Gail Welkes Blog

Vacations – Why Are They So Stressful?

Most of us take time off of work to reduce stress and anxiety. If you are planning to take a trip or some time off during the Holidays, you may also want to plan for the stress that a vacation can bring on. We spend months planning and looking forward to our vacation.  We think about relaxing or visiting family and friends. We relish traveling to new places or spending time feeling carefree and happy.  So why do so many of my clients report a feeling of dread and a heightening level of anxiety right before their vacations?

There are many stressors that can pop up before vacation starts. Packing, finalizing travel arrangements, completing work tasks, etc., are normal stressors that are usually manageable. But for many, stressors can start to compound causing one to feel overwhelmed, irritable, and distracted. When feelings of worry detract from feelings of excitement before you even leave, it’s a signal to use these proven anxiety management tools.

Prior to vacation:

  1. Plan your trip.  Lay out what you will do, what you hope you to do and what you need to do.  This includes planning for the kids, making a budget, and researching the resources you can tap into on the trip. Use the plan as a template and stay flexible, not rigid!
  2. My clients report that one of their biggest pre-vacation stressors is the fear that they will forget to pack an important item.  Don’t wait for the last-minute to pack.  Make a list of what you want to take and what you need to take for each person going on the trip. As you pack, cross off each item as it is placed in the bag.  Know what is in each bag or suitcase, so when you get to your destination, you can easily retrieve your belongings.
  3. Can we really escape work?  For many, like me, we must be available for emergencies that may arise. But for the most part, we are not as indispensable as we may think.  Somehow, the workplace will survive your brief absence.  If this is a worry for you, relax your mind and imagine how much more productive and refreshed you will be when you return.
  4. Technology is a trouble zone and continued use during your vacation can increase anxiety.  We are tethered to our phones, and thus tethered to the stress of work even when we are away.  Think back to earlier times in your life when you vacationed, before technology had a stranglehold.  What did you do about work?  Did you call into the office several times a day, check your email every 5 minutes, and drag your laptop everywhere?  If you didn’t, take a lesson from your former vacation and keep work where it belongs – at your office, not in your baggage! (Pun intended!).
  5. If you can, plan to have a day off before your trip even starts. Having time before vacation to run last-minute errands and get organized, will keep anxiety at bay.
  6. If you are taking time off to relax at home, make a list of some of the things you would like to do with your down time. Utilizing your time to regroup from your day-to-day stressors is a sound mental health strategy.  It is also a great time to connect with the family and friends you may have been neglecting.

Taking a vacation is an important part of maintaining mental health. These tips will help you start your vacation in a stress-free state of mind!

– Gail Welkes, LCSW is a clinical psychotherapist, practicing in the Philadelphia area.