September for many means the end of summer, holidays, and the return to work. This month it is very common to hear about the syndrome, depression, or post-vacation stress that, supposedly, means a return to the routine.
But this post-vacation syndrome does not exist. When you go back to work, you may go through a period of readjustment and suffer insomnia, physical discomfort, or apathy. But, in general, it is something adaptive, temporary, and does not need a specific treatment to recover.
What is wrongly called post-vacation syndrome?
“The so-called post-vacation syndrome is a fairly recent concept, which has been used in recent decades and is closely linked to the lifestyle of our current society. Refers to a set of Psychological and physical experiences associated with the end of the vacation period and the return to work or studies”, Explains to Damn science Carmen del Castillo, the psychologist at ISEP Clínic.
There is no scientific evidence of this phenomenon, as we explain here. In fact, we have not found any study or scientific definition of this supposed syndrome, which no national or international health organization recognizes as real.
“There are studies in this regard, but not in number or with sufficient scientific weight to be considered research in the strict sense,” he says to Damn science Lorenzo Armenteros del Olmo, from the Spanish Society of General and Family Physicians (SEMG).
It is an adaptation to the routine after the holidays
According to the account, the misnamed post-vacation syndrome would be an adaptive disorder that occurs after incorporating into ordinary activity after vacation and leisure time. “It is characterized by sadness, apathy, anxiety, moodiness, feeling of boredom or stress, among other manifestations. Although they do not usually last more than two or three weeks, it is still an altered mental situation”, He maintains.
However, as he told us Rosa Banos, an expert in psychology at the Gadea Foundation for Science, would not be a disorder. It would be an “adaptation process that requires three or four days of stabilization, but it does not refer to any psychological disorder at all ”.
Armenteros stresses that this phenomenon can affect anyone since what affects us is returning to ordinary activity. That is, although to a lesser extent, also it can affect “retired people and even children”.
Why is it wrong to call it a post-vacation syndrome?
“The syndrome is a set of symptoms and signs that concur in time and form in a certain disease. Since this disorder cannot be considered a disease in itself, this name would not be the most appropriateArmenteros responds.
Del Castillo affirms that there are different opinions about its clinical consideration. “In psychology, we speak of syndrome when there is a set of symptoms. However, post-vacation syndrome as such is currently not included in the most widely used diagnostic manuals in psychology internationally (DSM V and CIE 11); but it could be placed within the adaptive disorders, which are associated with stress factors ”, he indicates.
So why are there people who feel down and tired every time they return from their summer vacation? The psychologist maintains that “changes always involve a necessary period of adaptation and, although the vacation return is foreseeable, this period of re-adaptation is also required ”.
Rafael Mora, the psychiatrist expert in behavioral sciences and mental health, insists on Damn science in which cannot be considered a disease. To do this, in psychiatry it should meet two requirements: “If there is an identifiable cause, as in this case, that the reaction is disproportionate and causes dysfunction. I do not know of any case in which a sick leave was given due to this syndrome ”.
Regarding the symptoms, remember that there is no “official” description. “Anxiety and asthenia have been described, which are probably physiological adaptive reactions (that is to say, not pathological) in the face of the change of rhythm and face the stress of work ”, he adds.
Insomnia, digestive problems or mood swings: the possible consequences of going back to work
For Elisa Sánchez, coordinator of the occupational health group of the Official College of Psychologists of Madrid, the basis of this phenomenon is in the imbalance due to the change of habits such as sleeping, eating, or exercising together with dissatisfaction or lack of work motivation and maybe poor job planning.
“It can be felt even days before returning to work if the person anticipates the discomfort they will feel at work,” he explains to Damn science. Cite physical symptoms such as insomnia, physical discomfort, headache, or digestive problems and also psychological or emotional symptoms such as apathy, irritability, mood swings, or trouble concentrating.
According to his account, this phenomenon can have two aspects: one more anxious and the other depressive. In this way, the anxious side is characterized by the fact that the person has worries, irritability, or bad mood and can speak, move, and eat quickly. “Some of its psychosomatic consequences (of psychic origin with influence on the organism) are gastric discomfort, muscle aches, or trouble sleeping”, It indicates. It usually occurs in people “very perfectionists and who like to have everything under control (they want to quickly catch up on everything behind)”.
The depressive aspect is characterized by “apathy, reluctance, lack of motivation, difficulty concentrating, and even sadness”. In this case, he considers that it may be associated with difficulty adapting to changes or low job satisfaction.
Returning to work after a vacation, according to Armenteros, can affect especially the mood by creating “anxiety, depressive symptoms, abrupt mood disturbances, difficulty socializing with co-workers, apathy, disinterest, and sleep disorders”.
“They rarely turn into a state of acute stress, with malaise, anxiety, depression, palpitations, sweating, hyperventilation, tachycardia, or tremors. This would already constitute a pathological entity”, It indicates.
The rehabilitation period is temporary and usually lasts between seven and ten days.
Sánchez maintains that this feeling should pass in a few days: “It is usually punctual and brief. It usually lasts between 7 and 10 days maximum ”. If the duration is longer, the experts consulted recommend attending a professional for an assessment. Del Castillo highlights that this care is important to rule out that it is a depressive condition, anxiety or even in the case that the fear of returning to work or educational center may be caused “by being victims of workplace harassment (mobbing) or bullying (bullying), among other possible causes ”.
The Gadea Foundation for Science warns of the danger that, with the term “post-vacation syndrome”, real depression, a disease that affects more than 300 million people, is trivialized, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
This 2020, in addition, we must add to the return of the summer vacation period, the uncertainty and concerns due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Del Castillo. “Will we go back to face-to-face work or will we telecommute? Even when? Will we go back to school? Will the classes be online or face-to-face? Will we go back to some kind of lockdown? The uncertainty of this September is much greater than in other years, an aspect that also negatively affects the emotional stability of each person and can cause us greater anxiety ”, he indicates.
Divide the holidays, advance the return, and other recommendations so that the return is less hard
What tips can be followed to avoid feeling this way? Sánchez advises not to concentrate all the holidays in the same period: “Two groups of rest days are preferable. I recommend two or three weeks in summer and one or two at other times ”.
He also advises plan vacations well and be active. For example, traveling, sightseeing, going for a walk, swimming… “It is what most helps to disconnect. If you have not enjoyed your vacation, when you return to work the feeling of dissatisfaction increases ”, he adds.
Advance the vacation return a few days It can also help, according to the expert, who suggests trying not to return to work the day after returning from vacation, especially after a long trip or in which there is a change of time zones that favors the jet lag. A progressive return to the routine “can favor that the change is not so dramatic”.
Similarly, it is preferable Try not to change sleep and meal times abruptly during the holidays (going to bed and getting up very late or not having fixed meal times), especially in the last days ”. According to Sánchez, going back to normal hours before going to work will help us.
Also, remember that “vacations are not the solution to work problems”: “If you have difficulties at work, these are not going to disappear on vacation. Try to find a balance between your private life and your work life “.
Some guidelines can also be followed once you get back to work. For example, “there are people who join in the middle of the week (Wednesday or Thursday) and that helps them think that the first week is shorter ”.
In the same way, according to the expert, it can help using relaxation techniques, having a positive attitude, and “planning nice things for the first days ”:“ Enjoy your free time. It will also motivate us if we already have something nice scheduled the following weekend. ”