Holiday stress is the name we give to that state of nervousness, worry and anxiety that can be caused by being on vacation. But in any case the name –as tends to be the case in psychology– is not what’s important: “holiday” merely specifies the context in which the problem can appear. As with any other kind of stress, it’s usually the result of an interaction between the demands of our surroundings and out own skills at coping. What are these particular demands and how can we meet them the right way?
A change in our surroundings is always problematic. Like all animals, we human beings are creatures of habit. What we do or don’t do depends more on circumstances than anything else. Our daily routine is not just what we do each day; it’s more a case of all those ‘triggers’ that exist in our surroundings and make as act one way or another. When our routine undergoes a change –for having moved residence or changed a job or anything else– it becomes harder to maintain our habits until we establish new triggers for our behavior. When we’re on vacation, these signs of the surroundings change. There’s no longer a set hour for getting up, and other daily routines (such as eating or exercising) also undergo change. It may seem that this doesn’t cause any kind of problems, and yet stress, like many other problems, is caused by an accumulation. Many small stresses can end up having a huge effect on our behavior.
Another source of pressure during vacations is purely cultural and relatively –but only relatively– new: the pressure to have a good time. We live in a culture that seems to oblige us to always be happy. Our life has to be a continual succession of parties with friends, productive work, lovely sunsets… And exotic, perfect vacations. And if our vacations are not that way, we may have the sensation of doing something wrong.
So what can we do to avoid or at least control this problem? First, establish an alternative routine. Resting doesn’t mean doing nothing but in changing what we do. Time must be spent on things that bring wellbeing and happiness. If our holidays are merely sedentary and we don’t look for interesting stimuli, we’ll end up tired. It’s a good idea to create an alternative routine, more relaxed than the work routine but one that serves the same function: to keep us active and fill our life with pleasant stimuli.
A good antidote to vacation stress (or indeed any other kind of stress) is to cultivate interests that we can carry out alone; in this way, we’ll always have a refuge when other things in life aren’t going the way we’d like. And if they really are things we can do alone (photography, reading, painting…) they allow us time just for ourselves at a part of the year that usually includes a good deal of family contact.
Finally, it’s necessary to take a break from work. If we can’t put work aside (and that includes even thinking about it), we’ll have the sensation of being only partly on holiday, and we won’t be able to really rest. It’s best not to take phone calls or emails having to do with the job, or make the mistake of “getting ahead” with work in our free moments. We’re not that essential, our company can get along without us for a few days. And let’s get along without our company.