Jan 07

People that come back from tropical vacation spots occasionally report mild depression upon returning to civilization. The generally-accepted cause seems to be that our society has become materialistic and disjointed. I have a different hypothesis as to what might be the true cause and it has nothing to do with flaws in the congruity of life in big cities.

The trouble with being given a spotlight is that you start to behave the way you think someone in a spotlight should behave rather than continuing with your own voice that got you there in the first place. Granted, this will be breaking my first New Year’s resolution of ditching the first person tense for posts but the realization I had after consulting a very wise woman is that ultimately blog writing is about connecting deeply with others and has nothing to do with tense usage and choice of grammar or even subject matter. If you can write something that resonates deeply with one person, that’s far more important than appealing shallowly to a ton of people. It matters only that the writing stem directly from the center of your chest as opposed to the top of your head. So I want to first tell a story and then suggest an idea for a thesis or dissertation to any graduate student of the behavioral sciences who might be qualified to test this theory and is looking for good fodder for a dissertation.

caboLandsEnd.JPGA friend of mine, Jeff Hausman once said to me upon returning from an extended vacation in Thailand, “Why is it that I feel so depressed by all this concrete and the pace of things here in the US– what are we doing”

You really have to know Jeff to appreciate this statement. He’s the owner of VanHalenStore.com. I’ve known him since 1997 and he is the largest online retailer of Van Halen merchandise in the world and formerly produced Inside Magazine, the exclusive Van Halen fan magazine (this makes him one of the coolest people ever btw). He is one of the rare people that has made a living doing exactly what he loves and he’s been successful not because he is a genius at marketing or online sales, but because he is arguably VH’s biggest fan and believes in what he sells. Anyways, in October of 2000 he convinced four of us to drive with him from Phoenix to Cabo San Lucas. It was a round-trip of nearly 4000 miles that took three days of straight driving each way on some of the narrowest, most treacherous roads down the untamed Baja peninsula.

And it was a pilgrimage of sorts for all of us – Benny, Brad and I had just come out of working for a company called ProScout. Avery was in a transitional phase at Nortel and Jeff was flexible through the nature of his business to be able to take two weeks off and go to Mexico. The moons that were each of our lives were in proverbial alignment to facilitate this trip and it felt like one of those Stand By Me-type transformational voyages we all needed to take.

CaboArrivalAtOffice.JPGThe trip was in every way an epic adventure. We saw terrain and people that few others will ever see. When we finally arrived in Cabo we pulled up to this beach bar called “The Office” (still fresh out of our cube farms, the irony was laughable). We promptly grabbed a metal bucket of coronas, filled the bottom 1/3rd with sand and floated out into the ocean bobbing up and down on the swells that rolled in off the Pacific. It is a gem of a memory I keep tucked away and to this day draw upon it in moments of great stress.

Mexico is a “heat sink for stress” – it melts it away and puts even the most neurotic person into a relaxed state of mind. Mexican locals in the towns we visit don’t know the meaning of hurriedness there. The rest of that trip we spent lounging on Land’s End, taking water taxi’s, sea kayaking around the point, playing guitar and talking about the things that good friends can talk about under the stars in a foreign place. It was epic and it unwound us all.

caboWaterTaxi.JPGLike all amazing journeys though, it had to come to an end. We were there for twelve days and on the final day (once we had convinced Brad that he could not in fact smuggle the stray puppy that he had found back to the States), we guided Jeff’s Bronco onto Interstate 1 and began the long drive back up the Baja to Phoenix. We each took something different from that trip but what was consistent for all of us was the grounding effect of extracting ourselves from the rat race, transplanting to a seaside town and putting life in slo-mo for awhile.

