The Six Stages of Post-Vacation Reentry

Man on RocketI really love vacations. But I have to say I really hate returning to work after a vacation. Several years back, I wrote these stages of vacation reentry–since I return to work tomorrow it seemed like an appropriate time to revisit them:

  • Stage One: Denial: refusing to think about the fact that I will have to return to work faster than it emotionally feels like I should.
  • Stage Two: Depression: the low-level blue mood that precedes the actually reentry. The resentment about having to conform to a schedule other than of my own making again.
  • Stage Three: Disorientation: the mental pauses and temporary space outs that occur when I can’t quite shift into a work pattern/task as easily as I did before I left. Probably because I’ve lost the rhythm.
  • Stage Four: Decompensation: feeling overloaded by the accumulate mail, email, and deferred meetings that all were scheduled for the week of my return.
  • Stage Five: Digging In: starting to make some headway at getting through the accumulated stuff, a sense of hope returns
  • Stage Six: Dedicated: Back in my stride, feeling motivated to accomplish good things.

At the moment, I’m in Depression. Stage Six seems light years away. How long does it take you to get to Stage Six? Have I left any stages out?

Photo (Sound Transit ad: Reentry; Ad by Copacino + Fujikado) by Wade Rockett

13 thoughts on “The Six Stages of Post-Vacation Reentry

  1. I’ve never really thought before of stages of re-entry into work post vacation but these make total sense to me… I too have just returned from vacation and would probably just add exhaustion to the list (when you are returning from an overseas trip in which you have to deal with adjusting to a time difference plus the recuperation from the long trip).

    One thing that may help in getting to stage six sooner than later, is doing something that my husband tends to do – he tells the outer world that he is in the office a day later than he actually is so that he may catch up on his first day back from vacation.

    Hoping you feel like yourself very soon!


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  3. Exhaustion…yes, definitely key, especially after a trip with time zone changes. Probably a thread that runs through Stage Four…maybe deserves it’s own stage!

    And I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE your husband’s idea. I have tried to block out some “catch up/reentry time” but it’s not as good as what he does. I will definitely try that the next time I’m off.


  4. I’m so glad you posted this. While I’m in stage four right now I’m glad it has a name. Where do hundreds of emails even come from??

    Thanks for the post and to us getting to six quickly and painlessly!


    • Stage Four sucks–but the good news is you’ve hit bottom and it gets better from there. 🙂

      And I sure wish I knew where all those emails came from…..


  5. Hmmm…good question, Robin. While I have moments of these feelings starting the first day back, I don’t think it becomes a full stage for me until Stage Six. I think I I would add it there…flesh that out more.

    Where/how would you put it?


  6. Nancy, I think, being self-employed, I’m in a different situation. I’m usually checking emails during vacation, so am not so over-whelmed with stuff when I return. I find that I’m a bit discombulated on the first day, then get into the joyous swing of it by the second. With no boss, no meetings that I’m not running and about 4 hours each month of any kind of paperwork, it’s way easier. Add a day for tax prep and a full day for end of year paperwork, and that’s all.
    Writing is another story. I do love doing it, sometimes, but it is like getting used to using a different set of lungs–starting a book is willing to go under water for a year. And the beginning submersion is a shock, because my mind fills up with book and doesn’t stop, even for sleep. It’s episodic. Writing. Then big edits. Then the little text edits. The writing is breathing under water. The other is like a job. It’s lucky for me that I love language.
    I think stage 4 is scattered through my life and I tend to feel it before I leave town, when I’m trying to put a bow on all the tasks so I don’t have to deal with them when I come home.


    • Yeah, I was thinking this too, Robin. Most of your workload is self-initiated or only happens when you are there, so it has a different dynamic to it. By the way, I also feel Stage Four before a vacation or leaving town. I think it’s the reentry stuff that really differs though. I think you should write your own stages!


  7. At first I was in denial, saying, “hmm, being self-employed, this doesn’t apply to me..” But now I have accepted this, and am at Stages two, three and four. They’re kind of going like a waltz today: 2,3,4 2,3,4 .C’mon 5!!


    • 🙂 I do think the timing (and maybe the stages!) differ for self-employed people in private practice, but it’s good to know that we share some of the process. You and Robin (also self-employed…see other comments) should put out a private practitioner’s version of this!


  8. Very funny… Nancy, you obviously were not raising small children when you wrote this! We’re so psyched about school starting again after 2 weeks! We’d need a whole different “stage model” for parents of young children.


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