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How do I get back on track after the summer break?

The question: I'm finally back at work after taking most of the summer off – I took relaxing very literally. But now reality is setting in at the office and I'm completely unmotivated to do real work. How can I get myself back on track after such a long break?

The answer: Ahh the joys of summer – sun, relaxation and reduced workload. My first reaction is envy. I want to know what you do for a living as I want that job that gives me the summer off!

For all of us, getting back into the flow of regular life and work responsibilities after any extended break can be tough. As humans we are innately hedonistic and naturally gravitate toward things that feel pleasurable, enjoyable, and evoke a positive emotional state. We are also master acclimatizers. We physiologically and behaviourally adjust to whatever environment we are placed in. This is true for both relaxing situations or intense work situations.

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The changes can be subtle and happen without any conscious awareness. They are multi-factorial, impacting our general mood state and our levels of energy, attention and focus. And they often occur gradually. I find it can take me a few days into a vacation (or longer if I've been in a very intense work situation) to subjectively start to feel "zenned out". I end up sleeping way more than is usual (or needed), maybe even napping. I definitely don't feel as sharp mentally as I do when I'm in work mode.

Depending on the length of your holiday, it may take from a few days to a few weeks to make the full transition out of vacation mode. Your lack of motivation is likely much more attributable to the lower energy level and reduced focus you had during your vacation than it is to anything else.

I'm going to make the assumption that you are not independently wealthy and work out of necessity, choice, or both. It can be easy (especially on the heels of an extended vacation) to get stuck in the trap of ruminating on the reasons you have to work. Not only does this type of thinking do nothing to change the situation, but it breeds negative emotions. Shifting your focus to the choice elements can help you feel more engaged, more quickly.

Remind yourself why you are doing the work that you do. Putting pen to paper can be useful. Ask yourself, why did you choose the job you are in? What do you love most about it? How does it contribute to your sense of meaning and purpose? How does your job allow you to achieve your personal and financial goals? And, perhaps most importantly, where and when is the next vacation your job is going to allow you to take?

If you find the feeling of low motivation persists, it may be a sign that you need to think seriously about whether the job or career you are in is a good fit for you and is truly making you happy.

Dr. Joti Samra, R.Psych., is a clinical psychologist and organizational & media consultant. She is the host of OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network's Million Dollar Neighbourhood and is the psychological consultant to CITY-TV's The Bachelor Canada. Her website is www.drjotisamra.com and she can be followed @drjotisamra.

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The content provided in The Globe and Mail's Ask a Health Expert centre is for information purposes only and is neither intended to be relied upon nor to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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