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Why am I so sad after a vacation? How to deal with post-vacation depression

Why am I so sad after a vacation? How to deal with post-vacation depression

Vacations are a wonderful and exciting part of life. They can expose you to new adventures and experiences that can change your life as you know it, or give you the relaxation and time off you need to be the best version of yourself. 

However, returning to normal life after vacation isn’t always an easy process. Coming back from vacation can cause stress, overwhelm, and unhappiness. In fact, this is so common that there is a term for this phenomenon: post-vacation depression.

Why Do I Feel Weird After Coming Back from Vacation? Why Am I Crying After a Trip?

There are many reasons someone might feel strange or sad after coming back from a trip. Coming back from vacations, especially longer ones, can feel like a big adjustment. After all, the look and feel of your daily life changes dramatically for a relatively long period of time. When it ends and you’re expected to return to your normal routine and responsibilities, it’s easy to get into a funk.

Sometimes, a trip is so wonderful and stimulating that returning to your normal life, with all its quirks and downsides, can be a bit of a letdown. It can be difficult to feel eager or happy about returning to work or school, doing things you don’t necessarily enjoy, when the past few days or weeks were filled with relaxation and excitement.

With other trips, perhaps you were really looking forward to them, and your high expectations ended up being met with disappointment. Something went wrong, or maybe the experience just wasn’t what you wanted it to be.

This sensation is referred to as post-vacation depression or post-travel blues, and is often caused by work stress or burnout, dissatisfaction with life, or a lack of relaxation during a vacation.

How you feel may not even be related to the vacation itself, but rather something else going on in your life. When we don’t know exactly what we’re feeling or why we’re feeling it, it’s helpful to have ways to figure it out, such as:

  • Thought recording (i.e. journaling): Identify events that triggered distress, identify thoughts that were elicited automatically, identify evidence to support or counter the thought.
  • Mindfulness: Be aware of what’s going on within and around you without judging.
  • Education: Learn about the different types of feelings in order to better identify the ones you are experiencing
  • Behavior activation skills: Find out what activities, people, places, or things make you feel the most satisfying or make you feel the most like yourself, then work to integrate more of them into your schedule.

What Is Post-Trip Depression?

Post-trip depression refers to a type of depression with a wide range of negative feelings that affects one’s functioning after going on vacation. Common symptoms include:

  • Sadness 
  • Frustration/irritability
  • Stress
  • Fatigue
  • Anxiety
  • Inability to focus
  • Lack of motivation
  • Sleep disruption

Though depression after vacation is certainly a real phenomenon, it is different from depression in that it is not recognized as an official diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). 

Post-trip depression is also a short-term condition. This means that, if your symptoms continue to persist, it may be worth exploring if you have a depressive disorder. Factors to consider when your post-trip depression persists are:

  • Symptoms lasting for two or more weeks 
  • Sustained changes in your mood and emotions
  • Sustained changes in cognition, such as your awareness/perception, memory, reasoning, judging, or problem-solving abilities
  • Dissociating from society
  • iImpediment of any daily personal, relational, academic, or social functioning

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How Long Does Post-Vacation Syndrome Last?

Post-vacation depression usually lasts a few days, but some extreme cases last as long as two to three weeks. The duration of the condition can depend on a number of factors, such as:

  • What specific symptoms is the individual experiencing
  • How emotionally vulnerable a person is to negative feelings (either in general or at that moment in time)
  • Overall life satisfaction (i.e. happiness with home, work, school, family, etc.)
  • Amount of stress occurring in regular life (resistance to return to regular life)
  • Events that occurred while on vacation 

If your symptoms continue to occur for more than two weeks, consider talking to a mental health professional, it’s possible you may be suffering from standard depression. This is diagnosable and has effective treatment approaches that can be administered by a therapist or psychiatric professional.

How Long Does It Take to Feel Normal After a Trip?

The length of time it takes for you to adjust to your “normal” after a vacation will likely depend on many factors. Your satisfaction with your life before your trip and the happiness or disappointment caused by the trip itself are two influential factors. Adjusting will take time, though there are ways to assess why it’s taking a while for you to adjust or help yourself get back to regular functioning. Some examples include: 

  • Ensure returning to “normal” includes healthy habits and behavior activation (uplifting activities) rather than just typical or conforming behaviors
  • Think about your situation before the trip: Were you happy, or did this trip highlight some unhappiness in your normal life? 
  • Focus on a good self-care routine
  • Establish firm boundaries and enforce them when they’re tested

Often, time is the main factor in adjusting from one situation to another, but these practices can help make the transition that much easier.

Is Post-Vacation Anxiety a Thing?

Post-vacation anxiety is not a condition recognized in the DSM-5. However, returning to the responsibilities and stress of normal life after being free on a vacation can absolutely cause a certain amount of anxiety. When we are in our regular flow of life, our responsibilities are always there, so the stress they cause may not feel overwhelming, since we are used to the same continued amount of pressure from them. 

The relief of freedom from responsibility that is often experienced on vacation can then make returning to them much more overwhelming, with the full weight of them returning all at once. Many may even come back from vacation with more work to do than when they left, due to work or school demands.

If the anxiety continues to affect your life well after the trip ends, it may be wise to seek advice from a mental health professional, as it may be a sign of chronic stress or an anxiety disorder. They will be able to inform you about your condition and guide you through appropriate treatments.

How Do I Stop Post-Travel Blues?

Over time, symptoms of post-travel blues will likely fade, but if you would like to help cushion the blow or need ways to help yourself cope, there are many practices you can do. Consider implementing the following practices to help you with your post-vacation blues:

  • Incorporate adjustment time into vacation time to help ease you back into your routine
  • Minimize the accumulation of demands prior to travel so that there aren’t too many tasks waiting when you return
  • Treat feelings as your body communicating to you what you need more of. For example, if you feel lonely upon return, consider focusing on increasing time spent with those close to you outside of travel
  • Consider the source of your negative feelings (Did you spend too much money? Do you regret things that happened on the trip?) and take steps to course correct.
  • Be mindful of where you put your focus — is what you’re focusing on eliciting undesirable feelings?
  • Focus on eating well, physical activity, rest, and other good self-care activities
  • Limit the stressors in your life

Though post-travel depression is no fun, remember that this condition is temporary—you have it in you to return to your normal life or make the necessary changes to help ease your sadness and stress. Whether these adjustments look like personal lifestyle changes or seeking assistance from a mental health professional, there are many effective ways to treat post-vacation depression.

  • Clinical writer
  • Editorial writer
  • Clinical reviewer
Laura Harris, LCMHC in Durham, NC
Laura Harris, LCMHCLicensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor
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Laura Harris is a Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor (LCMHC). She specializes in anger, anxiety, depression, stress management, coping strategies development, and problem-solving skills.

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Alexandra “Alex” Cromer is a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) who has 4 years of experience partnering with adults, families, adolescents, and couples seeking help with depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and trauma-related disorders.

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Hannah DeWittMental Health Writer

Hannah is a Junior Copywriter at Thriveworks. She received her bachelor’s degree in English: Creative Writing with a minor in Spanish from Seattle Pacific University. Previously, Hannah has worked in copywriting positions in the car insurance and trucking sectors doing blog-style and journalistic writing and editing.

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