Going back to work after time off can be surprisingly difficult. Next vacation, use these steps to ease your return to the daily grind.

Vacations can reduce stress and improve mood, and it is essential that we all have the time we need to recharge. However, the vast majority of us have experienced a downside to vacation–as your time off comes to an end, you realize that you don’t feel ready to return to work.

It’s common to feel stress about going back to the grind. Coming back from vacation can feel like the Sunday Scaries, but worse. However, there are things you can do before, during, and after time off, so you will feel ready to launch back in.

What to do before you go

If the ship has already sailed, don’t worry; you can save this information for next time. That said, if you haven’t yet left for vacation, there are some boxes that you can check in advance to make your return a little easier.

Try these steps before your vacation, to set yourself up for success: 

1. Prepare for your return before you leave.

First, you can ask your employer what would be most helpful for you to do before you leave. This shows conscientiousness and dedication to your job. Next, give yourself concrete ways to prepare for your return, by asking what you should focus on when you get back.

If you work at an office in-person, tidy your desk and take care of any other matters that tend to overwhelm you. That could be clearing our your email inbox, or maybe scheduling some meetings for after your return.

Additionally, try to take care of non-work matters which might distract you upon your arrival back home. If your laundry is done, trash taken out, and a meal in the freezer, you won’t return to the weight of personal responsibilities mixed with work responsibilities.

2. Set an “away” message. 

Set an “away” message via email that will auto-reply if someone reaches out while you’re gone. If applicable, change your voicemail temporarily during this timeframe.

If anyone tries to contact you, they will know why you’re not answering. This way, you get peace of mind–and, hopefully, you won’t feel obligated to check your email or voicemail. (We will get to the importance of that shortly.)

If you’re not sure how to set an away message for your email, there are free guides online, such as this one for Gmail. 

3. Check-in with those fulfilling your role. 

If you are in a position where someone else has to fulfill your role while you are gone, check-in with that person. For example, if you’re a manager or a team lead, the people you manage might direct questions to someone else while you’re on vacation. A quick chat with that person might help avoid miscommunication or issues while you’re gone.

If you are concerned about taking time off because you don’t know who will step in for you, this may be something to bring up with superiors at your workplace.

4. Ask your employer to debrief you upon your return.

If relevant to your job, ask your employer to debrief you on anything noteworthy that you might’ve missed. Whether you work retail or in an office, routines may have changed while you were gone. It’s better to ask in advance than to be surprised with new information.

What to do during your vacation

In the midst of your time off, there is one main thing that you have to do: Enjoy it! 

Make sure that your vacation is really a vacation.

You deserve to have real time off. If you’re reading this during vacation and feel a high level of pressure to engage in work, remember that everyone at work knows you’re away. There’s no obligation to put your emotional or physical energy into those tasks right now.

If you work remotely or use technology for work, power off the work phone and computer. Or, log out of work-related accounts. At this time, you should not have to respond to emails or phone calls.

How does disconnecting support your emotional readiness to come back? If you work while on vacation, it is far more likely that you will feel deprived of the break you needed in the first place. This is your time to rest, and rest is necessary for work performance. (People who have experienced burnout can attest!)

If it is common for people to engage in work when they are off at your workplace, this may be something to bring up with your employer. That way, you can discuss how to mitigate it with them. Things happen, so if this is the case, try to separate yourself from work the rest of the time, but know that this is your time off and you do deserve it.

Check your self-talk.

If you start to experience work-related stress during your vacation, consider your “self-talk” about taking time off. Are you thinking of yourself as lazy? Do you worry you’ll be judged for taking a vacation?

Everyone needs time off to recharge and engage in other parts of their life. Tell yourself that you are a human being, and that you will be an even better worker after some well-earned relaxation.

If you struggle to put work out of your head, consider devoting just the last day of your vacation to those thoughts. Anytime a work thought pops up, say: “I will wait until the day before I return to think about that.” Or, if something important occurs to you, write it down and say to yourself: “Yes, this matters–but it can wait until I’ve planned to return. This time is for me.”

What to do as you return

As you’re returning to work, either on the day-of or the night before, consider these steps:

  • Keep your personal health in mind. What can you do to support your physical and mental health as you return to work? You may choose to focus on getting enough sleep, hydrating, updating friends on your trip, or other forms of self-care
  • Plan for your first day back. The night before your first day back, you might set your clothes out for the next day, get breakfast and lunch ready in advance, pack necessary items in your work bag, or do anything else that you need to do. Also, glance at the to-do list you made before your time off.
  • Find gratitude. Sure, going back to work isn’t always the best feeling after a vacation. But wasn’t the time off worth it? What was your favorite part of your break? What would you like to share with coworkers? Go into your first day back with a clear sense of the positives.
  • Start back on the right foot. Take a deep breath before you enter the building or open your computer. Do what you can to put yourself in a positive headspace the morning of your first day back. Take things one step at a time. 


In a world where we don’t always get the amount of rest that we need, it makes sense that someone may not feel emotionally ready to return to work after a vacation. Some of us face difficulty with changing routines, or overwhelm could be your main challenge. Maybe there’s something you dread about your return, such as an angry co-worker or a less-than-understanding boss.

Live in the moment during your time off, and remember that a healthy work-life balance sets you up for success not only in your occupation but with your health and other parts of life, too.