Post-Vacation Depression: Coping Strategies and Understanding Its Causes

Post-Vacation Depression: Coping Strategies and Understanding Its Causes

Reviewed by:
Brenda Camacho, MD
Staff Psychiatrist
at Talkiatry
September 7, 2023

There’s nothing like a great vacation—until, of course, it’s over. For many people, the mental toll of going back to work or school after vacation can be brutal. If this sounds like you, good news: you’re not alone, and there are coping strategies that can help you smoothly return to your daily routine.

Here, we’ll unpack exactly what causes “post-vacation depression” and how best to treat it.

What is post-vacation depression?

“Post-vacation depression” or “post-vacation blues” is the dread of returning to school, work, or any “normal” responsibilities after a great vacation. It includes any accompanying feelings of anxiety, sadness, or lack of motivation.

Post-vacation depression is fairly common. In fact, research finds that while being on vacation can greatly increase feelings of happiness and well-being, it's common for those feelings not to last when we return to our everyday lives.


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Is post-vacation depression a legitimate medical condition?

Post-vacation depression is not a medical condition—although if you’re going through it, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a negative impact on your well-being. The good news is, the symptoms of post-vacation depression have a clear cause—and are temporary.

It’s important to emphasize that "post-vacation depression” is not the same as clinical depression (major depressive disorder)—a common but serious mental health condition characterized by persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness. Unlike post-vacation depression, true clinical depression has symptoms that persist for at least 2 weeks and are severe enough to interfere with everyday life.

Other symptoms of clinical depression include:

  • Loss of interest in hobbies or activities you once enjoyed
  • Sleep problems, including insomnia or sleeping too much
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Anxiety, restlessness, or irritability
  • Appetite and/or weight changes
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Persistent thoughts of suicide or death

If you suspect you have something more than the post-vacation blues or post-vacation depression, seek help from a mental health professional.

What causes post-vacation depression?

Post-vacation depression may be caused by one or more of the following:

  • A tightly-scheduled vacation without enough time to unwind or disconnect
  • Too rapid a transition back to everyday life
  • Overall dissatisfaction with your “everyday life” including relationships with loved ones
  • A very stressful job or school situation that feels difficult to return to ‘real life’
  • Lack of self-care in your regular routine; poor work-life balance  
  • Underlying mental health conditions

How do I prevent post-vacation depression? 4 tips from our psychiatrists

If you experience the post-vacation blues know that it’s normal to be disappointed when an especially pleasurable experience ends. However, that doesn’t make it easy to cpe. The following tips from our psychiatrists about post-vacation habits can help you get a handle on post-vacation depression and improve your well-being.

1. Confront the major stressors in your life

Sometimes, all it takes is some time away to help you recognize unresolved conflicts at work or home. If coming back from vacation to regular life feels especially tough because of a bad relationship with a colleague, maybe it’s time to discuss this with your boss. Or, if you simply can’t bear the thought of returning to an apartment you hate, it may be time to consider a new living situation.

Feeling overwhelmed by work stress? Check out: Combatting Anxiety at Work: 8 Tips from our Psychiatrists

Have other worries weighing you down? Check out: 5 Tips on How to Stop Worrying About Everything

2. Plan activities you enjoy

Just because your vacation is over, doesn’t mean you have to stop having fun. In fact, it’s a great idea to plan a few activities you especially love for soon after your vacation—say, going out to dinner with friends, family members, or loved ones you haven’t seen in a while, getting a massage,  seeing a movie you’ve been wanting to see, or blocking off a few hours for some physical activity, like a hike. Adding some fun in your normal routine can do wonders for your well-being and having something to look forward to can help take the sting out of the end of your vacation.

3. Get back to a regular sleep schedule

Vacations often represent a disruption to our normal sleep schedule (especially if jet lag is involved). For some people, it’s a time to sleep more, while others sleep less in favor of doing activities and staying up late. Regardless of how you choose to sleep on vacation, try to ensure you get back to a regular sleep schedule as soon as possible after your vacation ends. Research shows that sleep is intricately linked to mental health, and getting consistent, regular sleep is one key to preventing mood dysregulation.

4. Plan your next vacation

When it comes to ending the post-vacation blues, it may be as simple as getting your next trip on the books. Research shows that while the enjoyment you get from a vacation might not last beyond the trip itself, it can start weeks, or even months before your getaway begins. So, start planning that trip (better yet get together with friends or loved ones to plan it)—even if it’s a while away, it should help ease the sadness you’re feeling now and improve your mental health.  

When to seek help

Feeling disappointed, sad, or even anxious when your vacation is over can be a normal part of life. The good news is, the feelings should resolve with time—and potentially resolve a little faster if you adopt some of the tips suggested above.

If you just can’t seem to shake your post-vacation depression, however—particularly if symptoms persist for longer than two weeks and start to interfere with your daily life—it may be a sign of a more serious underlying condition.  A mental health professional, like a psychiatrist, licensed therapist, or licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) can help you sort through your feelings and identify if there’s a deeper issue at play.

With Talkiatry, you can see a psychiatrist from the comfort of your home, and you can schedule your first appointment in a matter of days. To get started, take our free online assessment, to see if Talkiatry is right for you and get matched with a psychiatrist  that’s right for you.

About Talkiatry    

Talkiatry is a national psychiatry practice that provides in-network, virtual care. Co-founded by a patient and a triple-board-certified psychiatrist, Talkiatry has over 300 doctors, 60 insurance partners, and first visits available in days. We treat patients with anxiety, depression, trauma, ADHD, and more. Get started with a short online assessment.

The information in this article is for informational and educational purposes only and should never be substituted for medical advice, diagnoses, or treatment. If you or someone you know may be in danger, call 911 or the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 right away.

Sources

Applied Research in Quality of Life | Vacationers Happier, but Most not Happier After a Holiday

Division of Sleep Medicine Harvard Medical School | Why Sleep Matters: Benefits of Sleep

Journal of Happiness Studies | Vacation (after-) effects on employee health and well-being, and the role of vacation activities, experiences and sleep

Mayo Clinic | Depression (major depressive disorder)

Dr. Brenda Y. Camacho holds the position of Staff Psychiatrist at Talkiatry. She is board-certified in Adult Psychiatry. She has been practicing for over 25 years.

While having treated a wide range of adult patients, Dr. Camacho’s primary focus is treating adult outpatients with mood or psychotic disorders. Her practice focuses on medication management. Typically, she offers this in conjunction with supportive or insight-oriented therapy in 30-minute follow-up visits. On occasion, Dr. Camacho will believe additional therapy is also needed and asks that you bring a therapist into your care team to provide the best outcome.

Dr. Camacho completed her undergraduate studies at Tufts University. She received her medical degree from Temple University School of Medicine in Philadelphia, PA and then continued with Temple for her residency in adult psychiatry. After completing training, Dr. Camacho worked at Cooper Hospital in Camden NJ as Associate Director of Consultation/Liaison Service and Psychiatry Residency Training and Co-Director of the Neuropsychiatry Clinic. She then began working exclusively in outpatient settings, joined NewPoint Behavioral Health Care, and served as Medical Director before and after their merge with Acenda Integrated Health.

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