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Post-holiday blues: How to manage back-to-work anxiety

It's back-to-work time for many who had the holidays booked off. But returning to the grind can bring anxiety and a fair share of the blues, according to a clinical counsellor. 

Give yourself time to prepare, empathize with colleagues and set achievable goals to offset seasonal comedown

Going back to work after the Christmas holidays can leave people with what clinical counsellor Jennifer Hollinshead calls an 'emotional spiritual hangover.' (Shutterstock)

It's back-to-work time for many who had the holidays booked off. But returning to the grind can bring anxiety and a fair share of the blues, according to a clinical counsellor. 

Jennifer Hollinshead, founder of the counselling practice Peak Resilience in downtown Vancouver, says back-to-work anxiety comes in many forms. 

"There's the usual getting back in the day-to-day routine after being on holidays in a different routine, getting sleep back on track, getting more normal eating and drinking routines back on track ..." Hollinshead said. 

"But then, when you start digging a little bit deeper, you have kind of the emotional spiritual hangover of the holiday season."

Hollinshead says this happens because people experience a big lead-up to the holidays in the fall.

"We have Canadian Thanksgiving and then Halloween ... there are a lot of things that are leading up to the big moment of Christmas and New Year's. And then it's all over."

Give yourself extra time

To manage the anxiety and blues that can come with that end-of-season feeling, Hollinshead suggests setting aside some time to prepare for going back to work.

She says controlling your mental health at work starts with having an organized home. 

"I find I get panicked after Christmas. I just want everything back in place and put away and clean and ready for the new year. I feel like that is how I prepare to go back to work ... I get my home a little bit more in order," she said.

If you're on vacation, Hollinshead suggests coming home a day early to help the transition. 

"If we're going on a holiday, we don't go for 10 days, we go for nine days and we have a day at home before we go back to work," she said.

Even just putting out clothes for the next day, organizing your work bag and preparing your breakfast and lunch the night before can make a big difference, she says.

Taking time to reorganize and transition back to the regular routine can help with the back-to-work blues, Hollinshead says. (Credit: iStock/Getty Images)

Bonding with colleagues 

Hollinshead says it's likely that you're not the only one at work feeling post-holiday anxiety. 

"Other work stressors like your colleagues also being in the same boat of exhaustion, and maybe lack of focus can really combine where the sum is greater than the parts," she said. 

"If everyone just dramatically reduces their expectations of themselves and their colleagues, go in with a bit of a slower mindset to start, and focus on building relationships at work ... that's what can help people get through the January blues."

Hollinshead says starting conversations with colleagues about their holidays and showing interest in their lives can create a positive workspace and lower stress levels. 

Make manageable time goals

For some people, going back to work means catching up. Maybe you have an overwhelming amount of emails to answer. Or maybe you have beginning-of-the-year projects that need to be completed.

Hollinshead says to set reasonable goals that allow you to ease back into your routine.

"I really do find that if you chunk your work down into half-an-hour zones and say, 'OK, I'm just going to look at all of my emails for the next half hour and get as many as I can get done, and then I'm going to take a break' … It really honestly does work well."

Hollinshead says to start with the most important items on your list.

"People set lofty goals, but they really underestimate what they can accomplish if they just take tiny steps day by day. 'Baby steps' is the motto that I live by."

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