With the end of summer in sight, I decided to take a week off and enjoy vacation somewhere warm, near the ocean. I needed a break after a year-and-a-half of a pandemic and being indoors most of the time. I almost felt guilty requesting it since I already work from home. I mean, what can you need a break from, right!? Well, the reality is we have all been through a lot: restaurants closing and opening, only to close again; having to wear masks, then not needing masks; mandatory lockdowns; the list goes on and on. With so many changes in the world, it was just nice to step away (safely, of course, being that I am vaccinated and still wear masks).

I wasn’t surprised to learn that I’m not alone in feeling this way. Burnout is in the news. Discussions about the importance of mental health have absolutely been in the headlines, most recently at the Olympics. I’m adding my voice to the conversation, again. There are many reasons why we are feeling burned out lately, and the surveys and statistics don’t reveal individual situations and all the causes, but I know that part of the problem is us, or I guess me. One of the important ways to combat stress and avoid burnout is to take time away from work—relax and recharge. We don’t do that very well.

In 2019, American workers had 700+ million days of unused vacation time. Think about that. That’s a lot. On average, almost a third of us only take half of what we earn. And let’s face it, we also know how often we don’t really disconnect from work even when we do take it. 

We need to practice self-care and one way is to take our vacation time!

It is critical to give ourselves the opportunity to relax and rejuvenate our bodies and our minds. We need to stop thinking we can’t afford to take the time away. The opposite is much more likely. When we go without time off, we risk—perhaps ensure—that we will not be at our best. We worry that we’re too busy, or what our boss or colleagues will think, and recently, that there’s nowhere to go anyway. So why bother?

  • We need to overcome those objections. Stress and fatigue will catch up with us. We need to take responsibility for our well-being and take time off!
  • We need to make it easier for all of us to take time off. How can we support our colleagues? What kind of support do we need from our bosses to help us feel more comfortable and avoid an excessive crunch of work before we leave and when we get back?
  • We need to fight our bad habits and truly unplug when we’re off. Don’t check email so you won’t be tempted to answer. Don’t read business news or check the stock market unless you truly find that relaxing. Get away from your “work” life, both physically and mentally, and make the most of your time off.
  • We need to take time even if we’re not going on a trip. An escape from our daily routine is what matters. Take a day trip or a hike, binge-watch something on your list or read a book. Play with your kids or your dog. Indulge in your hobby or pick-up a new one. Home repairs? DIY projects? Sure! Whatever you find relaxing or gives you a chance to clear your mind and forget about your normal work responsibilities is good.

I am busy like everyone else. No job is all fun and sunshine, but I really do enjoy what I do. I also feel very blessed in that I have not been touched by some of the worst consequences of the pandemic, so I didn’t automatically think of myself as overworked or particularly in need of time off. But I did need it. We all do, and it is up to us to take care of ourselves.

We need to recognize that we need and have earned our vacation time. The best thing you can do for yourself, and your company, is make sure you are at your best. That includes giving yourself a break. Literally.

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