Sometimes it feels like you need a vacation from your vacation.
But no matter how much of a blur your holiday feels like, or how big of a to-do list you have to return to, there are small changes you can make in your vacation routine to actually recharge and go back to work happier.
“It’s hard to rest in an environment where you’re worrying about how much you need to do,” says Emily Ballesteros, a burnout management coach in Seattle. “But you can hold your job at an arm’s length.”
Here, experts share their best tips for prioritizing self-care and maximizing your time off.
To maximize your time off, focus on three things, according to Ballesteros: maintenance, rest and refill.
Maintenance means getting your chores done. By cleaning your space, buying groceries, organizing your finances and accomplishing other responsibilities, you’re taking care of yourself, says Ballestero. And things being in order when the vacation is over will help you return to work with less stress.
Rest means making time for low-energy, relaxing activities such as reading, watching TV or taking a walk so that your body can physically recharge. Multiple studies have shown that such relaxation techniques can lower your blood pressure, improve digestion and slow your heart rate, among other health benefits.
Refill, Ballesteros’s final recommendation, refers to the “fun activities that make up the meaning of life,” like hanging out with friends, traveling or spending time on a new hobby. Fulfilling activities help deepen your relationships and create happy memories, Ballesteros says, both of which are good for your mental health.
Most people will spend their downtime only doing one or two of these activities, like spending the entire day out with friends or cleaning the attic, says Ballesteros.
“By the end of the weekend, their home might be really well-kept, but they haven’t rested at all. Or they spent a lot of time traveling, but they have no groceries or clean clothes,” she says. You have to address all three areas” to feel more balanced when you return to work.
“There are so many unpredictable, moving pieces in our lives,” Ballesteros says. “But organizing your time off around these three areas can help you prioritize the things that make you feel taken care of.”
If your vacation is over and you are surprised at how little of what you meant to accomplish got done, you might want to check your screen time. Most people don’t realize how much time our phones can steal from us, Ballesteros says, but scrolling through TikTok or binging Netflix can quickly eat up three hours of your afternoon.
Instead, when you’re on vacation, make it a point to shut your phone off for a few hours or at least leave it in a different room.
Then focus on other activities, whether it’s folding laundry, reading a book or going for a walk.
Practicing mindfulness (aka, focusing on what you’re doing without the distraction of technology) can have great mental health benefits, says clinical psychologist Matt Scult. Sometimes, Scult will take a walk and pay closer attention to the changing trees, the air’s temperature and any other changes in his surroundings to enhance mindfulness.
“You can be mindful when you’re sitting with a cup of tea or even in the shower,” Scult says. “As long as you take a couple minutes to tune into your senses, engaging in those peaceful, pleasant sensations can boost your mood.”
Visiting family or traveling during the holidays might throw us off from our daily routines, but Ballesteros says honoring at least one or two rituals — whether it’s a quiet cup of coffee or a quick workout in the morning or reading at night — can help you “stay sane” amid any vacation craziness. Rituals can help reduce anxiety and increase positive emotions, like confidence and gratitude, according to Psychology Today.
Ballesteros likes to begin her mornings with a cup of coffee and either an audiobook or YouTube video by someone that inspires her (lately, she’s been “obsessed” with Grace Beverley, a fitness influencer in the United Kingdom).
Scult recommends finding a comforting activity to use as a ritual for the holidays — he likes to light candles, drink tea and talk with his wife. Such rituals signal to your brain that it’s time to wind down and help take your mind off whatever your brain was doing during the day.
“It makes it easier to fall asleep because your mind isn’t racing as much,” he adds. “It can make a huge difference in your well-being, especially during the winter, which can be a stressful, tough season.”