What is it about the last weekend of vacation?

What is it about the bittersweet last weekend of vacation? I find that it seems to drive most of us crazy. Instead of soaking it up and metaphorically holding on with both hands, we begin to think forward about all the things we put on the back burner, fretting about what’s ahead. Insidiously conversations get more tense and work creeps back in before the deadline. That last bit of precious time becomes wasted. The cellphones turn back on, the computers get fired up? Why? How can we avoid it? This phenomenon is so common that even the Today Show has done segments on the end-of-vacation-blues and the Sunday Scaries.

So again I ask, how can we avoid the blues? There are some tips out there. For example, travel psychologist Scott Haas says that we need to step back and consider ourselves lucky that we got to take a vacation in the first place. Did you know that half of Americams don’t even use all their vacation days, if they even get some in the first place?

In the Personal and Social Psychology Bulletin, University of Chicago psychology fellow Amit Kumar and Cornell professor Thomas Gilovich recommend that you focus on experiential purchases rather than souvenirs while on vacation. By purchase they don’t necessarily mean spend physical money but rather the investment of time in doing something unique that gives you something with interesting details to share. You will probably have a lot more to talk about after a hiking trip in the mountains as opposed to a pendant or t shirt that you bought.

Another tip is to start planning your next trip. That doesn’t mean discount everything that you just did on vacation. It just means start making a straight forward list for your next trip to help it become a reality and something else to look forward to. There is something called the Zeigarnik Effect that refers to our tendency to remember incomplete tasks more clearly than ones we have finished. Translate that to trip planning and if you have thoroughly planned your next trip it may free your mind from the intrusive “what’s left undone” thoughts that can plague you toward the end of vacation and actually help allow you to enjoy the last few days. That can even apply to tackling your untouched email inbox without guilt while you are on the flight home so you can relax when you get there before work the next day.

USA Today suggests that you nurse that post vacation culture shock. Instead of asking yourself why am I in boring old (insert hometown here) instead of exciting ( insert exotic vacation local here), remind yourself why you moved to your hometown in the first place. Remember why you love it. Reminisce over good memories.

There are a few things you just have to get off your butt and do when you get home: unpack your bags, do your laundry and grocery shop for heaven’s sake. Those suitcases and mountains of dirty laundry will only serve as monkeys on your back and feed your longing to be somewhere else. Grocery shop for healthy food to detox your body from vacation food. It will thank you for it and leave you with more energy to face your new old schedule.

Currently I find myself facing the end of a vacation. I am following my own advice by writing of this blog as an example of finishing a to do list to free my mind to enjoy my last bit of time. I am also reminding myself how much I love my family, my animals and my memories. So far, it’s working. I hope these tips help you too. Have a fantastic day.

Dr. Katz

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