Ask An Adult: When Are The Post Holiday Blues A Sign Of Something More Serious?

No one really wants to go back to work after a fortnight sunning yourself on an amazing beach. But when is that post-holiday comedown a sign of something more sinister? Illustration by Sara Andreasson


by Stevie Martin |
Published on

You’ve been sunning yourself on a beach for a week, or even two, but now it’s back to reality and suddenly your life has never felt more shit. But how can you tell if this crushing feeling is just some post-holiday blues – because obviously being on holiday is way better than facing up to the shitstorm that is the everyday grind – or something a bit more serious?

When I was at uni, I had a weird two years of depression that I refused to acknowledge because I thought depression was for 50-year-old men in sales jobs whose wives had left them (sorry guys). But it was after a family holiday in America – a three-week break between my first and second year at uni, where I cried all the way home and still felt a black, numb emptiness a month after I’d got back – that I figured I should go to a doctor. It got sorted. I did a bit of cognitive behavioural therapy mixed with antidepressants. And, over time, I came to realise that if I hadn’t gone on the holiday and suffered from serious ‘Oh my god my life is a pile of crap’ fear, then I’d never have got the help I needed.

If you're feeling similar right now, here's Dr Ann Thomas, a chartered psychologist in north London to flag up the warning signs that it might be something more.

You’re having terrible mornings

If anxiety is waking you up early, or you’re finding mornings to be nigh-on impossible to cope with, then that’s a pretty strong sign of depression. ‘I love my job, but when I come back from holiday I really don’t want to go back to work – however, that usually disappears after a few days,’ she says. ‘If you’re consistently waking up to feelings of dread and anxiety – or you’re unable to get out of bed because you can’t face the world – then it might be a good idea to seek professional help.’ Ann also adds that it’s all about degrees of worry: if your mornings are consistently awful for weeks on end, then go to your GP. If you’ve just had a few off-ones after your Costa Del Sol getaway, then you’re probably just pissed off you’re back home.

Your holiday was affected

We’ve all had the ‘Oh Jesus I’ve only got three more days left’ feeling – but if you actually can’t relax or enjoy yourself due to a fear of coming back, then it could be a little more serious. ‘People go on holiday to get away, but they take their heads with them,’ says Dr Thomas. ‘Those with depression will find that the feelings follow them, and it can be very frightening. They think going away is a solution, but it’s not.’ Panic attacks, an inability to sleep and a return of the stress symptoms you were suffering from earlier on towards the end of your break means you should do something upon returning. Like get to the bottom of the problem.

You have irrational dread

Alarm bells should be ringing if you actually quite like aspects of your job, you’re good at it, but you’re terrified of going back into the office. ‘Finding out what you’re scared of is key – it could be clinical depression, where there’s no real reason. Or you could need to change your job,’ says Dr Thomas. ‘Not knowing why they’re scared is really frightening for people, and I think you know the difference between being horribly stressed and needing some help, and slipping into clinical depression.’ It’s about degrees of anxiety, and trusting your gut reaction. If you know that something’s not right, then it probably isn’t.

You don’t have the answer to this specific question

‘When you ask someone who is depressed what they think about their future, people say they can’t see a future,’ Dr Thomas says. ‘Not that they want to end their lives necessarily, but that they just can’t get a handle on what their future looks like. They’re frightened and frozen.’ When I left America, a weird heavy feeling of not being able to tell where I was going, or what I would do when I returned to the UK felt like it was crushing me. Even though I had two more years of uni, and I knew I wanted to do a masters, I felt like the next five years were a blurred mess. I’d feel nauseous and panicked if anyone asked me about them. All good signs I should have gone to the bloody doctors way sooner than I did.

**Your sadness, apathy or anxiety is ruining your day-to-day life **

This is the major difference between those who don’t want to come back because their life is stressful, they’re overworked and maybe having relationship problems, and those who don’t want to come back because they’re running away from more deep-rooted issues that need medical attention. ‘People who are stressed may feel the same symptoms as those who are depressed – apathy, anxiety, agitation, dread, fear of the future,’ explains Dr Thomas. ‘But it becomes a serious problem if you can’t get on with your life. If it’s stopping you doing what you need to do.’

So, what do you do if you’ve read all these warning signs, and are pretty sure it’s time to get help? The first stage is to go to your GP. ‘They’ll probably diagnose you with stress in the first instance, and advise you to take a couple of weeks off work. Then, you might be given some antidepressants as well as a course of CBT.’ CBT, or cognitive behavioural therapy, works to give you the tools to help pull yourself out of the downward spiral – it’s about looking at what’s wrong, and working on it to ease the stress that’s bearing down on you and causing the problems. Dr Thomas adds: ‘There are things you can do to help depression, and there are ways you can lift yourself out of it. With clinical depression, medication can address the chemical imbalance and seeing qualified medical professionals will ensure you get the help you need.'

Follow Stevie on Twitter @5tevieM

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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