With all of the attention that syndromes and disorders are receiving these days (ADD, PMDD, chronic fatigue) I thought that we ought to take a few moments to discuss one of the most crippling and least-recognized conditions out there -- VTS.
This may sound like strange advice -- especially when we are talking about how badly returning from a vacation can throw you off track. But have you ever stopped to think about why vacations are such a shock to the system? It's because we are unaccustomed to them. The first sign that my new organizing clients are in real danger is when they tell me they haven't taken a vacation in 4 years. There is something really wrong with that! We all must have regular breaks in our lives -- human beings need that free period, in which to walk away from the daily grind, spend some time re-energizing, and come back more refreshed than before.
When you wait until you have hit a wall to take that break, it almost does more harm than good. Going from one extreme (total immersion in work and stress and activity) to another (complete isolation from every aspect of real life) isn't relaxing. In fact, it can cause whiplash, if you aren't careful. The only way to reverse this trend is to make vacations more a part of daily life instead of an escape from daily life. Play hooky and take the afternoon off every once in a while. Plan a small weekend getaway or day trip at least once a month. Instead of using all of your vacation time on one killer trip, spread it over several smaller excursions spaced evenly throughout the year. Teach your body that vacation is just another part of your routine, and it won't react like a white cell attacking a foreign invader when you do allow yourself to take a break.
Build In A Time Cushion
When I first started taking vacations on my own -- I guess this would have been during college -- I wanted to make each trip last as long as it possibly could. So I would head out right after classes finished for the day and not return until midnight the night before I had to be ready for an 8 AM exam. That might be okay, when you have no responsibilities outside of attending school -- but acting like that when you have a job and a family is crazy! Over the years, I've gotten a lot more reasonable about my travel (I have had no choice, since Matt and I became full-time RVers). And I've discovered that you can reduce a great deal of the stress associated with coming back from a vacation by building in a little breathing room on either side of your trip.
If you intend to leave for your trip on Friday, plan to take Thursday afternoon off to tie up any loose ends before you head out. Make your phone calls, pay your bills, straighten up the house, clean out the refrigerator, do the dishes, and pick up any last-minute travel supplies you might have forgotten. You will thank yourself when you return home -- there's nothing worse than coming back to a house that is a mess and a huge pile of "to-do's" that have been sitting there waiting for you all week. Then do the same thing on the return side. If you are coming back on Saturday, leave Sunday free to relax and settle back into your daily routine. Whenever possible, I plan my trips so I leave in the afternoon (giving me all morning to finish up any last-minute errands) and return on a Saturday or in the morning (so I have time to chill before re-entering my life). Just that little bit of space makes a huge difference in my state of mind.
Our society's obsession with speed -- and our desire to cram as much into 24 hours as we possibly can -- has taken its toll on our travels. Vacation used to mean going somewhere, not doing much (except relaxing) while you were there, and then returning home. But now, for many people, vacations are just another opportunity to see how much you can accomplish. We actually create "to-do" lists for our holidays -- and the goal is no longer to rest, but to cross off as many items on that list as possible.
Our vacations feel as stressful and tiring as the day job -- and who do you think is to blame? Take a look in the mirror! We wear ourselves out trying to stick to a schedule that would make a convention planner have a stroke. It's no wonder that we are exhausted and irritable when we return home. Those comments people make about "needing a vacation from your vacation" are no joke. It wasn't a vacation at all, just a slightly different form of work! I call these kinds of trips Blitzkrieg travel -- it's more like going into battle than taking a break.
And I am not picking on those of you who love to pack your vacations full -- I'm a veteran Blitzkrieg traveler myself. But it's good to alternate the action-packed trips with the "slacking" ones to give your life a little balance. Take one trip where you want to see everything in sight -- then allow the next one to involve nothing more than sitting on a beach or chilling in the mountains. As you plan each trip, just ask yourself what you want from this vacation and if this kind of trip will help you achieve that goal. If you are looking for stimulation and new experiences, then "blitzkrieg" away! But if you are trying to relax, unwind, and recuperate, you might want a vacation without a strict agenda, leaving lots of free time and space to do whatever feels right at that moment.. Remember that you have the power to structure your vacations in any way that you wish.
Vacationing At Home
Have you fallen prey to the mistaken idea that it isn't a vacation unless you go out of town? I often felt that I was "wasting" the weekend if I hadn't packed a suitcase and hit the road -- and occasionally found myself on a long, stressful trip that I really didn't want to take, just because I feared a missed opportunity to travel. But I've recently realized that sometimes, the best vacations don't require you to go anywhere at all.