Upon re-entering the States, Benny Brad and I took desk jobs, Avery returned to his Nortel cubicle and Jeff to his basement. Subsequently, each of us experienced a period of depression as we re-integrated to the concrete sprawls of our respective hometowns, Phoenix and Dallas. We talked about it and tried to put our finger on the cause- the conclusion we all came to was that it had to do with temporary shelter in a responsibility-free, stress-free environment and snapping back to the reality of the grind of daily work in a more-material-oriented society. With hindsight having made several extended trips to various seaside towns in Mexico since, I have a different theory to explain the depression and it is as simple as this:

When your body acclimates to a tropical climate (humid and fresh sea air) and a healthy diet (organic produce and mainly seafood with high concentration of OM-3 and OM-6 EFA’s), abruptly transplanting to a locale with poor air quality, zero humidity and a EFA-deficient diet causes jarring changes in one’s chemistry and effects manifest as depression. We mistakenly attribute the resulting lethargy to the hustle & bustle and materialism of our home surroundings and ponder whether the US is going to “hell in a hand basket.” I’m suggesting that the depression can be attributed to simple Pavlovian classical conditioning with the body chemistry changes being the true culprit and us subconsciously pairing the stimuli of our home surroundings with the behavioral response we experience from the chemistry change. If this is in fact correct, then the effects can be easily mitigated with an air purifier, humidifier and dietary supplements to approximate the tropical environment.

CaboBungalow.JPGAnyways, that’s the gist of my theory. Of course I have no scientific basis to substantiate any of this but it’s a best guess based on past personal experience and could be fairly easily tested with control groups. It would be great to see some grad student pick this up and do it as a dissertation – I will gladly volunteer to be one of the subjects if needed ;-)

I throw this out there because depression is an ugly thing and I have personally brushed with it on multiple occasions and would love to get to the bottom of what causes it. If you’ve ever experienced the “Post Tropical Vacation Blues” – leave your story here in a comment and maybe a medical researcher will latch onto this idea and test it. The bottom line- by chronicling your experiences, your physiology and the relevant variables, patterns will emerge that give clues as to the true underlying causes. Cheers to a depression-free world and to the day that mental conditions are understood with the same clarity as physical illnesses.

20 Responses to “The “post-tropical vacation blues” hypothesis”

  1. Bill says:

    I’ve always come back from vacations, tropical or otherwise, with a renewed sense of ambition and vitality.

  2. sean says:

    that\’s good- that\’s the way it\’s supposed to work. I probably shouldn\’t have said \”frequently come back…\” – the majority of people probably share your experience. I\’ve talked with maybe ten or so though that have reported the \”culture shock\” of re-entering the US only to look around be bummed by the pace of life after living so simply on vacation. The interaction of the abrupt diet and climate changes jarring one\’s body chemistry and people\’s misinterpretation of these physiological factors attributing them to the surroundings is what I\’m really getting at.  I\’m sure 95% of the world has the experience you describe- i\’m interested in determining the root causes for the gloominess of that 5%.

  3. Evan says:

    When speaking on the physiological effects of returning from an extended tropical vacation, you might even consider the changes due to the inevitable variation of sunlight between the two destinations. It may not be on the same scale as the effects of diet or atmospheric conditions, but a sudden deviation from any prolonged escalation of Serotonin resulting from elevated Vitamin D production has been linked to a few mental health issues such as Seasonal Affective Dissorder. Now, this may not be such a big deal for me and the other albinos out there but the tanned and dark complexioned among us (Sean, I’m scowling in your direction) may have to watch out.

  4. sean says:

    ha! whatup Evan- how is the bannana hammock hangin (http://battlesnake.blogspot.com/2006/08/bednah-bath-nope-beyond-i-guess-so.html)

    good call on the seasonal affective disorder- you pasty people have it easy ;-)

    how is the arcade display progressing?

  5. Evan says:

    Hey Sean, I’m attending a jungle themed party this weekend and I’ve been summoning the currage to sport the banana hammock all week. Don’t know if the pictures will be decent enought to post though.

    The arcade display is done but I haven’t posted about it yet. Check out this project though.
    http://battlesnake.blogspot.com/2007/01/blurring-lines.html Just finished it. Not exactly what I first thought up but turned out pretty good anyway.

  6. Hi Sean, I am a full-time painter and I travel to the islands and coastal areas for my inspiration. Though I live in California in a Delta town I must admit that life does seem better when you’re experiencing the island life.

