How to beat the post-holiday blues

Has the end of the holiday period got you down already? It's all a matter of attitude, writes Bronwyn McNulty.

At this time of year most people have enjoyed at least a little time off work, so why are so many of us shuffling through office corridors with hangdog expressions, or moping about our desks looking as if we'd rather die than be here, at our jobs?

The post-holiday blues might not (yet) be a recognised syndrome but it is something that darkens the first few days after a break for many of us.

An adviser for beyondblue, Associate Professor Michael Baigent, says it's no surprise that people find themselves feeling flat when their holidays are over.

''It's a normal thing,'' he says.

''In the holidays, people put into the day many, many more pleasurable activities than they would in routine days.

''So when you stop doing these things, people notice.

''Routine days are filled with activities that are necessary, or part of day-to-day business, and while they can give you a sense of achievement, the amount of pleasure you get from these activities is not great.''

Don't despair. The post-holiday blues won't last until your next vacation.

They are most often just a period of adjustment while you reacquaint yourself with your day-to-day existence.

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But until then there's no need to feel resigned to a life that doesn't make you happy.

FIND THINGS TO LOOK FORWARD TO

''I think most people get the blues because they live just for the holiday,'' life coach Shannah Kennedy says.

''They make such a big deal of this holiday being the only thing they have got to look forward to.''

The answer, Kennedy says, lies in planning your weeks and months and incorporating other inspiring events and projects that will keep you excited.

''You need something, because you can't just wait another year for the next holiday,'' she says.

''Ideally, every time you come back from a holiday you have an opportunity to dump an old habit and have the energy to build in a new habit - a new way of thinking, a new skill, something you might want to learn or commit to - it doesn't have to be anything big at all.''

Make a list of the things you enjoy doing and schedule them into your life, Baigent suggests.

''You mightn't be able to lie on the beach reading a book but try to do some other enjoyable activities,'' he says.

CHANGE YOUR THINKING

Try altering your attitude from the moment your holiday is over, Kennedy says: ''Start with a new approach as soon as you land at the airport,'' she says. ''Think, I am really excited, I can change things. Ultimately you should come back from holidays with a full tank and be ready to go.

''We can tell ourselves, 'Oh, we have to wait another year,' or we can be excited. It's about learning to focus on the positive.''

Incorporating one enjoyable activity into your week will go a long way towards alleviating any blues, she says. It can be a movie, a dinner date, a party or as simple as a soak in a nice, hot bath. ''But you have to drive that and make it happen.''

Some of us are more prone to feeling down after our holidays than others, Baigent says.

''It does come with a certain style of thinking,'' he says. ''If your natural disposition is to think that things are going to go wrong and be hard, you are going to be one of the people who will feel more depressed [after your holiday]. At the same time, there are many people out there who are quite optimistic.''

It's a matter of working out how to tweak your attitude, Kennedy says: ''It's self-talk that we can change and then avoid the blues.''

LOOK AFTER YOURSELF

Holidays - especially those at Christmas and New Year - often involve a lot of partying and socialising, which inevitably means eating and drinking more than normal - usually more than is healthy.

A psychology lecturer from Southern Cross University, Dr James Donnelly, says getting back into a healthier routine will help to alleviate feelings of sadness.

''We sit around and eat and drink a lot during the holidays and physically become out of whack,'' he says. ''So one of the key issues for maintaining mood is to get out and do something physical.''

Planning time for exercise is vital, even if it's something as simple and easy to do as going for a walk, Donnelly says.

''Exercise actually induces changes in the brain that produce opiate-like endorphins, so when you exercise vigorously, even just for 15-20 minutes, three times a week, it bumps up your endorphins and gives you that sedated feeling of calm.

''And if you feel like you don't have the time, consider that there's good evidence to suggest those people who exercise have fewer days off work and are more productive.''

BEAT POST-HOLIDAY BLUES

Look after yourself Get enough sleep, eat well and drink in moderation. And exercise: "Even a short walk around the block can change our mood when we feel stuck or a bit post-holiday blue," life coach Shannah Kennedy says.

Avoid the rut Take charge of your life to avoid falling back into the workaday rut, Kennedy says. "Get out of the passenger seat and into the driver's seat."

Book another holiday ''Even thinking about and planning things can give as much pleasure as doing them," beyondblue adviser Michael Baigent says.

Have things to look forward to Planning and scheduling your weeks and months means you can incorporate activities you look forward to, Kennedy says. "Make your week or month inspiring. You put all that effort into dreaming about your holiday, put some effort into dreaming about your reality."

Make a tribute to your holiday Whether it's a photo book or photo board, playlist or travel diary, creating a visual or written tribute to your holiday will not only enable you to relive it but provide you with a concrete reminder of the wonderful time you had. The Lonely Planet Australia author Rose Mulready suggests subjecting friends and family to a good old-fashioned slide show.

Get outside You've probably been getting lots of fresh air if you've just been on holidays, so make sure you continue that by nipping out of the office at lunchtime.

IS IT DEPRESSION?

The post-holiday blues are usually transient, beyondblue adviser Michael Baigent says. ''Post-holiday blues won't affect your functioning - you will still be sleeping, eating and concentrating,'' he says.

''You will still see a future for yourself. If you have negative views about the future, or suicidal thoughts, and they go on for a long period of time, you need to see your GP.''

DON'T FORGET FIDO AND PUSS

Humans are not alone in suffering from post-holiday depression. Cats and dogs struggle to adjust when family members return to work and school, animal expert Maeve Moorcroft told London's Daily Mirror. ''Pets are very sociable,'' she says. ''When children return to school, pets may feel restless and anxious.''

To minimise their distress, Moorcroft advises leaving the radio on when animals are home alone and giving them a piece of clothing with their favourite human's scent on it.

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