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Post-holiday reflections from a psychologist who felt all sorts of emotions whilst out of office

Let’s be honest, the typical messaging out there about the holidays on billboards, cards and shopping centre banners may not feel aligned with what your lived experience felt like in reality.

Cue the - 'Hope you had a restful and rejuvenating holiday break…’ circle-back email and the anxiety spiral to follow.

By now you may either be back at work, continuing to work after taking standard public holidays off, feeling like you need a holiday to recoup from the break you just had, figuring out hacks on how to take advantage of all the public holidays and string them together for a never-ending holiday in 2024, or a combination of the above.

First and foremost, let’s acknowledge that there really isn’t one way to experience the holiday period.

As a psychologist, holidays and rest breaks are interesting. They are integral to ensuring I can continue to be the best clinician for my clients, and it’s imperative to create those boundaries between work and personal life. Yet, at the same time I notice myself thinking about clients and their wellbeing (yes, we think about you outside of session), wondering and worrying about whether I should have taken the time off or been more available over a time I know can bring up a lot of distress, and questioning if I provided enough support prior to the break.

On top of this, I am self-employed and run a busy private practice which is expanding in 2024. Therefore, the holiday break continued to consist of some work behind the scenes, which left me in a juggling act that I know many self-employed or small business owners face.

Post-holiday blues, which can include feelings of fatigue, low mood and anxiety post-holiday period, are common occurrences.

Add in grief, guilt and distress knowing we remain in the midst of a global crisis connected to rising complex intergenerational trauma and you are in for a disconcerting time with the surfacing of all sorts of emotions. 

The gratitude of being able to experience holidays at all, whilst simultaneously feeling like you need just one more day off, can create a mental ping pong between feeling the need to choose one experience over the other as the sole truth, confusing all of our bodily systems and leading us to a state of cognitive dissonance and lack of compassion towards ourselves. 

Let’s be honest, the typical messaging out there about the holidays on billboards, cards and shopping centre banners may not feel aligned with what your lived experience felt like in reality.

Holiday periods are often met with family and social expectations that we are not always in the headspace for. The holiday period falls at the same time each year, however we have no idea what our lives in general may look like around that season from year to year. With rising costs of living, global crises and a never-ending social media feed showing us hundreds of ways to aesthetically decorate the Christmas table, the overwhelm is palpable.  

For some, the holiday season coincides with a craving for connection, rest, and a break from the daily grind, and for others, re-connecting with family plus the social and financial commitments that come with the season, couldn't have come at a worse time.

If you remain feeling tired and fatigued after a longer holiday break, maybe it is time to assess what the break consisted of and if it potentially turned into a cycle of distraction and avoidance activities versus time to actually rest and restore energy. 

As highlighted, some people may not have had the opportunity to take more than a public holiday off, resulting in the season coming and going like any other. For others, it may have been a thoroughly restful, fun and rejuvenating time, leading to you feeling refreshed and ready for the new year. 

What we come back to is that the one size fits all perspective does not orient to the holiday season.

This acknowledgement will be enough to provide more understanding towards ourselves in these weeks post holidays. You do not need to launch back into work a million miles per hour. Let your body adjust and transition back into a working schedule. You can reflect on ways to bring joyful holiday experiences into the post-holiday season and incorporate them into daily routines based on the things that brought the most fulfillment - maybe social connections need prioritising and hanging out with certain family members wasn’t as bad as you remember. On the flipside, if you are happy it’s all over and you’re elated to be back to your regular routine, that is completely OK too.

I, personally, am so grateful to always feel excited to return to work and my clients. Albeit with some nerves (what if i’ve forgotten how to do therapy in the last 2 weeks?!) 

I encourage and support restful breaks and holidays often throughout a calendar year. 

What I believe is equally important but often forgotten is how we are actually treating ourselves pre, during and post the holiday to ensure we get the most out of the break no matter if it was one day or 10 days.