Vacation Anxiety & Back to Work Fear

Have you ever experienced vacation anxiety?

Let’s set the scene: You have a vacation coming up and you are looking forward to it. You desperately need to unwind and check out. You did your research on the best time to take off at work and everything seems to be going according to plan.  However, at the very last minute, an emergency pops up.

Whether an emergency is a client needs the proposal revamped or a key employee has just resigned, the perfect timing is the week before your big vacation.

You are left scrambling and feel that you could not have picked a worst time to be taking off.

Yet, the tickets to Costa Rica are non-refundable and your spouse is insistent you are going. Thus, you manage to get all of your ducks in a row before you turn the out of office message on. Still, you find yourself anxiously wondering did I line everything up? Will the team be ok? Will that deal fall through without me?  You might even experience guilt: guilt over leaving the team hanging, guilt that you are taking the time off and you will be having fun, or guilt that someone might have to ‘pick up your slack.’

The anxiety might follow you to the airport, but hopefully you can feel the excitement starting to mount. By day two, you wake up with no alarm. You sit by the beach, soak in the sun while sipping a piña colada and reading a leisure novel as you drift off to sleep on your lounge chair you exhale and think, ’Ah, life couldn’t be better.’

Now, fast forward 10 days, you have soaked up plenty of sunshine. You have zip lined through rainforests and allowed yourself to decompress. But, it’s time to pack again. Packing this time though you might start to feel a sense of stress. Getting on the airplane, you notice, there is no excitement mounting, instead a growing sense of dread. You think about everything that will be waiting for you on your desk and the unchecked emails. Fear might be creeping into your mind, a fear of the unknown, “What will I walk into on Monday morning?”

Back to the real world of work, bills, errands, grocery shopping, house cleaning, shuffling kids, committee meetings, late nights, early mornings, demanding clients, lofty sales targets; back to reality that takes its toll on all of us.

A sinking feeling might take over your body and you might experience a growing sense of “NO! I don’t want to go back!”

Perhaps you can relate.

Maternity Leave

Now, let’s discuss, these feeling of ‘vacation anxiety’ and discuss in terms of NOT a vacation, but taking an extended leave from work in the form of a maternity leave.

In many minds, maternity leave is a nice break from work, or viewed in the same light as a ‘vacation.’

I personally experienced this when an employee of mine asked at work how long I was taking off for maternity leave. I replied “12 weeks.” The response to me was, “Must be nice.”

Must be nice. Nice to me is the vacation experience I just described in Costa Rica, sitting on the beach while sipping piña coladas, care-free and stress-free. I came to find out that maternity leave was anything but a care-free and stress-free 12 weeks.

The perception that maternity leave resembles a ‘break from work,’ and something to decompress from, just like a vacation, is extremely inaccurate. This perception can be detrimental to the well-being of working mothers.

Maternity leave is work. Nothing short of work. Work done while one’s body is recovering and learning to adjust to the new responsibilities and expectations of parenthood.

Women in the U.S. are typically released between four to six weeks from their doctors after giving childbirth. A recent report conducted by Abt Associates, a research and evaluation company, found that one in four women in the U.S. return to work within two weeks of giving birth.  Furthermore, Dr. Julie Wray, a researcher at Salford University in England, interviewed women at different stages of post-partum life found in her research that the standard six-week recovery period is a “complete fantasy,” and it can take a full year to recover from childbirth.

Maternity leave is about learning how to keep a brand new human being alive. A human being that came with zero instructions and requires round the clock care.


A sample sleep and feed schedule from Baby Sleep Site for a 2-8 week old recommends:

9:00 AM – Wake and Feed

10:00 AM – Nap (30-60 minutes)

11:00 AM – Wake and Feed

12:30 PM – Nap (30-60 minutes)

1:30 PM – Wake and Feed

3:30 PM – Nap (30 – 60 minutes)

4:30 PM – Wake and Feed

6:00 PM – Nap (30 – 60 minutes)

6:30 PM – Wake and Feed

7:30 PM – Catnap (20 – 30 minutes)

8:00 PM – Wake and Feed

9:30 PM – Catnap (20 – 30 minutes)

10:00 PM – Wake and Feed

11:30 PM – Feed and Bedtime

3:30 AM – Feed and Right back to sleep

6:30 AM – Feed and Right back to sleep

Not only is the waking and feeding all-encompassing and time consuming, but a potential fever, fear of SIDS, colic, diaper changes, breastfeeding, are all anxieties and adjustments.  These adjustments are both physically and mentally exhausting to manage on a continuous basis.

As you can see, there is really little time is left for piña coladas.

Now, remember the ‘vacation anxiety’ story? Multiply that anxiety by who knows what for new moms going back to work!

There was no decompression for new moms going back to work, just sleep deprivation. Sleep deprivation has been proven to physically and mentally harm people in myriad ways. The stress of being out of the office, the guilt of others ‘picking up your slack’, the anxiety of what’s to come, and concerns about keeping up are all feelings these women will experience. While anyone of these feelings can be intimidating, taken together they are staggering and overwhelming. Add in the fact that new moms are leaving a human being that is dependent on them for survival. A tiny human that their body spent over 9 months to make, and perhaps their body is still working to feed.


Is it any wonder, that many working mothers are screaming in overwhelm with every fiber of their body, “NO, I don’t want to go back!”

Of course not! It is indeed is a hugely overwhelming and scary experience.   

The back to work fear for new mothers is real and deeply rooted. Through coaching many professional mothers in ‘Diapers to Desk,’ I have heard common themes of going back to work fears and anxieties.

Some of the fears that have been expressed include,  

I’m scared to be away from my baby.

I’m so tired and not sure if I can keep up anymore.

What if I don’t care about work anymore?

I don’t know how I will manage my time.

I’m not sure how I will be able to balance everything.

My mommy guilt is taking over me, what if I miss something?

How will I ever be able to keep up with pumping and be able to feed my baby?

I don’t feel like myself anymore, when will I come back to the old me?

What if my baby forgets me?

Even worse, what if my baby dies?

Many new moms feel these, but all too often we suffer in silence because the fear might seem so irrational, in example, ‘my baby will die without me!’ Sound irrational? Nope, these fear happen and are quite normal!

We don’t talk about it because we are working so hard not to be discounted in the workplace and working through unconscious biases and perceptions that there’s no way we can’t keep up, so we don’t dare share our fears.

Going back to work and leaving your baby can be terrifying; there’s no way to sugar coat it.

With programs like Diapers to Desk, we address these fears head on and work through them!

It is time to be honest and acknowledge that although scary, we feel the fear and do it anyways.

If you’re about to go back to work join us in our BALANCE e-course with tools to support you during this reintegration back to work, head over to

Amy Landry