Going back to work after vacation — whether a rejuvenating week on some sun-swathed beach or a revitalizing long weekend taking in the great outdoors — can feel like an impossible feat. While a wealth of research does suggest that taking time off restores our morale and refuels us, returning to our day-to-day responsibilities and getting ourselves back into routines can still feel like a daunting experience at first. After all, who wants to go back to sitting at a desk when they were just sitting in the sand?
Don't let the post-vacation crush consume you. Going back to work after vacation can be as refreshing as science says if you follow these tips for hanging onto that vacation glow.
FIrst things first: Don't go straight back to work after vacation. It'd be wise to give yourself a buffer day or two to settle back into the groove of things. You'll want a day to relax and recuperate from, well, relaxing and recuperating. Take the day to catch up on sleep (especially if you're jetlagged!), unpack your bags, do your laundry, grocery shop, prep your meals for the week and get your life in order before the work week takes over. The point is to give your mind time to adjust while also tackling what you can at home to prepare yourself for diving back into your usual routines.
Coming down from a vacation high can lead to low lows, but you can get your endorphins boosted back up again in other ways — ways that don't require you to go very far. Like traveling and vacationing to do the things we love, a number of studies have shown that exercise can boost the mood and help to alleviate anxiety and depression by releasing endorphins — "feel-good hormones" that bind to the brain's opiate receptors, reducing our pain perceptions and triggering feelings of euphoria. So before you head into the office, hit the gym or get outside for some exercise. Take a morning boxing class, go for a run, do some yoga in your living room — whatever you choose to do, be present while doing it.
When you get into the office, the first thing you should do is get yourself organized. That might mean getting yourself physically or mentally organized. Tidy up your office or workspace (you'll also want to do this before you leave for vacation, so you can come back to a clean one!), clean up any papers floating around, organize your sticky notes, and do whatever you can to make your workspace a comfortable, clean and maybe even aesthetically appealing place to spend a few hours each day. You'll also want to open any mail you received while away, chuck junk mail and file necessary mail.
The fact of the matter is that you will, at some point, some how, some way need to come back to life. You'll need to let your colleagues know that you are indeed back in the office and available again. What you don't need to do, however, is rush to let everyone know. Take your time coming back to it all. First, update your away messages on your voice mail and email accounts. Let anyone who needs to immediately know that you're back that you're in the office again and catching up. You don't need to broadcast your return across departments all at once — give yourself some space to breathe while you catch up, and prioritize who you engage with first.
Now that you've told some colleagues that you're working on catching up, you'll need to actually catch up. Before take too deep of a dive into all of your emails and projects waiting on your desk, talk to your coworkers, your boss, your clients and catch up. Try to get a broad sense of what went down while you were off the radar. Having a general idea of where projects or campaigns or duties stand at the current moment will help you better prioritze your to-do list when you start diving back in a little deeper.
You should have a better idea of what's going on around the office at this point. And so it's about time you tackle your inbox that's probably inundated with spam, threads you were unneccesarily CC'd on, junk mail and more anxiety-inducing emails that really serve you no purpose. Do yourself a favor and don't actually open or even wade through all of them. Instead of checking them out in chronological order, it might make more sense to sort your emails by sender now that you've talked to your boss and colleagues and have a general idea of what and who are particularly important right then. For anything that doesn't need to be opened, simply "select all" and delete them to get rid of the clutter. Purge that inbox, and then dig your way out of the rest of the pile by responding to what's most critical first.
Chances are your work calendar has stuff scribbled all over it for the next few weeks, at least. And because you've been away, you might need a quick reminder of what you have coming up. Take a quick glance at your calendar to review it. Then revise your to-do list accordingly. You may also need to rework your calendar itself if you have new, more pressing meetings that pop up in place of others. Regardless of what you have to do, having a clear idea of the weeks ahead and a list you can tackle day by day will help ease your stress.
One of the best parts about vacation is eating new foods. If you have the time to take a long enough lunch on your day back, you should check out a new restaurant in your neighborhood that cooks food you haven't yet tried. If you have the time on your buffer day, you can even cook a new recipe for yourself to bring in for lunch. Eating an exotic lunch will help you feel like you're still experiencing new things and breaking off from routine, even though you're back at work. Learn to be a tourist in your own home.
If you brought back souvenirs from your vacation, bring them or wear them to work. For example, pair a new necklace you bought on the boardwalk with a work dress — you can look at it throughout the day and be reminded of your vacation, and it may even serve as a statement piece that'll start conversations with colleagues about your time away. You can also incorporate your sense of smell by using diffusers with oils from different parts of the world, wherever you'd traveled, or sip some of that local coffee you brought back.. Tapping into your senses will help yu transform the positive energy from your vacation to your workplace.
It's important to always engage with coworkers, but it's especially important to engage with coworkers when you've been MIA for a while. You'll have to engage with them to catch up on what you missed, but it'd also be refreshing to catch up on their own lives where it's appropriate. Chances are you'll want to tell people about your trip and whip out photos; while workplace distractions are frowned upon, and you really should be getting back to it, take the time at lunch or on break to catch up with coworkers about your vacation and what they got into while you were away.
Whatever you do, cut yourself some slack. You're going to have a lot to do; it's inevitable, and it's why many of us don't take vacations in the first place. Accept the workload and take it one day at a time. Remember to breathe, practice self-care routines and keep your chin up.
If you're looking for more tips on getting back on your grind after your vacation, we've got you covered. Here you'll find tips for checking back into work without stress, embracing gratitude and tackling your email inbox.
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AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog, HerReport.org, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report,