It’s the end of the summer holiday season and many of us need time to start making transitions from holiday mode back to our usual routine whatever that may be; work, university or school. 

More often than not we expect this to happen easily and therefore don’t allow enough time and space to transition from one to the other, treating ourselves a bit like a machine that functions seamlessly and can go effortlessly from one way of operating to another at the press of a button. However, we are not machines, we are complex beings, experiencing a myriad of feelings, emotions and mental states, interconnected with others and the wider fabric of life.

When we are on holiday, on a retreat, spending time away with friends, our partner, family and children or on our own, we enter a different mode of being.  This means that we step out of our usual daily routine and structure, out of “doing mode of mind” and more into “being mode of mind”.  We allow ourselves to plan less, to be spontaneous, to go with the flow, to play and have fun.  This enables the body, mind and heart to relax, restore and recharge.

Taking the time to process our experience

Returning to work from being away, or getting back to doing what we usually do, can feel very jarring if we don’t give ourselves some time and space as well as self-care and self-kindness. As human beings, we need time to process our experience, to let life flow through us, to make sense of what we’ve been doing and to feel what we feel before we turn towards the next thing.

This is also true the other way round. Many of us need time to make the transition from work mode into holiday or retreat mode: time to arrive by slowing down, doing little and resting.

When we return home from having spent time away with others whether a loved one, friends or family, we often feel flat and sad which is caused by a sense of loss and even grief at parting and something good ending. A lot of us find it hard to let go of these precious and enjoyable times, we want to hold on to them, resist the change and this can feel painful.   Interestingly, a survey carried out in 2015 found that 64% of the people interviewed said they had experienced “holiday blues”.

Returning from a relaxing and carefree time away with little stimulation, to a full work schedule, life admin, the news and social media can over-stimulate the mind and leads to tension in the body.  It can also cause severe headaches and restless sleep.  To prevent this happening pacing the information intake and workload is crucial during these sort of transitions.

Depending on our personality type transitions usually take between one and three days. Some of us are more adaptable, so it is important not to compare yourself to others, but meet yourself exactly where you are and work out what you personally need to do to transition well.

By nature, transitions can feel a little uncomfortable because of our resistance to change but they don’t have to feel jarring or throw us into a low mood, a depressive state or create feelings of isolation.  Gina Moffa, a licensed clinical social worker and psychotherapist based in New York says, “The key to preventing the post-holiday blues is knowing that you get them,” and “prevention is about understanding our seasonal rhythms and working with them, leaning into them, and then finding a way to work with them instead of fighting the feelings when they arise.”

Tips to cope with transitions in your life:

  1. Begin to notice transitions in your life more, both the small and big ones. If you keep a journal, write them down. This will help you to accept and cope with them better.
  2. Acknowledge the feelings that come with transitions: the sadness of parting and something precious ending or the joyful anticipation of a holiday, an adventure or something new.
  3. Feel the resistance to transitioning, to change and release into the flow of life by pausing, slowing down and breathing (versus holding the breath). Taking deep breaths will help you to stay clear headed, grounded and calm.
  4. Set realistic and manageable tasks for day 1 of any transition. For example, when transitioning back to work, make sure you do tasks that don’t require major focus and concentration such as catching up with emails, admin tasks, diary management etc. If possible, arrange for an extra day off before returning to work so you can catch up on chores and then feel ready to start work.
  5. Take regular and short breaks throughout the day, step outside and go for a walk. Being outside helps us feel more attuned to how we are feeling, calming the mind and reducing stress. When you are feeling upset or anxious nature has the ability to ground you in the moment so spending even a few minutes outside will be really helpful.
  6. Practice kindness to self. For instance, acknowledge that you are having a transition day and that it is perfectly acceptable to take things more slowly than usual.
  7. Break down your workload, life admin, or the places you want to visit and things you want to do while on a holiday, into manageable tasks. We have a tendency to rush, to try and do everything at once which can leave us feeling overwhelmed and stressed. Writing a list and prioritising things in order of importance can really help.  Make sure you don’t attempt to do too much in one day.
  8. Remember that nothing stays the same, everything changes all the time and that you need to ease yourself gently back, or into a new transition.
Karen Leibenguth
Life coach at Green Space Coaching | Website | + posts

Karen is one of London’s leading green space coaches, an accredited life and executive coach and a mindfulness trainer.  For the past 15 years, she has worked with private and corporate clients to bring about personal and professional development. Karen is a member of the Eco-leadership Institute, the Association for Coaching and the British Association for Mindfulness Based Approaches (BAMBA).