Mental Health

Mental health: this is why your brain feels like mush when you return to work after a bank holiday

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Lauren Geall
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Struggling to focus at work after the bank holiday weekend? You’re not alone. 

No matter how much you love your job, returning to work after a break will always be a challenge. You’d probably rather not haul yourself out of bed at 6am and the prospect of dealing with all the emails that inevitably got put off before you left is enough to send anyone into a cold sweat.

The stress of returning to work aside, however, there’s another challenge that often comes with going back to work after a bank holiday or period of annual leave – the dreaded “brain mush”.

If you’re finding it hard to concentrate after this weekend’s four-day bank holiday, you’ll know what we’re talking about – no matter how hard you try, it’s as if your brain just won’t get back into action.  

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So, why does this strange phenomenon happen? According to Jade Thomas, a BACP-registered psychotherapist and psychologist in doctoral training at the Private Therapy Clinic, the answer could lie in the lack of routine associated with periods away from work.

“One of the reasons why you might struggle to get back into the flow of things when returning to work following a bank holiday could be the disruption of your regular routine,” Thomas says. 

“Routines help us to create healthy habits and feel more in control, which can reduce your stress and anxiety levels. Therefore, a break in routine can lead to us feeling a sense of uncertainty or general overwhelm.” 

The sheer contrast between what’s expected of us on our days off and when we return to work could also cause make it harder to concentrate, Thomas adds.

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A woman confused on her laptop
It's normal to feel a little all over the place this week.

“When you return to work following some time-off you’re likely to be in a relaxed state of mind,” she says. “As a result, you might be functioning at a slower pace than normal both mentally and physically, so returning to work can feel a bit like going from 0-100. Our bodies and minds take time to adjust and shift to a different pace – so the brain ‘mush’ might be as a result of this.”

While there’s not much you can do to shift this feeling if you’re already in the midst of it, there are some things you can do to make your first week back a little easier.

For example, Thomas recommends prioritising the tasks you’re dreading (to make things a little easier for the rest of the week) and taking time to move your body to get yourself out of “rest mode”. 

“When we have had time off, it can be difficult to get ourselves out of rest mode, so try to go for a walk or incorporate some exercise into your day. Moving your body will get the blood flow moving around your body and produce those endorphins to help you feel more fired up.”

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To prevent this feeling from happening the next time you take a break, Thomas also recommends getting organised the night before to remove any unnecessary stress and trying to focus on something you’re looking forward to once you’re back at your desk.

At the end of the day, while it’s hardly convenient to feel a bit all over the place after a break from work, it’s not the end of the world – and you shouldn’t get frustrated at yourself for not being at the top of your game from the moment you return. 

We all need time to adapt, and showing yourself a bit of kindness when you’re feeling off will make a big difference to how you feel as the week goes on.

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Lauren Geall

As Stylist’s digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and women’s issues. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time. You can find her on Twitter at @laurenjanegeall.