It is that time of year when many people embark on some type of vacation, and it appears to me that vacations can be lumped into one of two categories:
1. It was the best vacation ever and I'm miserable to be returning home.
2. It was the worst vacation ever and I regret going in the first place.
Either scenario elicits the same slew of emotions that are associated with stress: sadness, anxiousness, irritability and feeling disconnected. Post-traumatic vacation syndrome affects all of us at some time in our lives, and with vacation season in full swing, here are a few tips to help you cope if you have survived an overwhelming vacation experience.
Scenario One: It Was the Best Vacation Ever and I Don't Want to Come Home
Returning home to the mundane realities of life after a fabulous vacation is difficult and worthy of some discussion. Escaping the routines of our home, family and work responsibilities can be wonderful for the psyche and can refresh you for months, or it can cause you to walk back into your life and say "What the what?!" If you feel that your daily life does not measure up to the excitement of the vacation, experiment with these three adjustments:
1. Re-engage with routines of your life.
Moving on from your fabulous vacation and re-entering your life is a priority. Yes, you must make yourself pick up two weeks of dog poop in the backyard, get your laundry done and get your kids ready for school next month. Returning to the routines of your life is difficult, but it can be made easier by incorporating some elements of the vacation into your daily routines, like learning to make the pasta you enjoyed so much in Italy or listening to a soundtrack that reminds you of your trip while you are paying those vacation bills.
2. Face your memories.
Your memory of what happened is just that, a memory. In order to move on, it's important to face and feel your memories and emotions. Make that iPhoto book and title it My Best Vacation... Ever, then place the book or photo album on the coffee table and tell everyone who comes over about the best vacation ever, until you begin to feel better.
3. Make changes.
Take inspiration from the vacation and incorporate it into your life to make the positive experience permanent. Make your home more like the fabulous hotel you stayed in. Rework your yard so that it begins to resemble those beautiful gardens you admired while away. On the weekends, take that nap that you allowed yourself to enjoy on vacation. Make an effort to bring more excitement and new experiences into your daily life. Don't wait for a vacation to try something new -- such as a new food, activity, way of dressing or being. Make a small part of every day feel like vacation.
Scenario Two: It Was the Worst Vacation Ever and I Regret Going
After a traumatic or disappointing vacation experience, it's normal to feel sad and numb when the vacation did not meet your expectations and your dreams were not realized. Although you will inevitably feel disappointed or angry for several days or even weeks, these negative feelings will gradually lift. If, however, you don't feel a little better each day, or you start to feel worse, the following steps might help you make sense of what happened so you can come out of it.
1. Process your emotions by giving a voice to your disappointment.
It is okay to say, "It was the worst vacation ever." Don't listen to those people who feel you should be grateful that you even got to take a vacation. Recently, while I was sharing my disappointment about a part of my vacation to Paris, my friend blurted out, "At least you were in Paris, stop complaining!" Yes, she had a point, but my feelings about the trip were abruptly shut down. Your emotional self does not take a vacation -- it is alive and well and feels those moments of anger, frustration and disappointment. Listen to your feelings. Even though you physically find yourself in "paradise," you can still be unhappy. Avoid stuffing your emotions away and acting happy to make others feel better.
2. Use the vacation to get in touch with yourself on a deeper level.
There is growth in happiness, and growth in conflict and disappointment. If any part of the vacation felt unpredictable and uncontrollable, use this to go deeper into yourself and change (if necessary) long-held beliefs or attitudes. If your partner was part of the disappointment, have a candid conversation and use this experience to move you both to a deeper level of communication.
3. Make changes.
Through a difficult vacation, you now are painfully aware of what you do not like and choose not to experience again. Use this information to create a better vacation the next time around. In the weeks following a bad vacation, attempt to add whatever you did not experience on vacation into your daily life. If you had terrible food, treat yourself to a great meal once you are home. If your accommodations were uncomfortable, languish in your comfy bed a little longer every morning. Pampering yourself at home helps to ease the disappointment of missed opportunities on vacation. The adage "Know Thyself," applies here, and my guess is that you definitely know yourself better having gone through a tough vacation experience.
Whether your vacation was the best ever or the worst ever, it is necessary in both situations to eventually let it go and move on.
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