This guest post is written by cognitive psychologist Dr. Vidal Annan Jr. Ph.D. It is not meant to be a diagnosis but rather an observation.
Although Post-Vacation Syndrome (PVS) is a clinical condition that occurs in 90% of international vacationers, recent evidence suggests that a particular subset of travelers may be experiencing the debilitating effects of this disorder in disproportionate numbers. The travelers in question are immigrants from so-called “third-world” countries who currently reside in the west, but return to vacation in their countries of birth/ancestral origin. Whereas the PVS symptoms in the general traveling population may include some depressive and anxiety symptoms lasting about four days, “immigrant vacationers”, as this subset of travelers are often referred to in the clinical literature, appear to experience more severe symptoms lasting as long as two months. There have even been some anecdotal reports of difficulties persisting for six months or more.
For immigrant vacationers, the symptoms of PVS generally include deep feelings of loss and regret characterized by moodiness, crying spells, changes in eating and sleeping (independent of jet lag), loss of energy, and intrusive, recurring flashbacks of pleasurable experiences that occurred during the trip. The symptoms are usually evident about three days before the end of the vacation and intensify upon return to the country of residence. Research also suggests that difficult airport experiences during the process of return (misplaced tickets, lost luggage, arrogant or incompetent airport staff) may exacerbate the symptoms. Upon return, individuals with this disorder may experience difficulty returning to their normal activities such as work, preferring to review photographs from the vacation and daydream about subsequent trips to the homeland. Many individuals also report a compulsive need to make comparisons between the homeland and their current country of residence, usually with the homeland being seen as more favorable (ex. the quality of life, food, entertainment, etc.). Some researchers have also reported manic-type episodes in which individuals suffering from PVS begin to develop elaborate plans to uproot from their lives in the west and “return home”. Although mental health professionals often see these thoughts and feelings as irrational distortions of an individual dealing with overwhelming feelings of loss and guilt, many immigrant vacationers have reported that these same feelings have sometimes fueled concrete plans to return home.
Annan (2007) has looked specifically at immigrant vacationers from developing countries in Africa. His work suggests that the degree of PVS that an individual experiences post-vacation is highly correlated with his/her perception of the level of socioeconomic, political, and infrastructural growth occurring in the mother country. For example, Annan’s data showed more severe symptoms in immigrants from African countries that are currently experiencing record growth in the private
Currently, the first line intervention for PVS is psychotherapy. In some treatments, individuals are encouraged to explore their feelings of loss and regret, with the goal of ultimately reducing the depressive and anxiety symptoms. “Gradual Withdrawal” is another common treatment in which patients who become “over-involved” in cultural pursuits after return from vacation (eating ethnic foods, listening to ethnic music, engaging in political discussions), are supported as they slowly return to their pre-vacation level of cultural participation. Annan and his colleagues have also pioneered a treatment strategy named the “Call of Home” program. This reality-based model starts with the assumption that the symptoms of PVS are not necessarily psychopathological, rather the disorder may reflect a deep ambivalence about one’s life goals that is simply triggered by the vacation experience. In his treatment, clients are encouraged to explore their thoughts and feelings about “returning home” or “staying put”, with both options seen as rational and legitimate. Clinical comparison studies of the more popular interventions are under way, but early evidence suggests that the “Call of Home” treatment may be more efficacious than other therapy models in alleviating symptoms of PVS.
What are you doing to battle the effects of PVS on you and your family?