Ask a Therapist: Column #3 On Transitions
Q: I always feel so emotional towards the end of my summer vacation. How do I make the transition back to regular life less difficult?
A: To begin, tell yourself that it is okay to have mixed emotions about the end of a trip, a cottage getaway, or a mini-break weekend. There is a certain letdown that is a normal part of transitioning back to “real life”. Note that you may also have some feelings of joy or merriment. Sometimes you will have lingered in deep connectedness to others or to nature. You will have had times of laughter and times of frustration while vacationing. These mixed emotions are natural reactions to the lived experiences your time away has afforded. To have strong feelings of connection to a place or time means that it mattered, that it was meaningful, that it restored you, and that’s precisely why you prioritized your time away.
Having said that, to keep some more positive vacation vibes alive, here are 5 tips that might help:
Have something to look forward to as soon as possible upon your return. If you know you are just headed home to an empty fridge, an inbox full of unread emails, and piles of dirty laundry, it might not feel so appealing to be on route. Consider purchasing tickets to a local event soon after your arrival at home to give you that feeling of anticipation. Maybe you could book a dinner with friends to share about your vacation. Perhaps there is a house project that you’d like to start. Whatever you plan, make sure it is something that feels inspiring and motivating to you so that you get that excitement energy working for you. You want to be coming home to something not just leaving from something.
Reflect on why the vacation was so meaningful for you and try to incorporate some of those elements into your regular life. If time in nature was a restorative factor, make a point of taking more walks in the local park or visit nearby areas that provide that same atmosphere – even if it is just your back porch! If the slower pace was a welcome reprieve, consider eliminating hurry by being mindful and present and less rushed as you move through your daily routine. Perhaps the quality time you had with spouse, family, or friends was a joy to you; if so, put a date night, a bonfire with friends, or a planned phone call on the calendar and make room for continued connection. Maybe sleeping in and napping was the best part! Give yourself permission to rest on the weekend or to take naps on your lunch hour in a way that sustains you. If having time to reflect was a bonus, create space in your life for some journalling and meaningful conversations with friends so that you don’t lose touch with that valuable insight.
Reminisce throughout the year and anticipate the next getaway. Vacations are not only enjoyed while on them, the mental boost of anticipation and the joy of reminiscing extend the impact of that holiday on your mental health. Make a slide show or a photo album of your favourite pictures and revisit them whenever you feel like it. Share funny anecdotes from your time away or recount the details of your adventures to a friend to remind yourself of the memories you created and how much they meant to you.
Play tourist in your own area. If seeing new things inspired you, then plan some little staycations. Take a drive to a new town or park on a Sunday afternoon. Book dinner at a local restaurant that is new to you. Visit local attractions with fresh eyes. Go out for ice cream or take a walk on a local beach to experience those summertime flavours, sights, and sounds. Train yourself to look for opportunities to take advantage of tourist attractions in your town and that will bolster the vacation vibes at home.
Practice gratitude. Make an ongoing list of all the things that you love about your home and your life there. Count the blessings – large and small – that punctuate your beautiful, day-to-day life. Remind yourself how much you love your own bed, that you get to attend your local farmers’ market, or that you can cozy up in your favourite chair again. Don’t forget to give thanks for the opportunity to have had a vacation and remind yourself of the luxurious gift that it has been.
Of course, it is perfectly normal to experience some mixed emotions at the end of a holiday; but, naming and validating those feelings along with some intentional planning for at-home fun will lift your spirits and help you feel more like re-entry to regular life is not so bad after all.
To submit YOUR question for consideration in a future column, or for more information about psychotherapy services that could help with emotional well-being or life transitions, email firstname.lastname@example.org.