After months of lamenting to your friends, coworkers and cats that, “Ugh, I need a vacation” — but refusing to take one — you’ve finally given in and put in for a few much-needed PTO days. Hooray!
But if your first question is “Can I get WiFi?” you’re not alone. In a culture where we earn our vacation days yet don’t always take them, it can be difficult to let go, unplug and relax once we’re physically out of the office. But it’s so important.
“Taking time off allows us to physically, mentally and emotionally recharge, and allows us to gain perspective, which boosts our creativity when we return,” says Brandon Smith, also known as “The Workplace Therapist” and faculty member at Emory University’s Goizeuta Business School.
Here’s how to snap into vacation mode ASAP so you don’t waste half your trip trying to chill.
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8 Ways to Make Your Vacation Time Totally Worth It
1. Stay within your budget.
If a two-week European luxe vacation is out of the question, consider a long weekend or opt for a resort within driving distance. “Taking shorter breaks more frequently can be more beneficial than just taking one long break once every year or two,” says Melanie Greenberg, PhD, a clinical psychologist in California and author of the upcoming book The Stress-Proof Brain. You don’t want to return from your trip to a negative bank account balance, which will no doubt cause even more stress than what you had before you left.
2. Get yourself in order before you go.
You’re not going to be able to chill and eat cake by the ocean if you’re thinking about that deadline you missed or the email you were supposed to send. “Try to work extra hard before you leave, and let people know you’ll be gone,” says Greenberg. Smith adds, “In addition to setting your out-of-office notifications, provide a person that can be reached in your absence.” (Just be sure to give that person a heads up.)
3. Remind yourself that, yes, you deserve a vacation.
People tend to feel guilty for taking time away for themselves. But don’t! “Relaxation is something we often view as only appropriate for the weekends or vacation time,” says Lodro Rinzler, chief spiritual officer and co-founder of MNDFL in New York City. Rinzler reminds us that we need to take breaks during the week, too, and enjoy the things that make us feel relaxed and happy.
“For many of us, the fact that we’re physically and emotionally unable to relax during the week takes a toll on our bodies. We need to walk away from our work life for a bit in order to recharge and come back to full health.”
4. Don’t worry about what you should be doing.
In an Instagram and Snapchat-driven world, there’s this idea that you should either be super active, totally lazy or whatever other idea you have in your head about what a vacation should be. However you choose to spend your time off, make sure that it serves your interests.
“For some people, that’s being next to a pool. For others, it’s climbing a mountain,” Greenberg says. “Use your vacation to build healthy habits and spend time with people you love. Don’t use your time visiting relatives who stress you out or trying to run around catching up on household errands. Just focus on recovering from your everyday stress.”
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5. If a problem pops up while you’re away, redirect it.
To put it lightly, stuff happens. “If you discover a burning fire during your vacation, don’t tackle it yourself,” says Smith. “Pass it on to others, and remind yourself that you’re on vacation.” Repeat after us: Vacation is not a dirty word!
6. Try meditating.
Need help unplugging while on vacation? Do a quick 10-minute meditation to start your day. You can’t meditate while Snapchatting. “Meditation can help you work with whatever stressful situations come up in life,” says Rinzler. “It’s been scientifically proven to reduce stress, relax the body, normalize sleep, and boost the immune system.”
7. Set some connectivity ground rules — and abide by them!
Whether you need to check on the kids or get back to a few clients, we can’t always escape the real world entirely. “Some of us have no choice but to monitor what’s happening at work or back home,” says Greenberg. “Try to keep this to a minimum and check email only once or twice a day.”
Other guidelines you can set for yourself: checking and answering email for only 30 minutes a day before logging off. Or, limiting Instagram scrolling to five minutes each day but maybe avoiding other apps. “If you want to post a photo of your perfect vacay, fine, but post it and walk away,” Rinzler says. Don’t fall down the rabbit hole of going through every friend’s account.
8. Ease back into reality.
Try to schedule your flight back home on a Friday or Saturday, so you have time to readjust to real life. “Plan a re-entry day that serves as a buffer between your vacation and your first day back to work,” says Smith. “This day should be used to catch up on email and prepare for going back to work. This will relieve pressure to check your email while you’re gone.”
Ultimately, says Greenberg, “Some stress when coming back to work is unavoidable. Integrate healthy and pleasurable activities into your everyday life after vacation — and every day, ideally — so you’re not always reliant on vacation to de-stress.”