    To cope during my non-travel weeks, I create paintings and this is how I am able to live in the moment and experience the joys of the tropics while not actually living there.

    Luckily, next month I’ll be in Kauai for about 10 days!

    As a blogger, if you would like to see or my tropical paintings or know others who would enjoy looking, go to: http://www.floravita.com

    My Daily Painting blog features a small tropical vignettes: http://www.jennyfloravita.blogspot.com

    Jenny Floravita

  7. kelley says:

    i just got back from the cayman islands and i want to kill myself. okay, it’s not that bad, but it’s goo dto know im not the only one this happens to.

  8. Tiny says:

    I definitely experience a depression after an extended holiday. That’s how I’ve found this site! Post-vacationism is the term we use and unfortunately I have to disagree with the diet hypothesis because the onset of the disorder is usually the last day of the vacation, once the reality of “F#^K, I have to leave tomorrow” sets in. I was in Mexico two days ago and now I am home, should be really busy at work and it’s snowing. Uhhhh!

  9. BadGal says:

    Hey everyone, I just wanted 2 say I have recently returned from Mexico back to NYC (a city I love). When I got back I wanted to die. I felt lonely, sad, and my normal love for NY turned to irritation, and intimidation of the fast pace. Its beena few days and I am coming out of it and reading these blogs helped me out. My best advice is to meditate and focus on the things you are grateful for at home.:)

  10. Lea says:

    And I thought I was the only one ;) Just returned from 8 days in Phuket for the 4th time and each time seems to get harder and harder, now it feels like I leave home when I come back! This time I’m thinking about moving there heh! Until next time beautiful paradise…

  11. Moo says:

    Snap I too thought it was just me! Just returned from 3 weeks in the Far East and only been back at work 2 days and I seem to have lost interest and instead just full of new ambitions and wanting to be back out there or to do some other job. Everything/one seems to be getting on my nerves here. Similar to what the person in No. 1 said. Anyone else out there the same ??

  12. Deb G says:

    I just got back from a week in Cabo and all I want to do is sleep. It was the best vaca ever and it is hard to face the gray skies here. But it is comforting to know it’s not just me. Thanks.

  13. Diana says:

    i am so glad to find that i am not the only one who feels like this. i just returned from a lovely trip to mexico only to come back to the corporate hell that i left. my friend who went on the trip with me is feeling it as well and we have yet to put our fingers on exactly why we feel this way. all i know is that this sucks, there needs to be a cure, which i have the suspicion is a permanent trip back.

  14. Donna Wesley says:

    Just got back from a 5 day Cancun vacation. Depression can’t begin to describe how sad I feel. I partied, relaxed and spent time with a handsome stranger. I return to work next week. Oh well, I have my memories and the necklace the handsome stranger gave me from around his neck. Sigh.

  15. joanna says:

    i got home yesterday from a three week holiday in bangkok, phuket and singapore. it was so much fun and now that i’m home i just cant stop being really sad – it’s like i don’t want to do anything… i don’t want to catch up with friends but i dont want to stay home, i dont want to watch tv or listen to music or read or eat or anything or do any exercise… i’ve started doing a big cleanout of my room but i’m not sure if its helping much. i just keep crying randomly and i can’t help it.

    i just really want to go back and the last thing i want is to have to go back to school and do exams in 4 weeks :(
    …(reality’s hit, holidays are such a fantasy land… no stress, no responsibility, it’s the best!)

    i’ve been on holidays like this before and i’m usually a bit sad when we get home but also excited at the same time to see friends and look at all the photos and stuff i’ve bought, but this time i just feel like absolute crap! the rest of my family was sorta sad but they’re over it now so i can’t really say anything. everytime i think about the holiday or about being home i just start crying.

    i guess i’m glad to hear it’s not that uncommon for people to get upset once returning…

    anyway, hopefully i’ll be fine within a day or two more and i can just get back to being as happy as i usually am.

    thanks, j

  16. MonikaA says:

    Oh, I just came back from a tropical Carribean vacation that was my best ever and have a serious condition of blues. I question everything, why we live the way we do, isn’t there a better way. It just seems everyone on vacation was smiling, and everything here in the continent is sooo serious… and way too much trafic… We don’t need that many cars. Carpool people!

