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The post-holiday depression

Around March or April, with the winter holiday still fresh in mind, many office workers start to long for the summer holiday. It will give them a chance to recharge their depleted “batteries" and get ready to head back into the fray. At least, that is what people assume…

However, the fact that people’s energy levels are so low is caused by everyday stressors and behaviour. Once people come back from their holidays, they immediately feel that their day-to-day lives are still just as stressful and tiring as before. Although they feel refreshed after their holiday, that feeling does not last long. The realisation that the next holiday is still months away is a hard pill to swallow.

The “batteries"

We can feel cognitively, emotionally and physically depleted. In order to recharge ourselves, we are often advised to go on holiday, take up a hobby, exercise, hang out with friends and family, take some rest or eat healthier. Which one of these methods is most effective?

Following severe stressors or stimuli, recovery takes place if there is psychological detachment. Futurologist Alex Soojung-Kim Pang suggests that the methods of relaxation that are most effective for recharging yourself are not the passive forms of relaxation, but rather the physically and mentally challenging forms. Exercising after work or taking up a creative hobby turn out to be excellent ways to unwind. Watching Netflix, lounging on the sofa and browsing the Internet are less effective methods of unwinding, because the brain is insufficiently stimulated to detach from the familiar stimuli.

De Bloom et al. (2017) researched the connections between people’s leisure activity profiles on the one hand and their recovery experiences and performance at work on the other. They found that, over a one-year period, people could be grouped with relative stability into one of four distinct leisure activity profiles, which vary in both intensity and variation, and that each of these groups achieved different scores in terms of their recovery and performance during a one-year period.

The most common profile among the 831 Finnish employees (from twelve different organisations) who were part of this study was that of the “Social Athletes". The name says it all: this group had an active, athletic lifestyle combined with abundant social interaction, although they rarely engaged in creative or cultural activities. The term “Active Artists" was used to describe the group of people who mainly spent their time on creative hobbies and a variation of all other possible types of hobbies. “Socially and Culturally Inactive People" spent a lower-than-average amount of time on social, cultural and creative leisure activities and an average amount of time on sports. “Inactive Loners" scored less than average in terms of their physical and social activity and average in terms of their cultural and creative leisure activities.

It turned out that the Active Artists – with their range of creative, cultural and physical activities – and the Social Athletes recovered particularly well from their work and displayed elevated levels of professional performance during a one-year period.

Why is going on holiday a good way to recharge?

In truth, we actually use a relatively large amount of energy while away on holiday, sometimes without even realising it. We encounter a wide variety of new stimuli, which cannot be processed automatically. Many of the stimuli we encounter during an average day at work require far less effort to process. Nevertheless, we still manage to recover properly from all these new stimuli during our holiday.

While we are away, we tend to become like the aforementioned “Active Artists". We engage in cultural activities, we try to speak a different language, we play sports and games and we deal with (new) people all day long. Our brain is constantly “detaching" from the previous experience.

Implications for employers and employees

The way in which someone spends their free time turns out to affect that person’s performance at work and their ability to recover from their work. Going on holiday teaches us how to spend our free time in an active manner, while still having energy left at the end of the day.

A tip for employers might be to stop labelling the playing of on- and offline games as unproductive behaviour. Instead, it can help people recover from stimuli and will ultimately lead them to perform better. Employers can also stimulate their employees to engage in sports activities – both during and outside office hours – by e.g. offering gym memberships or financial support/subsidies for sports lessons and cultural and/or creative activities in a social context.

For employees, it would be interesting to examine their own leisure activity profile. Which profile are they currently part of and which profile would be best to help them keep their batteries charged? If an employee feels recharged after a holiday, only to have their energy levels drop again soon after, they should act more like they did when they were on holiday. This helps prevent a drop in their energy level and eliminates that infamous post-holiday depression!

Myrthe van Stralen

Senior Consultant | Research and Development
BakkerElkhuizen (part of  Office Athletes)


De Bloom, J., Rantanen, J., Tement, S. & Kinnunen, U. (2017) Longitudinal leisure profiles and their associations with recovery experiences and job performance. (published online

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