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The Psychology of your Summer Holidays

So the summer holidays are upon us, kids away from school and we are all looking forward to our time away from lockdown and work. There is no doubt the past 16 months of the pandemic have been difficult. So a summer holiday is what we need now that we can travel.  For most working adults for one or two weeks (sometimes more),  it’s time away from the daily working routine and of course lockdown cabin fever. The big question then is are you, your work ready for your summer holiday?

Not surprisingly there is quite a lot of research from different areas of psychology on how to manage your workload before the summer holiday. Studies suggest that there are distinct stages of holiday mood & satisfaction. However, this largely depends upon our experiences and the way we perceive the break prior to travelling. Needless to say, the travel industry wants us all to have great positive experiences on holiday rather than bad. We all want those lazy hazy days of summer to live long in the memory for all the right reasons. Thus helping us make similar choices for the next year.

The Psychology of your Holiday

Now for the psychology stuff. Nawijn, J. (2010) found with international tourists in the Netherlands that they experienced a “holiday happiness curve”. The average mood on holiday was generally high, though “mood was somewhat lower among people who were in the first travel phase of about 10% of the holiday duration. The mood was highest during the core phase, which covers about 70% of the holiday time. Mood then declines slightly, but increases during the last part of the holiday” (Nawijn, J. 2010).

Therefore, the first part of the trip is unsurprisingly most stressful for the family, mainly due to travel arrangements. However, if the holiday has been restful we tend to experience a “rejuvenation phase”. Making the thought of packing up after the lovely time away less onerous when it comes to packing up for going home and back to work. Indeed he Nawijn, J. (2010) study went on to report that a holiday duration of 3-6 days significantly improved happiness levels as opposed to a shorter two-day break.

What about a weekend away?

So a weekend away may seem like a good idea, but may well scupper any long term effects upon happiness from the trip when returning to work. It’s an interesting thought that the stress of the travel at both ends of the weekend away is a problem. The theory suggests with less time in the “core phase”, the short break may do more harm than good for the individual. So in principle, the key message is the more time you have actually at your holiday location seems to be the most pleasurable for all concerned.

Health & Well-being

Perhaps the most beneficial area for our summer holidays is our health & well-being. Apart from the phenomena of “leisure sickness” where some of us are affected by the changes of routine, disrupted sleep, amount of alcohol consumed, more or less coffee for example. Time away has been shown to reduce the likelihood of health and well-being related problems. Though not necessarily so for those with existing conditions (remember the issues to travel stress).

Indeed Fritz (2006) suggests that we generally feeling healthier following a holiday and that our work tasks on our return can feel less effortful. However, this effect fades rapidly if there is a mountain of work to go back to. So a simple plan to help your return to work following a holiday – try to avoid a backlog of work. Probably easier said than done of course. Try to ensure that people who are likely to contact you by email at work are aware of your absence and that emails will not be answered whilst away. You are on holiday after all.

However, there are added levels of stress & anxiety to add to the equation now. What is the Covid-19 levels of infection in the country or region you are going to? Will we need masks? Will we need a vaccine passport? Do we need to isolate on arrival or returning from holiday. All elements need to be considered prior to move toward having a nice time on holiday.

Ditch the Phone

Intensive smartphone use during evening hours can hamper that holiday balance. Mainly by reducing the possibility of getting down to the beach or other activities that provide a sense of work disengagement. This disengagement helps to restore and recharge those all-important work/life batteries. This uncoupling from work during time away acts as a buffer between those full-on job demands and a sense of psychological “ill-being”. Thus helping you with your resilience and putting the day-to-day stresses and strains into context.

Working on Holiday is fine if you enjoy it

I am sure there are many that enjoy keeping up with work for various reasons. Employees and the self-employed that have control over whether to engage in work-related activities then disengagement from work is not so much of a problem. It depends upon the type of tasks they pursue and when they start and stop these tasks. It seems to be crucial that workers have the feeling of control. Moreover, they can freely decide which, if any work-related activities, to pursue during holiday time; and how much pleasure they experience while performing this activity. So it’s not that you do not engage with any work activity it’s what you do and if you enjoy it that counts (Fritz 2006). Not what you do, but how you do it.

Lastly…..

Clearly, there is enough evidence to suggest the summer holiday is valuable to help dissipate the day-to-day stresses and strains in the workplace and from the days of lockdown.  Evidence suggests that a time away boosts health and well-being and with associated positively effects on your work performance. If only temporarily in some cases.

Holiday time allow us to reconnect with friends and family, and perhaps put other aspects of our personal & working lives into more perspective. Instead of pondering where to go, how long and what to do when there, focus on the things that really matter. Perhaps re-engaging with family perhaps after the long days of lockdown is the priority. Or conversely, getting away from the family following months of confinement together!

The goal then is smooth stress less start to the holiday.  Create the space to disengage from everyday work-related or pandemic worries. Do your planning to ensure you mitigate those stressors out of the system before the holiday. Holidays also help us to engage in jobs from work we like to do so we can enjoy the freedom during the time away. Try to make it a memorable end to the holiday period. This will help with a gradual ramp-up and staged return to your work. Rather than facing a deluge of jobs and emails to contend with on your return.

Though the effects do fade rapidly if care is not taken to plan your return to work from your break. Perhaps this may give you the ammunition to ask your boss for more flexible/hybrid working perhaps?  Maybe some additional holidays to improve health, happiness and increase work performance………….certainly worth a try at least. Whatever you choose to do with your time away following this difficult this year, I am hoping everyone has a happy, safe and restful holiday time.

Image by Dooder – www.freepik.com


References

Nawijn, J. (2010) The holiday happiness curve: a preliminary investigation into mood during a holiday abroad. International Journal of Tourism Research, 12(3), 281-290.

Fritz, C. & Sonnentag, S. (2006). Recovery, well-being, and performance-related outcomes: The role of workload and vacation experiences. Journal of Applied Psychology, 91, 936-945

Bibliography

Mitchell TRThompson LPeterson ECronk R. (1997) Temporal Adjustments in the Evaluation of Events: The “Rosy View” J Exp Soc Psychol. 1997 Jul;33(4):421-48.

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