Returning to Work with the Post-Travel Blues

I’m sitting at my desk and see a customer support email from a team member come through with the wrong answer to the customer.

I feel the anxiety rising in my gut. Instant irritation and frustration. I tag the ticket for a training opportunity and try to pull myself together. Things happen, we react, even when we know better. Even when we mean it in the most compassionate way. 

Things happen, we react, even when we know better. Even when we mean it in the most compassionate way. 

As a naturally anxious person working in a role to support customers, I feel the constant pressure to do things in a certain way. If it’s not that way, I feel out of control and react, even if just internally toward myself with extra anxiety or irritation that lingers for days and affects other areas of my life.

Flash forward to a moment when I’m in a country where I don’t speak the language. I am trying to find the right road to take me back to where I’m staying. It’s crowded and I’m not entirely sure where to go. My Maps app isn’t loading properly. There’s some anxiety, but it’s more fueled by adventure. I’m nervous, but it doesn’t feel like the reactive anxiety that I feel when I’m sitting at my desk working with customers. 

Meet Travel Jenny! She is an adaptable, courageous, confident, compassionate, adventurous woman – she’s more open-minded and uses challenges to fuel experience, rather than letting it overtake her mind. After spending a month this past February in Europe, I hung out with Travel Jenny for a good, long time and really loved being in her shoes. 

After spending a month this past February in Europe, I hung out with Travel Jenny for a good, long time and really loved being in her shoes. 

She had me thinking about the long hours I spend at my desk, the types of work I’m doing, my inner beliefs around my self-worth and work, my personal life values and goals. She had me crying at some points, in foreign cafes with a rich espresso in my hand, questioning what I’ve done and where I’m going. Questioning my continued cycles of taking on excessive amounts of work then burning out over and over again. I fought through feelings of being a hypocrite, I mean I speak about burnout, so who am I to be up there when I can’t even figure it out for myself? This is all probably TMI but hey, I wanna keep it real with you.

This is all probably TMI but hey, I wanna keep it real with you.

Ultimately, my trip was eye opening on the inside but also externally – four countries in four weeks, time with amazing friends, the most delicious food, walking 10+ miles every day and being able to arrive back to the US from my last stop in Italy, amidst the spreading coronavirus. The transition back to work wasn’t easy, though. I had a major case of the post-travel blues.

The transition back to work wasn’t easy, though. I had a major case of the post-travel blues.

Jet lag hit me hard. I felt exhausted, overwhelmed with the pings and dings of being online at work again for 8+ hours. You know that moment when you’ve fallen asleep during a movie and a loud sound plays, ripping you from sleep in a stupor and you have no clue what’s going on? That’s how it felt returning back to my regular life again. 

Of course, I have so many things I’m grateful for. I live a wonderful life! I can’t deny that. But I think for me, and maybe you can relate, I’ll end up telling myself I’m grateful to have something in my life, even if I don’t like it, then I end up not doing anything to change it because I’m supposed to be grateful and accept it. Does that make sense? I let gratitude become an excuse for not facing things that actually need to shift.

I let gratitude become an excuse for not facing things that actually need to shift. 

Of course, I didn’t feel like I could tell my work any of this. And I didn’t feel like I could even tell my friends. I felt like a total jerk for sharing how I didn’t feel good mentally and physically because I just spent the most amazing month in Europe. I really had no place to complain, but my truth was right in front of me. A conference I was to speak at was cancelled due to coronavirus, reasonably so, but I, along with many others, felt super bummed about it. I could sense that my work was glad that instead of having me gone for additional days, I can just hop back to it. 

I cancelled all social plans with friends. I worked, put on my “happy face” but kept my distance. I noticed my extreme irritability creeping up over little things again. I started to react. I got mad at myself and felt guilty for reacting. I was eating emotionally. I worked at home and when I was done with work, I’d get into bed and lay there feeling like I’m living in a thick fog. I didn’t want to get out of bed. I wanted to be Travel Jenny again, exploring the world, diving into different cultures and not having extreme anxiety crashing over me. 

It’s only been 2 weeks since I returned. I know this is a process. I know that I can have some parts of Travel Jenny in my day to day life, but right now, it feels heavy. I took myself back to therapy. I’m slowly opening up to trusted friends. 

My mom always told me to not “air out my dirty laundry” and share my feelings with others. I’m not writing this for the sake of a pity party. I own allllll this – the good and the not so fun – I take full responsibility for myself and ultimately know if I want to make shifts, I can. It’s not supposed to be easy. If you have a team member that just arrived back from a trip, in addition to asking them about their adventures, maybe ask them how they are doing with the transition back to work. What space can you give them as they settle back? How can you support them as it’s not always an easy journey?  

If you have a team member that just arrived back from a trip, in addition to asking them about their adventures, maybe ask them how they are doing with the transition back to work. What space can you give them as they settle back? How can you support them as it’s not always an easy journey? 

I wanted to share this with you because maybe you’ve had a similar situation and reading this makes you feel less alone. 

As a thought-leader in customer service and experience, I want you to know that I’m not perfect. I don’t have it all together. I struggle.

And by owning my feelings and sharing them, I hope that it lends a reassuring hand (well, elbow these days) that if you don’t have it together, that’s totally OK too.

I also wanted to see if you have a travel version of yourself. Or maybe it’s a sports version or a cooking version or some type of YOU that shines because you’re doing something totally in your element. Maybe you’ll share with me!

Also, if you’re curious – I posted some pictures from my travels on my Instagram.

Jenny Dempsey is currently the the Customer Experience Manager for NumberBarn.com. She's the co-founder and regular contributor over at CustomerServiceLife.com. She's also a self-care coach for customer service agents and leaders at JennyDempsey.com. She is the mother to a toothless rescue cat named Chompers. Avocados and veggie tacos are the way to her heart. Hanson fan for life.

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