Post-holiday doldrums – normal musings or sign for change?

by Bernadette Healy 

Bernadette feb pic

Have you recently returned to work following a holiday? How are you feeling about being back? Hopefully after a couple of days of normal adjustment, you are feeling refreshed and re-focused with the energy to reflect on possible new goals and intentions for the year ahead. Or perhaps you have committed to just taking each day at a time and avoiding being too future-oriented.

Alternatively, you may be feeling in a similarly awful way at work now as you did just before you went on holiday, but with the newly added stress of finding that the rejuvenation you expected from having had the holiday has not eventuated. If this is the case, it is time to ask yourself why you are not feeling refreshed, and to explore the possible causes. You can use the following to assist your reflection process:

  • You did not put any structures in place to assist you to be on holiday – such as an ‘out of office’ notification – to manage others’ expectations with regard to action about emails (or other form of contact) received during the holiday period. Other examples could be notification to referral sources, re-direction of work-related mail, and a conversation with managers before the break to ensure shared understanding about what could or could not be done before taking leave and on return.
  • You remained accessible to work-related queries from particular individual/s (availability will reduce relaxation benefit even if queries are not forth-coming).
  • You did bits and pieces (or more) related to your work during the holiday.
  • You went into the office when you had planned to stay away.
  • You did not take long enough to really rest and recover.
  • There are obstacles in your personal life which prevented you from enjoying a relaxing and rejuvenating break.
  • You allowed the plans of others to dominate, to the extent that even modest plans to ‘do your own thing’ did not eventuate.
  • You did not participate in your favourite leisure activities.
  • You compromised on your choice of holiday for whatever reason and did not think there would be any impact, or made an incorrect assessment of the impact.
  • You did not incorporate self-care activities into the holiday such as nutrition, exercise and moderate use of alcohol (which are particularly important if these aspects are routinely neglected).
  • You spent more than you could afford, and ruminated on this often.
  • You did not allow yourself to spend what you could afford and which you knew was required for you to have a good break.
  • Any other holiday-time specific reason that occurs to you.

If any of the above applies to you, take some time jot down comments in an appropriate spot in your diary to assist you to prevent a similar experience following your next holiday.

If none of the above applies to you, it may be that the feeling of depletion on return to work (allowing for normal tiredness from the transition – that is, the tiredness of adjusting back into a routine or to a very different daily pattern than that previously), is a more job-specific problem.

Perhaps the organisation you are working for is not a good fit for you.

Perhaps you are in a very difficult role with substantial pressure and find yourself struggling, more often than not, to cope. Before your holiday you may have thought I am just tired, it is the end of the year, I just need a break – but have since found that you quickly began to feel exactly the same as you did before the holiday. In this case, you need to seriously reflect on your situation. If such reflection results in the decision to re-commit to the role, you need to develop a personal stress management plan to ensure that you can manage the situation in a healthy manner. It may be that the role has an inherent risk of burnout for you (for example, risk of burnout is increased when you are in a role which demands that you use a skill set which, while competent, you dislike using and having to doing so for more than short bursts of time). Perhaps part of your stress management plan is to incorporate a departure plan.

It is also very important to look more broadly than just within yourself when you consider the experience of work-related stress.i

Perhaps there are ongoing structural issues within your employing organisation which increase the likelihood of employee stress. It may be that your employing organisation has too little regard for the psychological health and safety of its staff.ii A well-designed and evidence-based questionnaire which will enable you to assess this for yourself is from Guarding Minds at Work.

Still not sure about what the matter is? Perhaps it is just taking you a little longer this year to adjust back into the world of work because you just do not want to do it. If this is accurate, try the softening impact of self compassion.iii That is, be kind to yourself about this adjustment period, remind yourself of your common humanity – imperfection is part of the shared human experience. Use a mindful approach as you reflect – noticing and appreciating how you are in the present moment, accepting it and recognizing that it will soon pass.


i  Obviously a degree of stress is expected with most jobs (and it is certainly not all bad or even unwelcome).  And, being a member of the legal profession in particular necessitates coping with many inherently stressful tasks and duties as a predictable and required part of the job.

ii  Canada has a comprehensive standard for psychological health and safety in the workplace and the Mental Health Commission of Canada includes a link to that standard, plus other relevant resource material.  As you may be aware, the Tristan Jepson Foundation is currently involved in the development of psychological health and safety guidelines for the legal profession in Australia.

iii  See Neff, K.D. & Roos, V. Self-Compassion Versus Global Self-Esteem: Two Different Ways of Relating to Oneself Journal of Personality. 77:1, Feb. 2009.