Think about all the things you might like to do around the house or in your home town, if only you had the time. Well, if you stay put for your next vacation, you will have plenty of time. During one "at home" vacation, we visited our local botanical gardens and zoo for the first time, had a picnic in the park, and spent one lazy morning reading in bed until lunch. I also found the time to work on a chair that I had been wanting to refinish, try my hand at charcoal drawing, and clean out my clothes closet.
Some people would say, "The first part sounded okay, but I don't want to spend my days off cleaning out closets and stripping furniture." Fine -- no one said you had to. The point is, it's your vacation, and you can make it whatever you want it to be. Spend it doing things that you enjoy -- and some of those things might be waiting for you right in your own home.
Get Your Environment In Order
One of the quickest ways to get settled back in after a trip is to get your physical space in order -- what I like to call nesting. A lot of the stress we feel stepping back into our lives again is caused by the disorder we see around us when we walk in the front door. You look at that stack of unopened mail, the pile of suitcases by the door, the laundry waiting to be washed, and the blinking light on your answering machine -- and feel overwhelmed. What happened to the tidy home you grew accustomed to? Will it stay this way forever? Will you still be tripping over luggage and clothes that haven't been put away a month from now? You will if you don't do something about it -- the sooner the better. So take a second to catch your breath and then let's get cracking!
Take a few minutes to unpack your suitcase, do laundry, put your clothes away, take your film to be developed, and put your souvenirs on a shelf. Restock your pantry and refrigerator. Go through your mail, return any phone calls that came in while you were gone, put out those fires that have cropped up. Make lists of things that you need take care of, both for home and work. Then, sit back and relax, knowing that all is right in the world!
Have A Plan
Have you ever returned from a trip, looked around your home or office, and been completely dumbfounded about what you should do next? There's plenty to do, but you can't seem to pinpoint exactly where to start. You wander around a bit, picking up this piece of paper or that, trying to remember all of the chores that were hanging over your head before you left. But it's all just flown right out of your brain!
You'll find it much easier to get back into your normal routine if you have a roadmap to follow -- and it's best if you start laying out your route before you leave town. Sit down with a pen and a pad of paper, and empty your head -- list all of the unfinished work that will be waiting for you when you return. Keep your pad nearby as you prepare for your trip, making note of all the loose ends that you didn't have a chance to tie up before departure -- calls to be made, letters to send, errands to run, etc.
Then, when you return from your trip, add any new items that have cropped up during your absence. Go through your mail, voice messages, and e-mail, making note of any issues that require your attention. Finally, put your list in order of priority, with the most urgent items at the top. When you do get to work, you can just start at the top of the list and work your way down.
Ease Back Into Your Routine
There is no reason to shock your system with a full-out assault the moment you get home from a long vacation. Your brain probably isn't ready to tackle the most challenging project on your list right away -- so give yourself a break. Many times, when I return from a trip, I'm more in the mood to "putter" around the house -- cleaning, organizing, repairing, running a few errands. So, for the first day or so, that's exactly what I do. I get a lot of small household chores taken care of -- things that need to be done but always seem to get shoved to the bottom of my list -- I get a sense of having been productive (so important in our society!), and I have eased myself back into a working routine. The next day, I'm ready to get back to the hard stuff.
You might say, "Well, that's great for you -- you're self-employed. I have a job to go to." Even if you can't stay home and putter around the house, you can make a gentle transition back into your daily routine. On your first day back, do an "at-work" version of housekeeping -- check your e-mails, return phone calls, sort through the piles of paper on your desk, and get your office in order. Then tackle that big report or the important project the next day. You will find that you are better able to focus and more effective than if you had tried to force yourself to jump back in with both feet right away.
Give Yourself Something To Look Forward To
Sometimes, the idea of coming back to the same old grind, stuck in the same old routine, doing the same old stuff that you were doing before you left is just more than you can bear. Monotony is enough to kill anyone's motivation -- especially after you've just been to exotic lands doing adventurous things (visiting Cleveland for a wedding may not seem exotic, but at least it's a change from the norm!)
Why not plan a little something special for your return? You might decide to start a new project when you get home -- something you've been wanting to do but haven't seemed to find the time for. Paint the kitchen, begin an exercise program, start working on that novel. Or plan a fun event to celebrate your return -- dinner with friends, a trip to the zoo, a day at a spa. Just that tiny bit of self-care can make all the difference between ending your trip on an upbeat note, or suffering from post-travel depression (another pervasive but little-recognized syndrome!)
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