You’re a few days into your holiday. This break has been long awaited. The thought of getting away from work / home life has been in your mind for weeks, if not months. So here you are. It should all be hunky dory right? And yet it doesn’t quite feel that way. It’s a classic case of the holiday blues.
You feel depressed but you’re not quite sure why. You’re not really living the holiday you dreamed about. At its worst you can feel like you are going through the motions or forcing yourself to be a certain way.
With that, might well come two different and difficult feelings: anxiety and guilt. So what’s that all about?
The anxiety could well be about not having the time of your life and seeing the clock tick as the end of the holiday appears on the horizon. The pressure to feel differently, to feel connected with your partner / friends / children / self might be building up.
Equally you might be experiencing the pressure to pretend you’re having a better time than you really are. It becomes a vicious circle, the one feeding the other.
And the guilt? This is your moment, so awaited and longed for. So how can it be you aren’t having the time of your life? That’s impacting you and those you’re with and it feels shameful almost, that you’re not having the experience you were expecting to.
So what is this about?
Of course there can be external factors that impact you; the hotel or campsite or villa are a disaster area. The travel was awful. You or someone else falls ill. Difficult things can happen on holiday like at any other time of life.
But here I’m really focusing on your inner experience. So here’s probably the biggest reason you don’t feel as good as you think you should.
Pressure of expectation versus real experience. When you invest so much hope and expectation in a holiday, it can become like a prison sentence hanging over your head, that you should feel a particular way.
We can all have the fantasy that as soon as we step away from the daily routine, that our emotional life is transformed into an oasis of relaxation, self-compassion and joy.
The trouble is, you don’t leave yourself at home when you go on holiday. In fact, being on holiday can create the space to experience the feelings that being busy and stressed stopped you feeling before.
Anxiety, sadness, anger, despair can all come up when the noise of daily life is quietened. And that’s when the vicious circle comes into play: those feelings rear up and then anxiety and guilt tell you that you shouldn’t feel that way.
What can you do?
The first and perhaps most important thing is to allow yourself to be, however you are, without pressure or expectation. That is an exercise in self-compassion, to be with your feelings whatever they are. Just because you are on holiday, doesn’t mean those feelings will go away.
Allowing your real experience, with compassion to your self, may alleviate the feelings of guilt and anxiety.
That’s the counter intuitive thing about being with all your feelings. Rather than making things worse, it allows you to pass through those feelings. Opening the door to them allows them to come in, be present, and move on.
Barracading yourself against them, just makes them louder and more persistent. Or it means they come out in other ways: snappiness with others, feeling low or having no energy, for example. Any of those sound familiar? That’s because this isn’t just about ‘holiday you’, it’s also about ‘every day you’ too.
Often, when I see my counselling clients, they are struggling between how they think they ‘should’ be and what they are truly experience. That disconnect is very painful and takes a lot of energy to manage. They talk about putting on a brave face or a mask to hide their true feelings.
Being on holiday can be a powerful learning experience, of self-acceptance. Rather than holidaying from your feelings, you take them with you and give them a good airing. It can really make a big difference to your sense of wellbeing.
Here’s a holiday Lifeline than can help. It’s about cocktails. Now, that got your attention!
This week’s Lifeline
Take some time out if you can and find a quiet space just for yourself. Get in touch with your breath and allow yourself to find a stillness within.
After a few moments, imagine yourself mixing a large cocktail. Each ingredient is one of your dominant feelings. Imagine the colour, flavour, smell that goes with each feeling ingredient. Imagine yourself mixing them in the proportion you feel them.
When you’ve added all your dominant feelings to your cocktail, imagine mixing it up till it’s ready to drink: your feeling cocktail.
Then imagine drinking the cocktail slowly, either sipping it or through a straw. And as you do, each feeling entering your body and really allowing yourself to experience that feeling in depth. Continue and drink in all these feelings staying with them as long as you can.
When you are finished, return to your breath for a few moments, and then gently finish the exercise. You may want to write a few notes afterwards about the experience or draw the cocktail as you imagined it, listing all the ingredients.
Do you struggle to be yourself, when on holiday? Do you feel a pressure to be a certain way in your life?
To explore why that’s happening and how you may be able to change, why not book a first counselling appointment?