5 things you can do to get over emotional jet lag

{Photo by Juliana Kozoski on Unsplash}

Before I dive into a slew of recaps about my trip home (which are already three weeks overdue, I am sorry!), I thought I’d share some thoughts on how I navigate the treacherous waters of emotional jet lag.

I don’t know if that is an official term, but I’ve been using it for a while because it so adequately describes the feeling when I return from a long anticipated visit with family and friends, only to return home knowing that I won’t see them again for quite some time.

Physical jet lag after an overseas trip is pretty common. We all know about time differences, struggling to stay awake, sleeping for 12 hours straight, waking up in the middle of the night to pee, yadda, yadda. I won’t talk about strategies to adjust to a new time zone here.

Instead, I want to focus on emotional jet lag, which for me feels like a “mini-depression”. I am putting this in quotation marks because I don’t want it to be confused with clinical depression, which is so much more serious and because I have no idea what that actually feels like (luckily), but in case of emotional jet lag, I use the word depression in the actual sense of the word, aka “being emotionally down” and overwhelmed.  I am lethargic, cranky, and just generally miserable (and justifiably so).

It’s also caused by that vacuum that you’re in when you travel large distance by plane, because it’s not like a road trip, where you can see the changing landscape and adapt slowly from one place to the next. No, it’s like one minute you get on the plane in Germany and – poof! – just like that you exit the plane and you’re back in the US.  It’s never easy to go from  60mph to literally ZERO in a matter of hours and I always find the transition from being there and “all of a sudden” being here again difficult. The sensation is bizarre and has, even if faded, not completely disappeared.

I am assuming that many people experience some sort of emotional jet lag when they travel internationally just because they just experienced new cultures, new foods, new people for a short, but intense period of time. So much to “process” and “digest”.

In my case, it is the abyss between being immersed in a place and culture that is so familiar to me (more familiar than anything really, but which has also become a little distant and foreign in a strange way ever since I moved away) and the everyday life that awaits me upon I return to my current home.

It feels like part of me is traveling back in time with some serious déjà vus thrown in, and then, all of a sudden, I am propelled forward again at lightning speed to the time and place where I live now.

The first few days back, I usually wonder: how did I end up here? Why do I live so far away from family and friends, or more accurately, what compelled me to make such a decision? And then I remember that, oh yeah, there was a guy and I kinda liked it here and it kinda just happened (gradually), without me really consciously making the decision that I want to live thousands of miles away from home. At the time, in my 20’s, it might have looked like bravery to some and it, for sure, felt like adventure to me, but you can’t really grasp what it actually means to move away unless you do it and live it for a while.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t regret it, but if you are also someone who moved (far) away from home, you’ll know and understand that your heart will forever be split between two worlds.

But I digress.

So, what do I do when I come back from a trip overseas and I feel so emotionally hung over that everything feels a little off and I don’t want to deal with anything or anyone?

Here are five things that usually help me get over the emotional jet lag.

1) I allow myself to wallow in my feelings. I personally don’t believe it’s a good thing to suppress any emotions, regardless of how icky they make you feel. I usually give myself some time and spent a couple of days scrolling through the photos on my phone and reliving every single moment of the previous few weeks. It’s like by intentionally exposing myself  to the memories, I somehow purge the pain out of my system or something. I talk to my family on the phone and tell them how much I miss them and what a great time it was and how shitty I currently feel (because honestly, I know they feel the same way and why not be honest about it? Saying goodbye stinks.) But at the same time, 

2) I try to get back into my routine. I mean, it’s probably something none of us can avoid anyway, as we have to go back to work and deal with the shenanigans of daily life, but it also helps me tremendously in finding my groove again. It puts me a bit on auto-pilot (which is just what I need), where I don’t have to think much or make decisions, but just go through the motions (while I sort out my  mental state).

3) I start working out again right away. Working out always, always lifts my mood and makes me feel better, no matter how shitty I feel. So obviously, it’s something I wanted to get back to right away. The other reason was that I had to catch up on my half marathon training ASAP, so that gave me an extra push to not delay getting back into my workout routine.  

4) I put plans on the calendar that I can look forward to. We had a couple of outings planned upon my return (seeing friends and going to a concert), which gave me something to focus on. I must admit, it also helps that summer is just around the corner here and we can get outside and enjoy the parks and the beer gardens. When I am homesick, I try to remind myself of the things I love about California and all the things I’d love to do this summer.