  17. sandandsky says:

    I thought I was so weird today. Just got back from the caribbean yesterday and today I can’t stop crying for no reason. I’m so sad it’s over and that I have to go back to work tomorrow. I’ve even thought about getting a job at a resort, which is crazy because I have a great job here. It made me question what I do for a living and what is it all about. It’s freezing cold and snowing here which makes it that much worse. I think about dropping everything and moving there. Usually I love coming home to my place. It’s my sanctuary but not today. Even though my hotel was a dump compared to my place I can’t even enjoy being home. Before this vacation I thought I lead a very happy life but in my current state, it’s making me question it. It’s kinda crazy and I know I will snap out of it, but I’m glad I”m not the only one that feels this way.

  18. Sandra says:

    I just returned from a lovely island vacation and I’m DEPRESSED… switched off my phone, haven’t talked to any of my friends, haven’t laughed (forget laugh I’m finding it difficult to smile) which is so unlike me coz Im this happy-go-lucky person who usually is in high spirits no matter what… I was just googling when i hit this site so here goes… I guess the depression is coz you just ask yourself How much really do you need outta life? Whats better? to live in a pathetic environment and have the best of material things or to scrape through and live in paradise ….. almost convinced myself to buy a boat,hunt for an uninhabited island and live the hermit life… think about it …its easy…. you need a pond for fresh water supply… a boat in case you need to go to the mainland for whatever reason… you can buy a huge stash of alcohol, cigs, books…. for the rest you could grow stuf to eat, snorkel all day, sleep on the beach while you gaze at the starry skies… hmmn I think I’m gonna cry… am blogging from work… Moving on the point I was trying to make is if you could attribute a price to varying degrees of happiness… I think I’d be richer living the island life…

  19. Estrella says:

    OMG, I have found my people! I’m a secretary who gets a 2 week vacation per year. Every year I go to the tropics because its what I love and where I long to be, and every year, I suffer emotionally from the moment I return. This year has been the worst yet. Everything I love about life is somehow not found here in the land where I was born “New England”. You can swim in the ocean in June, July & August here. THATS IT without a wetsuit. I work f/t so now cut that to after 6pm or weekends. Approximately 12 of them (and theres not always perfect weather). So maybe 6 weekends per year I can get in the dirty, mucky long island sound, assuming I have no prior commitments to attend to like weddings, baby showers, birthday parties, etc., I’d be lucky if I got in the ocean 5 days a year!You’ll can’t snorkel as you can’t see your hand in front of your face. The seaweed is grose, I once came very close to stepping on a hypodermic needle on the beach but my friend stopped me just in time. I’m sorry to say but I hate where I’m from. I’m a beach person & long badly for an island lifestyle. I’m grateful to find this blog but there is no way a humidifier, air purifier & dietary supplements can fix this (with all due respect). I live 365 days waiting for 14 days of “happy”. My life is on constant hold. I hold off on getting married, having kids, starting a business, buying a condo. I’m scared sh*tless of getting “stuck” here but financially, I live check to check. I’ll be 37 this year. My mom is pissed because she wants me to marry & have kids. Meanwhile, I want nothing more than to live on an island but cannot afford to and every time I mention it, get handed guilt trips handed about how could I possibly choose to abandon my family? I’m sorry for the rant but like others mentioned, its at least a mild comfort to know I’m not alone.

  20. just me says:

    I don't agree with your theory. The only reason being because 2 friends that were married while we were in Mexico stayed there when the rest of the group left. They are supposed to be there for 3 more weeks for truer honeymoon, but both have been so upset since the big group left that they are coming home early. I think the camaraderie and lack of responsibility are the biggest culprit of post vacay depression. All parties involved gave looked forward to this gateway for so long, then you come back with no fun goal. Just a thought. I am going through this now.

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