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Back From Vacation and Still Burned Out

News Jun 13, 2024

The email does not find you well.

Just yesterday, you were relaxing on the beach or finally finishing that long-awaited book on your couch. Now, you face a mountain of missed messages.

Returning to work post-vacation can be a rough adjustment. For those already experiencing job burnout — characterized by constant exhaustion and a cynical view of work — this transition can be even more challenging.

While taking a vacation might seem like the cure for work-related stress, it can sometimes highlight just how drained you truly are, according to Jeanette M. Bennett, an associate professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte who researches stress and health.

How to know if you’re burned out.

Burnout arises from a lack of control over your work. People often dread their jobs, facing the classic “I’m overwhelmed, I’m exhausted, Sunday Scaries” sensation, explained Dr. Thea Gallagher, a clinical psychologist and associate professor at NYU Langone Health.

Burnout seeps into all areas of life: individuals often lack the energy to do anything beyond daily survival. Even if time exists for family, friends, and hobbies, burnout can leave people too exhausted or indifferent to engage, noted Angela Neal-Barnett, a psychology professor at Kent State University and author of “Soothe Your Nerves: The Black Woman’s Guide to Understanding and Overcoming Anxiety, Panic and Fear.”

Time off can alleviate burnout in some instances — people may return to work feeling refreshed and more capable. However, when stress levels are high, vacation acts merely as a temporary fix. Once work resumes, anxiety often returns.

To identify burnout, Dr. Bennett suggested reflecting on a few questions when you’re back at work: Did you sleep well during your time off, but now find it difficult? Does your heart rate increase on your commute or when logging into work systems? Does your schedule leave no time for loved ones or relaxation?

How To Ease The Transition Back To Work.

Burnout can feel especially intense post-vacation because people often work harder before taking time off, Dr. Gallagher said. The abrupt switch from intense work to vacation, and then back to work, can be overwhelming.

If possible, give yourself a buffer day before returning to work, Dr. Gallagher recommended. Use this day to rest and reset: unpack if you traveled, stock up on groceries, and gradually ease back into daily life. It can also help to create a brief game plan. Consider what you can realistically accomplish the next day and make a list to tackle once the workday begins.

Upon returning to work, be mindful of how stress affects your body, Dr. Bennett advised. She suggested noting daily how you feel and what seems to trigger these feelings.

If you notice consistent headaches after interactions with a specific co-worker or increased anxiety before certain meetings, plan strategies to calm yourself. This could involve a breathing exercise before the meeting or a quick walk after the conversation.

Your colleagues can also be valuable resources, said Christina Maslach, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, who studies burnout. Ask them how they manage their workload or deal with a difficult boss. Collaborate to identify and address the persistent irritations of your job. Perhaps you can delegate a task you dislike to a co-worker who doesn’t mind it or turn a meeting into an email.

If you’re constantly struggling with your workload, the solution might be to find a new job — which Dr. Bennett acknowledged is easier said than done. Meanwhile, she suggested evaluating whether your workload is sustainable and realistic. If it’s not, consider having an open conversation with your manager about necessary changes.

And remember, exhaustion isn’t a sign of weakness, Dr. Maslach said.

“You could be doing a good job — a runner could be performing incredibly well in a marathon,” she said. “But you’ve got to recover before you move on to the next one.”


Oliver Hughes

Oliver has over 15 years of experience in travel journalism. He focuses on European travel, providing expert reviews of vacation rentals and cultural experiences across Europe.