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4 mental shifts that make taking vacation less stressful

Think you can’t get away? You’re probably thinking about it wrong.

4 mental shifts that make taking vacation less stressful
Leonardo Rossatti/Pexels]
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If you haven’t planned a summer vacation yet, you’re not alone. While an April 2021 survey by The Points Guy and Healthline Media found that half of American adults plan to take a vacation this year, that also means the glass is half empty—half of them aren’t planning a getaway. This, despite a bump in the number of people describing themselves as “vacation deprived” after the pandemic, according to research done by Expedia.

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You’d think that, after being cooped up for so long, more people would be ready to go—anywhere. But there are a number of reasons why they’re not, LinkedIn’s recent research found. Nearly four in 10 (39%) are understaffed at work. In addition, 23% said they had scheduling conflicts and 21% are worried about COVID-19. A 2020 survey by wellness technology company Neuvana found that half of working Americans think that taking a vacation causes more stress.

Celeste Headlee, author of Do Nothing: How To Break Away From Overworking, Overdoing, and Underliving, thinks that not taking the time off owed to you is absurd. “We see this as sort of emotionally taxing, to get permission to take vacation time. And I would want people to stop thinking of this as getting permission,” she says.

If you think you can’t take a break, you’re probably thinking about it wrong. Here are four things to remember when you say you can’t get away:

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Your employer owes you the time

The first key is to shift your mindset, she says. Stop feeling guilty about getting away. Your paid time off (PTO) is part of your compensation. “The fact of the matter is that is that everybody who has paid vacation time set aside, when you don’t take that vacation time, you’re basically writing a check to your employer, you’re donating money to them,” she says. And the value of that time could be thousands of dollars, she adds.

You’re worse at your job without it

There’s a fair amount of research that people who don’t take breaks—both breaks during the day and time off from work—are less productive and engaged, Headlee says. As Fast Company has previously reported, they’re also at higher risk for burnout and other health issues, and may have trouble being creative.

These issues have been compounded by the pandemic. Christopher Goldsmith, vice president and senior consultant at benefits firm Segal is actually seeing companies offering financial incentives to take their PTO. Some companies are offering cash bonuses—these may be $500, $1,000, or more, he says—to employees who take a vacation and don’t check in. Others are using more of a “stick” approach to getting employees to take PTO, enforcing “use it or lose it” policies coupled with regular reminders to schedule time off so they don’t lose it.

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“The importance of disconnecting from work for a period of time can’t be overstated,” he says.

It’s not a competition

Headlee says that another reason people put off planning time away from work is the pressure to have a “perfect” vacation, which may not be possible. “Social media has put us in this arms race in terms of picking an ever more fabulous and interesting vacation,” she says. Part of the reason people feel it’s too much trouble is the time and expense of having an ‘Instagram-able’ time away.

You can alleviate that pressure by making a promise to yourself that you’ll keep your vacation off social media—even if it’s fabulous, Headlee says. Whether you’re planning a staycation, visiting a friend, or going to a four-star resort, focus on rest and restorative activities instead of posting on social media, she says.

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It’s not your job to prepare your company for your vacation

A number of businesses are finding themselves short-handed these days, but that’s still not a reason to not take time away, Headlee says. If your company isn’t able to survive without you for a few days or a week, there’s something wrong with the structure of the business that needs to be addressed, she adds.

Of course, you want to be sure that people have the information they need to cover necessary tasks while you’re gone. Once you ensure that others have that information, work with your supervisor or a colleague to find the best point person to handle issues during your time off.

“If you had to go into some emergency surgery—have your spleen removed or something—would you tell the doc, I’ve got to delay this because I need to set up all these emails and I need to contact my assistant?” Headlee asks. Of course not. You can—and should—take the time off that’s coming to you, she says.

About the author

Gwen Moran is a writer, editor, and creator of Bloom Anywhere, a website for people who want to move up or move on. She writes about business, leadership, money, and assorted other topics for leading publications and websites

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