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Returning to work after a holiday

Matthew Chittock

Matthew Chittock gives some advice on how to make sure your stress levels don’t soar when the tan starts to fade

Welcome to the first week back after the holidays. And if the sight of the rain lashing against your office windows isn’t enough to drive you to despair, the symphony of new email ‘pings’ and the fat pile of documents on your desk will probably do the job.

But try not to worry too much – the back-to-work-blues you’re feeling are proof you’ve had a good holiday. In fact, as career coach Teresa Mitrovic  says, they’re often a natural consequence of taking a well-earned break.

“The great thing about being on holiday is that you've got a lot of leisure time and you're having a lot of fun,” she says. “Fun is an antidote to stress and overwhelm so it starts to restore your mental equilibrium and energy levels. That means it's quite natural to come back from holiday feeling really inspired, relaxed and recharged and then get into work and feel like nothing's changed. All the routines and demands come down like an avalanche and often your equilibrium and calm just get pushed to one side.” 

That said, there are still plenty of ways you can ease yourself back into the fray slowly – and make positive changes to what you do – starting with that mountain of emails.

To save yourself stress always begin with the most recent – rather than those in the (probably now quite distant) pre-holiday past. Also, don’t assume that reading umpteen emails is the best way to catch up on what’s been going on in the office.

“First, just go and talk to people,” says Career Coach Karen Perkins. “Have a ‘walk and talk’ around the office. There’s always things that have changed since you’ve been away that you need to know about, and you’ll quickly be able to catch up on all the gossip and key ‘need to knows’.”

Once you’ve done that, don’t simply get back on the work treadmill and start running. Perkins recommends making a catch-up meeting part of your company’s protocol to actually acknowledge the fact staff have been away and are feeling relaxed. Plus, they can be great for picking up on an any good ideas people might have had while away (what she calls “paragliding epiphanies”) and tell them what they need to know before they start work.

If possible, she believes it’s a smart idea to give yourself a couple of days as a buffer in which you can “revel in your relaxation” before thinking about work – going back on a Wednesday rather than a Monday, for example.

And what about those amazing change-your-life ideas you had while relaxing on the sun lounger? Mitrovic says that with a bit of planning, it’s possible to put them into action rather than letting them fade with your tan.“One of the problems is that we come back thinking 'I’m going to change all of these things!' And actually, the bigger the task you make for yourself, the more that then feels overwhelming,” she says.

Mitrovic recommends picking the three changes that would have the biggest effect on your life. Then, she says, focus on one at a time and break it down into smaller steps. “Try some ‘when this / than that’ thinking,” she adds. “You might be trying to take control of your time management. If so, think of specific situations, like someone coming to your desk with an urgent request, then rehearse a response like saying ‘great, happy to have a look at it, just heading out the door now but I can do it tomorrow morning.’”

“When you do that you're already rehearsing in your mind the scenarios where you're going to get derailed and you're thinking about how you're going to manage them. You've got a response plan – and that makes things easier.”

Making changes can be a challenge. But the real issue is managing the disconnect between your relaxed, inspirational holiday ‘self’ and that stressed person back at the desk. The key could be to take some of that sunshine-imbued inspiration from the holiday and translate it into your everyday life.

“If you’re the kind of person that likes to make notes when you’re away, then putting those ideas on Post-Its, and sticking them to your monitor, can work,” says Perkins. “Another fun way to do this is bring back something tacky and cool – a little souvenir that you can put on your desk that will only mean something to you. That way, when you look at it it’ll help anchor your thinking in the holiday and help you put into action the changes you worked out when you felt relaxed.”

Also, at the very least, having a miniature palm tree, or a straw donkey geegaw, by your monitor should move you to book your next recharging break sooner rather than later.

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