Avoid stress during your holiday: This is how to gradually scale back

Take the psychologist’s advice on how to scale back from 100 to zero kilometres an hour.

This article was first published in the summer of 2019

The time leading up to a longer holiday can be busy and may be perceived as a struggle to clear the piles on one’s desk, handing over tasks to colleagues and preparing tasks for after the holiday. This means that many people go on holiday with mild symptoms of stress - and the holiday may actually contribute to maintaining this accelerated stress level, if we are not aware of it.

And because stress is a basic condition for many people, it is important that we use our holidays to recover and recharge. Robert Jonasen, Lead Psychologist at SOS International, has some good advice on how to reduce stress before, during and after the holiday:

- At the beginning of the holiday, we are often affected by mood swings, fatigue and restlessness. Simply because it takes some time to scale back when we have been working full throttle up to the start of our holiday, says Robert Jonasen.

The Chief Psychologist recommends that we accept that braking hard may cause a slight "wobble":

- By paying attention and taking a few precautions, you can do a lot to ensure that the holiday becomes the restoring, stimulating and varied break from everyday life that your system and your brain need, says Robert Jonasen.

Good advice before your holiday
  • Prioritise your tasks at work. There are likely tasks on your desk that can easily wait until after your holiday. Feel free to involve your manager in prioritising your responsibilities.
  • Take your last day at work midweek. The transition from work to holiday is gentler if you end on a three-day work week.
  • Check if you can activate email auto-reply one or two days before your holiday begins to make sure that you can work undisturbed.
  • Take moderate exercise. Walking, gentle running and cycling help your body to burn off stress hormones. Do take yourself out into nature to allow your brain and breathing to also benefit from your exercise. The key work is moderate – this is not the time to train for a marathon or start ”bikini bootcamp”.
  • Plan realistically. As your holiday approaches, your expectations will likely grow. Reducing expectations and speaking with your family about this may be a good idea. If you have been busy at work leading up to your holiday, starting the holiday with a couple of days with no planned activities is a really good idea. Tell your family what to expect from you for the first couple of days of your holiday.
  • Good sleeping habits. Sleep is the single most decisive factor in our restitution. For this reason, it is a really good idea to become aware of your sleeping habits before your holiday. Prioritise getting enough sleep to ensure that you do not start your holiday being sleep deprived. In other words, working long evenings and nights to finish tasks at work before the holiday is a really bad idea.
Good advice for your holiday
  • Uninstall your work email from your telephone. Agree with your employer whether you must be available. If you are obliged to keep updated on work emails during your holiday, structuring this and limiting it to e.g. half an hour every morning is recommended. Remember to tell your family about this agreement – then you lessen the risk of unhappy faces.
  • Discuss expectations. How many museum visits, shopping trips and hiking trips in the mountains are required during the holiday? Check how you feel and honestly discuss your needs for activities during the holiday.
  • Think about what you eat. Make use of the fact that holiday time means you have more time to be aware of meals and ensure that your body has more of all the good stuff: proteins, healthy fats and fish. Avoid excessive amounts of deep-fried foods, sugar and alcohol.
Good advice after your holiday
  • Make the transition from holiday to workdays with meeting, emails and deadlines gentler by going back to work on a Wednesday instead of a Monday. That way you start with a shorter first week back at work.
  • Spend some time taking an overall view of your work schedule and be realistic when planning. Avoid extra-long workdays to get to the bottom of your tasks. Too many hours of work in one go increases the strain.
  • Take breaks. A ten-minute break may give you a sense of calm which means that you are more efficient when you return to your desk.
  • Make sure to take out time after work which let you recover and recharge.
  • Plan your next holiday or extended weekend already now so that you know when you will next have some time to breathe and recover.

Of the nearly 14,000 psychologists’ cases which SOS International Healthcare managed in 2018, approximately 30% were related to stress.

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