Summer stress syndrome - Families fear friction as summer holidays loom…

Dr Hayley van Zwanenberg, of Priory's Wellbeing Centre in Birmingham, offers advice on how to make the holiday memorable for the right reasons.

With children now off school, parents are preparing for six weeks of school holidays, with perhaps a fortnight of those on an actual vacation.

Government figures show that UK households spend £37bn on an average of 2.4 holidays every year(1) - with people from the West Midlands some of the biggest spenders, spending around £1080 per person(2) on their summer getaway (higher than the national average of £860).

But, for many, stress can set in before they even join the queue for the airport check-in.

To holiday, or not to holiday?

Past surveys(3) have shown that a worrying number of working parents would rather face the stress of their jobs than the prospect of a family holiday. Around 65% of parents questioned in one consumer poll found a week's holiday with the children more stressful than working full-time - due largely to the pressure and cost of keeping their offspring entertained, or breaking up constant arguments.

Some 57% said they feared that the backlog of work when they returned to their desks would make them more stressed than before they went away. In fact, 60% felt so concerned about what they would face on their return to work that they said they would consider not going away at all.

Priory's own research underlined this fact, with many working adults feeling the need to be online all the time - even on their family holiday.

A One Poll survey carried out for the Priory Group found well over a quarter of all workers felt compelled to check work emails while on holiday.

There was no gender divide between men and women feeling forced to monitor their work inbox when they were not even in the office; one in four of both sexes (28%) felt their office should come on holiday with them on their smartphones, making the email phrase 'out of office' obsolete.

So work pressures, coupled with the thought of suddenly spending 24/7 with a spouse or partner barely seen during the working week, and children requiring constant entertainment, mean holidays are a time when relationships, and the whole family dynamic, come under serious scrutiny.

An expert opinion

Leading consultant psychiatrist Dr Hayley van Zwanenberg said the trend of seeing holidays as a source of stress, and a test of endurance, was something that was being increasingly raised, and needed to be addressed.

Dr van Zwanenberg, Clinical Director of the Priory Group's Wellbeing Centres, said that with mounting pressures in the workplace, and at home, taking time to step off the treadmill to recharge batteries as well as to 're-group' as a family unit away from the pressures of the daily routine was imperative.

"During the economic turbulence of the past decade, we have noticed a worrying trend of holidays and 'time off' being seen as a sign of weakness. People are sometimes afraid to leave their desks.

"Now, with 'Brexit anxiety' surfacing in some areas of the economy, that antipathy towards the family holiday appears to have surfaced again, and people are simply finding it harder and harder to switch off and enjoy their freedom from the office.

"What could be less romantic - or more disheartening to a child wanting to build a sandcastle with their dad than staring at the top of a loved one's head as they ignore you whilst they engage with their mobile phone?

"The secret to success is learning how to leave daily routine and regime behind and to try to cherish this time of getting to know one another again. And that can take some effort."

Find some 'me time'

"Within a family holiday, it was fine to grab a few moments of 'me' time," she added.

"Despite the importance I place on relaxing together as a family, I do agree that there can be such a thing sometimes as 'Too Much Togetherness'.

"So, whether you find yourself flung together in a beachside villa or a caravan in Cornwall, it's OK to take time out and seek a bit of 'me time'. Even the most close-knit families can overdo togetherness, making it hard for family members to maintain a healthy balance between bonding with each other and just pure relaxation but within one another's company."

Priory Group's Birmingham Wellbeing Centre in Edmund Street, within walking distance of New Street Station, aims to treat up to 1,000 patients a year for conditions including depression, stress, addictions, and eating disorders.

A team of psychiatrists, psychologists and therapists are also on hand to help with relationship counselling, family therapy and bereavement issues.

1 ONS 2014, Family and Households (26.7m households)

2 'Give as you Live', retail survey, March 2014

3 Customer data published by recruitment company, "HireScores"