How to keep the energy high after vacation: island hopping and a few other ideas


Are you already back in the daily grind right after your vacation? Or are you so refreshed that your daily hassles are far away, and you’d like to keep them far for as long as possible?

Ten years ago, a local travel agent ran a TV campaign advertising “vacations in which you forget everything” – showing a couple arriving back at the airport daydreaming, and not recognizing their children and parents waiting for them at the gate.

The reality for most people is that their vacation high disappears after a few days. Two weeks back to work many people feel like they did not take a vacation at all or worse, feel like they are paying for the stress of coming back to a busy schedule and a backlog of to dos. Some people may even experience “the post-vacation blues”: finding it hard to concentrate back at work, feeling empty, lonely, and stressed.

If you were unhappy in your job prior to leaving on vacation, the distance away from work and reconnecting with your values and activities you truly enjoy, may make it obvious that now is the time to seriously consider a change – and that may create a feeling of panic or anxiety. Remember: our brain is a prediction machine and not knowing what our future holds may create a threat state in our brain and lead to stress.

What can we do to fight the post-vacation blues and keep the energy up high as we return to our daily lives?


Tip 1: Create yourself islands of renewal and visit them multiple times per day (rather than waiting for the next long weekend to indulge yourself)


Through their decades of research on stress, Daniel Goleman & Richard Boyatzis found that no matter how hard people try to combat stress and try to do things that have less stress, they are still experiencing stress with its negative effects on mind, body, and social life. They found that there is only one way to ameliorate the damages from stress, which is what they call “renewal”. The opposite of stress, renewal, activates the parasympathetic nervous system. Activating the parasympathetic system is associated with multiple physiological effects: our immune system is turned on; our capillaries in our heart are opened up and as a result the blood pressure drops, our pulse rate slows down and we have deeper breathing; our prefrontal cortex gets ample blood supply and energy supporting optimal problem-solving, collaboration, planning and creative thinking.

The renewal process does not only have positive effects on our physiology. It turns out that these renewals help us feel good, they uplift our mood and make us feel refreshed – just like coming out of vacation – and that’s the feeling we want to prolong!

Boyatzis, Goleman, Dhar & Osiri (2021) found that if the amount of renewal is greater than the amount of stress during a typical week, we are more empathic, less depressed, less anxious, more resilient, and we enjoy our job and career more, we’re more engaged, and we have more of a subjective sense of wellbeing. Now the important finding that they made is that it doesn’t matter how much you’re doing of these renewal activities independently, it matters how much they are relative to each other. In other words, the variety of things that we use for renewal is as powerful as the sheer amount of renewal. This means it’s more important for us to have more frequent, shorter moments of renewal like 15-minute breaks during the day than to have a whole hour or two in a row with only one renewal activity.

Let me suggest thinking of these renewal activities like little happy islands that we can visit at our discretion – no waiting for the plane to take us or the train to depart in time.


Creating your renewal islands


Renewal is different for everyone—just like stressors. For some, renewal may be found through having a meaningful conversation with a friend or snuggling an animal companion. Connecting time with nature, people and pets, being present and aligned with our values and purpose, moderate physical exercise, play, and kindness are islands of renewal and energy which wait for you to be visited and enjoyed ideally multiple times per day.



Island number one: Connecting time includes connecting with nature, people and of course, our pets. To visit the island of connecting time multiple times per day, we could start off taking the scenic route to work in the morning and take a stroll through the park in a coffee break. We could spend some quality connecting time with a colleague or friend over lunch and talk about our shared values, trying not to talk about work, at least in the first 15 minutes (I noticed hairdressers always want to talk about vacation trips– I guess they know that bringing back vacation memories makes us feel good instantly!)

Island number two: Play. Enjoying novel experiences with the spouse or best friend in a playful and spontaneous way and, playing with our pets have additional benefits to island number one: play releases dopamine which not only makes us feel good, it helps the brain make new connections.

Island number three: Presence. This includes mindfulness and meditation. If you find it hard to sit still and close your eyes, you may want to try the opposite instead: open your eyes wide and marvel at the beauty around you. If you are a fellow scientist: utilize your excellent observation skills as you gaze at a beautiful scenery in front of you. If you enjoy being artistic, you may want to sketch the flower you just admired in your garden, write a simple little love song for your cat or take out your camera again and revive your passion for photography.

Island number four: Moderate Physical Exercise. Aerobic exercise is like a bubble bath for our brain. Moderate aerobic activity has been shown to reduce stress, anxiety and depression. Physical meditation techniques like yoga or tai chi, but also singing and taking a calm walk out in nature are associated with deep breathing which will help the renewal system/the parasympathetic system kick in.