5) I talk and write about my trip. While part of the reminiscing process makes me sad (because the trip is over), writing about and recapping my trip also puts a smile on my face and I will tell everybody that will listen about the wonderful time I had. Because regardless of how hard it is to go somewhere and then having to leave again, I wouldn’t want to miss the experience for anything, least of all to avoid the subsequent heartache.

Everbody knows that all good things must end, but aren’t we fortunate to have experienced them?


                                               – A. A. MILNE 

Now, three weeks later, I still think a lot – pretty much daily – about my trip, but I also slowly feel like I have mentally arrived back here in the States and that’s a good thing.

Have you experienced emotional jet lag? How do you deal with it?

  1. I have felt emotional jet lag. I felt it when I got back from my 2nd trip to Paris when I turned 30. i had the best week there and came back and felt so ‘meh’ about my life. I wanted to move to Paris but I knew that wasn’t practical or really possible so I thought about changes I could make to make my life more similar to what I loved most about my time in Paris. That meant moving out of my suburban condo and into a downtown apartment. That way I could have more of a pedestrian lifestyle, which is one of the things I loved the most about my time in Paris!

    I also experienced this when I was living in Charlotte and returned from a visit home. I would try to practice lots of self care, like treating myself to a massage, and I made plans with friends.

  2. This has always been hard for me when returning from places that I love to a place that I hate. I’ve always thought it was my clinical depression, and maybe to some extent a lot of it is, but it helps to know that someone like you experiences it, too. And I completely understand in your case because you seem to love your family. A year ago, hubby and I picked up our things and moved out west. I’ve been back to my home state a couple of time since, for work, and saw my family while there, and, as bad as it sounds, it confirmed why we moved in the first place. So you truly are lucky to have another place in the world where you have a life and people you love.

  3. ‘It feels like part of me is traveling back in time with some serious déjà vus thrown in, and then, all of a sudden, I am propelled forward again at lightning speed to the time and place where I live now.’ – this, right here, is so true!!!!
    I don’t think I ever really had an emotional jet lag, however this time is a bit different. As you know, a family emergency was the reason for me to unexpectedly fly out to Germany. All of a sudden I feel the distance way more than ever….

  4. Melanie Neumeyer

    June 7, 2019 at 8:53 am

    I love this post so much. I always try to explain this to my boyfriend and now I’m just going to point him to your post. Being split between two places can be a blessing and a curse and when you bounce back and forth it just makes you question things. So well said. Thank You!

  5. This is exactly what I feel like every time. I have two kids who only get to see their German grandparents once a year, which breaks my heart even more. I don’t regret moving here, but I wish I had known how hard it would be. I couldn’t really grasp that when I was young, my parents were young(er) and I didn’t have kids.

  6. I think I can vaguely imagine how that must feel. It must be hard going through it multiple times. Also it is precious for having wo places to belong to. I often wear clothes that remind me of the place I miss. Makes me feel I am having a piece with me.
    Enjoy your Californian Life, Tobia

  7. This has to be so hard but I think the quote you ended the post with is so right. There’s something beautiful about home being in two completely different places for you. I’m glad you’re giving yourself the time to feel all your feelings and let yourself wallow for a bit. That’s super important! <3

  8. It’s different, but I definitely experience a similar thing after I’m out gallivanting in the woods alone. I go on these trips to embrace solitude and then I come back to my real life and it all feels really, really loud and like it’s too much. I definitely try to let myself feel all the things, jump back into my gym routine and then try and write about all my experiences and feelings. The more time I spend out in the wild though, the more I think my time as a city-dweller might might be coming to an end.

  9. I love love love that A.A. Milne quote so much <3 I understand this. Maybe not from the same unique position that you are in, but my mom is German living in NY for the past 40 years and I think she has never fully assimilated/acclimated. She also feels as though the Germany she left is the same way today, and she has this romantic way of looking at it, though her friends back home tell her things have changed there, too. It's like she feels caught between two worlds, and I can understand. I'm glad you allow yourself time to digest your feelings after a whirlwind trip and that you also make it a point to point activities on the calendar and get back to doing the things you enjoy. I find that establishing a routine when I get back helps me in so many ways. Though sometimes I get sad because it makes the trip feel like a distant memory. Traveling always brings up so many emotions!!

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