Have you longed for your end-of-year leave? Now that it has finally arrived: do you feel exhausted and down-hearted? Are you struggling with a cold, flu or another annoying physical ailment during your precious time off?
Rest assured: You are not alone!
Many of us – not only workaholics – struggle with shifting gears and adjusting both emotionally and physically to holiday periods.
If we think about it, being on holiday or away from work is a strange situation. It is not the norm.
Unless we regularly practice taking time out of our hyper-connected lives, it is not until leave times that we get any practice in managing extended periods of “me time.”
In this post, I would like to share with you two of the main reasons for holiday period slumps.
Disclaimer: No quick fixes here
In my work as a therapist, I avoid providing quick-fix solutions to complex struggles.
Being aware of and knowing some of the reasons for your leave-time slump may make this period more bearable and allow you to discover unique ways of both coping with and growing from this experience.
ONE. Being faced with your emotional backlog
“You can run but you can’t hide!” cackled the horror story villain.
But it is not only in horror stories where pain, fear, guilt, and doubt come to haunt well-meaning individuals. It happens in real-life too!
During the busy year and office times, we are afforded the opportunity (or seemingly valid reasons) to avoid and suppress long-standing and unresolved emotional concerns.
The avoidance may be conscious, unconscious, or both.
And for most of the year, it may feel like there is not enough time to consider what is going on behind the scenes of your life psychologically-speaking.
However, it is when our attention is no longer held captive by professional and other activities that our emotional backlog screams out for attention.
Our worries and past concerns finally have a stage and an audience – our unoccupied minds!
Much like Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, worries about the past, present, and future come to visit. And boy is it at the very least uncomfortable and disablingly depressing at worst.
Question: What is it that plagues your heart and mind during the holiday period?
You might find it useful to list whatever comes to mind.
This may help to give shape and form to an otherwise overwhelming or unstructured sense of internal discomfort.
List-making may also put into perspective what you are currently dealing with.
TWO. Self-esteem: Transitioning from one energy source to another
While it does seem like a well-worn cliché, many of us do gain a large portion of our self-worth from academic and professional pursuits.
The moment that we are no longer furiously busy and needed (e.g. in the form of emails, voicemails, and last-minute requests from bosses and co-workers), it can feel like we have no purpose. That our lives lack worth and meaning.
Transitioning from one source of self-esteem fuel source to another is a bumpy and initially painful process.
All of a sudden we no longer have the deeply ingrained routine and demands of work life to rely on. The no-brainers that hold “business as usual” neatly in place.
This sudden lack forces us to find alternative fuel sources for our precarious self-esteem.
Similarly, when a human body shifts its primary energy source from carbohydrates to fats, there is an initial transition period. For many this can be excruciating and includes the experience of flu-like symptoms collectively known as “keto flu”. Luckily, this “flu” does pass once the body adapts.
Psychologically, the challenge during time away from the office is to consider alternate fuel sources for our self-esteem so that we can actually switch to or make use of alternative forms of self-esteem fuel – rather than having nothing to draw on and feeling down.
Alternate forms of self-esteem fuel may include:
- investing time in relationships with family and loved ones
- nurturing friendships
- spending quality time with your pets
- (re-)engaging in hobbies
- playing or watching sports
- getting out into nature, and
- movie marathons or binge-watching or series.
Everyone is different and has unique interests and self-esteem fuels.
When people start thinking about “what makes them tick” they start to remember activities they have neglected and sometimes completely forgotten about.
Tip: Take time out to allow your specific happy-making, self-esteem generating activities and rituals to come to mind.
Complicating factor: End-of-year exhaustion
One factor that makes the energy source transition difficult, is that our internal energy levels may be very low at the beginning of the holiday period (whenever that may be).
These energy lows may be the result of one needing to catch up on sleep and physical rest. Essentially paying off energetic debt accumulated during extended periods of work.
In this depleted state, the last thing one wants to do is make an effort, let alone attempt something out of the ordinary.
Words of encouragement: “Baby” steps are key!
Do what you can in spite of your low energy.
Don’t feel bad about scheduling activities during your holiday time. We do it during the rest of the year!
Every small positive action counts and there is a snowball effect over time.
Final thoughts: There is a silver lining
Two of the upsides of going through this transition phase (at least once a year) are that we are reminded that:
- nagging concerns can only be left on the emotional backburner for so long until we need to engage with them, and
- there is more to life than academic and professional pursuits.
Dear Reader. I would like to take this opportunity to wish you and your loved ones a relaxing and safe holiday period. Thank you for reading and sharing my blog posts this year. I value your continued support and feedback, and look forward to continuing our dialogue in the new year. Warm regards, Fred.