stressful family situation, you or someone could be ill […] This type of burnout can cause people to experience the same level of exhaustion as someone who feels pressure to achieve unattainable results.”

How can you stop burning out again when we return to work?

First of all, if burnout has devastated your motivation and concentration span, your holiday was only ever going to be a temporary salve. Although a break from work is beneficial in the short term, it is never going to tackle the underlying issues.

When you return from your trip, Mallett recommends taking some time to harness the post-holiday feeling of calm to “think about what you want the rest of the year to look like. Have you been running on empty? If so, what do you need to change? Who needs to change around you, and who do you need to let know to help those changes be made?” 

She then suggests putting those answers into three categories: “Things that a) can be changed easily, b) will need navigating carefully to change and c) that we want to change but [are] not in a place at the moment to do so.”

“Clarifying that these things are actually needed can help you take your power back, especially if the things listed in a) and b) can be handed to someone else, adapted or removed completely. Think about what your life practically could look like with these adjustments, then work out what needs to happen to make these plans a reality and give yourself a timeline for when you’d like changes to be made.” 

Set boundaries

This could mean anything from banning yourself from “checking emails from bed” to stopping “answering work calls past 6pm”, Touroni says. Just make sure these new parameters are specific. If you tell yourself that you’ll “be better at saying no” or “won’t take on too much extra work”, you will most likely struggle to put that into practice as the aims are too vague.

“Boundaries only work if you are clear on them, the people around you know them and you try your hardest not to let anyone break those boundaries,” Mallett adds. She recommends speaking to people at work and telling them you’ve reflected while away and you want to work differently now.

Practise mentally detaching from your workday

Easier said than done when that awkward conversation with your boss plays on a high-definition loop inside your head every time you try to switch off, we know, but studies have shown that employees who are more detached from work in their downtime experience greater satisfaction with their lives and fewer symptoms of psychological strain (while still being engaged at work).

“Holidays are relaxing because you are able to physically detach yourself from the demands of your life and work, so coming back, learning how to detach yourself mentally can work just as well,” says counselling psychologist Farya Barlas. “This can be through means of mindfulness, meditation or taking time to just ‘be’ rather than ‘do’. 

Just do… nothing

Yes, really. Part of the reason why some holidays are so restorative is that we allow ourselves to do very little, without tying ourselves in knots about whether we should have said yes to that project / booked that extra gym class / squeezed in those after-work drinks with that friend you haven’t seen for five years. “Simply normalising resting and doing nothing,” Barlas says, is key. “Understanding that resting is healing and a way of empowering your creativity [is] not wasted time.”     

Prioritise the things you love doing

“No matter how busy you are, it’s really important to make time to do the things that nourish you and bring a sense of wellbeing,” Touroni says. “Plan fun, nourishing activities – whether it’s fitness classes, a cinema trip or dinner out with friends.” Barlas adds: “One step can be to create a simple self-care ritual for yourself and commit to it. Whatever might work best for you, so long as you stick to it and take that time and space for yourself.” 

If you, or someone you know, is struggling with their mental health, you can find support and resources on the mental health charity Mind’s website and NHS Every Mind Matters or access the NHS’s list of mental health helplines and services.

If you are struggling with your mental health, you can also ask your GP for a referral to NHS Talking Therapies, or you can self-refer.

For confidential support, you can also call the Samaritans in the UK on 116 123 or email [email protected] In a crisis, call 999.

Image: Getty

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