Back to work: 10 worst things about post-holiday blues

By Sean Coughlan
BBC News education correspondent

  • Published
Composite of back to work photos: squashed commuters on train, enormous inbox pile, boring meeting

The first day after the holidays is one of the grimmest in the working year. You've swapped the beaches and blue skies for a view of a commuter's armpit and the sound of someone droning, droning, droning into a mobile phone. Here are some of the worst things about post-holiday depression.

1. An email inbox stretching out like the Dead Sea Scrolls

There are so many unread messages lying in wait. Thousands of attention-seeking little voices are crammed into your inbox. All inhuman life is there. There are self-serving circulars from middle-managers, duff special discounts, complicated requests you've been avoiding, angry reminders, spam and paranoia, hilarious links that are as funny as a broken toe, ideas waiting for a spare hour to think about. There are ancient unanswered emails that stare back reproachfully. Turn your back and your inbox fills so quickly. It's the industrial waste of the digital age. There are an estimated 150 billion emails sent each day and it feels like you've been copied into most of them.

2. Post-travel trauma

It seemed like such a good idea to stretch the holiday to the very last minute. But it meant you were back only a few hours ago, travelling through the night like badly packed vegetables, drifting through arrivals like a herd of sunburned zombies, those holiday outfits looking sadder by the second. Now you're at your desk at work. Someone is asking a question but you're in your own time zone and incapable of speech. All you can do is look back with a vacant expression like an airport baggage carousel, bringing around the same broken pushchair, again and again.

3. Reboot your life

It's a cast-iron fact that all your log-ins will have been changed and your passwords expired, so the first morning back will be spent shouting at your computer. It's only an electric box but it's treating you as a circus animal. Here's a hoop, jump through it, while shouting your memorable word. Forgotten your username? A week of this and you'll forget you were ever away.

4. Why is everyone looking at me?

Image caption,
Where am I?

Alienation used to happen in novels for A-level. Now it's happening to you. It's that dislocated feeling. Am I in a meeting or am I trapped in a terrible improvised play? A tragedy with flipcharts. Everything seems so meaningless and shallow. Who is this person who calls himself "the boss"? Why is he waving his arms around and speaking nonsense to me?

5. Holiday envy

She's already turned her iPhone beach-at-sunset picture into her screen saver and left the club class baggage tag sitting on the desk, just like it got there by accident. It's bad enough getting back from your own low-rent holiday without having to hear about someone else's five-star fortnight. Maybe you could say "West Coast" in a way that suggests you've been to California, rather than just being the train line you took to your caravan.

6. Nothing has changed. Again.

That novel you were going to write when you were off, didn't quite get started. And that optimistic fitness campaign hasn't really jogged into view. Now you're back, catching the same train, carrying out the same tasks. You've blown your cash on the holiday and it's a tight-looking September, especially since no-one who does any work ever gets a pay rise. You got a glimpse of freedom on your travels, now you're back where you started. You're suffering from a classic case of post-holiday restlessness.

7. The joy of breakfast

Coming back from holiday means giving up briefly rediscovered pleasures. And one of these miniature gems is the holiday breakfast, spread out and enjoyed at leisure. A family breakfast is almost impossible anywhere outside those couple of weeks. Now you're back, eating cardboard soaked in milk listening to people moaning on the radio. Enjoy.

8. Putting the socks back on again

Image caption,
Say goodbye to the open toe

You've been a one-person Latin Quarter for a fortnight. You've escaped routine and you've been dressing down. Shorts and a rakish straw hat maybe, or something with a Breton stripe. Observer readers will have answered the irresistible call of the espadrille. And now, in the scratchy blazer days of September, you're back at work and those office clothes suddenly seem so heavy. It's time to put on the socks.

9. The big sleep

Sleeping long and undisturbed is one of the sweetest pleasures of a holiday. And not just in the afternoon. That makes it all the harder when you're back and the alarm clock is ringing. No more marinating in your own dreams, it's back to work-related sleep deprivation.

10. Ghost train

Commuting can be dreadful at the best of times, but on the return to work everything about it is unbearable. Overcrowded, stifling carriages grinding their way into the city. Look around at the expressions and it's like that bit in Apocalypse Now when Marlon Brando starts whispering: "The horror, the horror." That clicking sound isn't from someone else's headphones, it's the rhythmic crushing of your soul. Welcome back, we've missed you.

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