Island number five: Kindness. Helping others with a compassionate approach rather than trying to “fix” them. Volunteering or providing care for someone, whether it’s for a family member, a cause you are passionate about, or caring for an elderly neighbor, is very renewing.

Island number six: Purpose. Aligning with our purpose and values. Being away from routine and daily hassles and engaging in activities we enjoy help us reconnect with our values, what we hold dear and what drives us. As we come back to our daily routine, chances are we notice and assess potential discrepancies to our ideal state far more than we did prior to leaving, and in consequence we may feel frustrated, angry or disappointed with ourselves for not living up to what we deeply desire. While visiting several of the other islands will help increase the energy, this may be a good time to seriously consider changing our daily routine and working with a career coach to increase job satisfaction.

Tip 2: Continue using your strengths back at home and in the workplace


Our strengths are our greatest allies, by playing to our strengths we increase our happiness, resilience, and energy. Research shows that strengths are the biggest contributors to work meaningfulness and work satisfaction. Research with the Harrison Assessment System shows that employees who enjoy at least 75% of their job are approximately 3 times more likely to succeed than employees who enjoy less than 75% of their job. How does this work? According to the Enjoyment-Performance theory, when people enjoy a task or have an interest in something, they tend to do it more, and when they do it more, they get better at it (effect of practice). When they get better at it, they get acknowledged or feel better about themselves (effect of feedback) and this furthers the cycle by causing them to enjoy that activity even more.

A vacation is usually a great opportunity for us to reconnect with what we truly enjoy and are good at. If I look at my friends’ vacation choices, I find they usually are well aligned with their character strengths. In other words, if you are short of a strengths assessment, you will find that your vacation preferences reveal a great deal about your strengths. Let’s take the example of Mia and look at the vacation trip she would consider most enjoyable and recharging:

A perfect vacation for Mia includes:

As Mia returns from vacation, she may want to take special care to continue using her strengths in the workplace, as they will increase her energy and work satisfaction. Let’s assume Mia is a Clinical Scientist running early clinical trials for a potential new drug in a rare and very debilitating genetic disease. Mia probably already uses her love of learning and curiosity to a large degree in her job, she may activate these strengths further by organizing a webinar with Key Opinion Leaders and invite a patient who suffers from the disease to share their experience. Mia may want to summarize the learnings from the webinar in a newsletter to all the members of the clinical team and raise disease awareness in her company. She may decide to step out of her comfort zone and record a video in which she interviews the patient, and together with a colleague create a prize-winning vlog to be distributed in the next company’s newsletter.

A few concluding remarks and take-home messages


Engaging in activities which are energizing and activate our body’s renewal system is a choice we make every day. If yesterday’s choices were not optimal, today is a new day, practice self-love and enjoy the process with a growth mindset. Finding our personal renewal islands that give us the most energy and how we integrate the visits in our daily routine can be fun!

Taking a strengths-based approach has multiple benefits on our health, wellbeing, and energy levels as well as our life and job satisfaction. There are several strengths assessments available – the VIA Survey referenced below is a great tool to increase self-awareness about one’s strengths that can lead to change. The VIA Survey is not recommended for employee selection and is not specific to the workplace. If you are looking for a work-related assessment to predict success and enjoyment in a specific job, you may consider the Harrison Assessment.

Awareness, practice, and feedback are the main ingredients to create and maintain new habits. Maintaining a log or a journal with an inspiring goal statement help us getting started and staying on track.


Please leave your comments and ideas – we are curious to hear from you!

Happy island hopping!




Literature and Resources – 13-week goal planner, backed by science and success psychology, designed to optimize your day, tackle your goals, and live a more fulfilled life a series of reflective questions, the Personal Sustainability Index (PSI) assessment identifies the sources of stress and renewal in your life. Taking a look at how much and how often you engage in each, you’ll get a picture of your own stress/renewal balance. – take the free online strengths assessment backed by decades of research by the VIA Institute on Character

Boyatzis, R. E., Goleman, D., Dhar, U., & Osiri, J. K. (2021). Thrive and survive: Assessing personal sustainability. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 73(1), 27–50.

Harzer, C., & Ruch, W. (2015). The Relationships of Character Strengths with Coping, Work-Related Stress, and Job Satisfaction. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 165.

Niemiec, R. M., & McGrath, R. E. (2019). The power of character strengths: Appreciate and ignite your positive personality. VIA Institute on Character.