Quality rest is essential for our mental health and physical well-being – as well as protecting against burnout. But navigating the work-life balance isn’t always easy. Even when we go on vacation, leaving work-mode can be difficult. What do we do about email? Do we switch off entirely, and try to ignore the feeling we might be returning to chaos? Do we take a peek at Slack, forfeiting our right to “get away from it all” and be present? Here’s everything you need to know about how to maximize your vacation and return to work refreshed.
The fear of post-vacation stress
Taking a vacation often involves a cruel mental paradox; at work, we can’t wait to kick back on the beach – but once there, we can’t stop thinking about work. Even though we know relaxation is vital, for our productivity as much as our health, stress relief isn’t easy for us all. In fact, a recent survey found that 21% of people felt stressed on vacation, and 28% said they ended up working while away more than they’d planned to.
In addition to disconnection anxiety, there’s the fear of returning to work. Even though downtime is a key part of producing good work, 54% of us don’t use all our vacation days for fear of returning to an unmanageable workload. But a vacation from work is precisely that – switching off and being fully present in our rest. Spending a vacation thinking about our inboxes isn’t a vacation at all, so what can we do to manage it?
Prepare for your vacation before you leave
Luckily, you can take steps to make you return to work easier before you even leave the office. It’s the small things that make all the difference here – for example:
Tidy your desk before you leave. It may seem trivial, but returning to stacks of folders, old mugs and post-it stickers all over your desk is a big stressor; it’s a visual representation of the work that’s piled up in your absence, and gives the impression of chaos. Returning to a clean, uncluttered workspace helps you feel calm and organized.
Maximize your Out-of-Office. Out-of-Office replies are there for a reason, so use yours to limit back-to-work stress. Rather than just stating that you’re away and will respond on your return, use your message to delegate. You want to minimize the number of emails you return to, so give clear contact details of a colleague who can deal with the issue for you. It’s also a good idea to extend your stated return date by a day or two – that way you’re taking the pressure off replying to everyone as soon as you come back!
Get your colleagues to help. Before you leave, ask your co-workers not to CC you into emails – that just creates more messages you have to sift through. Instead, book in a team debrief to cover any important developments that occurred while you were away. You can even prepare a list of points you want to be updated on before you leave, for a seamless transition beck into work mode. Don’t spend hours reading emails when someone can update you on the vitals points in a few minutes.
While you’re away, be present as much as you can. Practice mindfulness – and if you struggle with that concept, just focus on your surroundings and what’s happening in the moment. Put down your devices. Leave your phone in your room, and don’t talk about work. If you prepare in advance, there should be no reason why you need to work on vacation, but if you absolutely must, limit the time you do so – and be strict with yourself!
Make things easier by muting notifications. You may have the best intentions, but if a Slack notification pops up while you’re relaxing, it’s almost impossible for work-related questions not to start whirling in your head. Even if they don’t stress you out, they take you out of the moment, and when you’re on vacation, that’s not on. You’ve worked hard enough – now it’s time to play.
Never feel guilty about switching off. This is the time to prioritze yourself. If you know you’re prone to anxiety and those “What if?” worries, regardless of how well you prepare, assign someone you trust to be your contact while you’re away, and ask them to get in touch if there’s an emergency. “Knowing that someone capable is managing your workload while you’re away will give you peace of mind to properly relax,” Timely CEO Mathias Mikkelsen told Travel + Leisure.
Science tell us that getting outdoors, or “getting back to nature”, can have a powerful effect on reducing stress and increasing happiness and energy. In spite of city living and our tech-focused world, our connection to nature is innate, and it’s important to spend time nurturing that bond.
Take inspiration from the Japanese, who practice “forest bathing” – which just means being around trees. This ancient practice is now scientifically proven to lower heart rate and blood pressure, reduce stress, boost the immune system, and improve overall wellbeing.
It isn’t just the Japanese who captialize on the power of the outdoors for reducing stress. Scandinavia practices “friluftsliv”, which means "free-air-living" and, like forest bathing, is just about spending time outdoors to boost your health. “There’s nothing like the vastness and beauty of nature to calm your brain, put your work duties into perspective, and remind you to savor the present moment,” Mikkelsen says.
And at the very least, time spent exploring the great outdoors, whether that’s hiking through forests or snorkeling over coral reefs, is time when you’re definitely not checking your phone...