Stop Letting Guilt Sabotage Your Time Off

We as a society have a love-hate relationship with leisure. We’re constantly counting down until the next lunch break, weekend, or vacation, but when it finally arrives, we fill our time with work, worrying, and guilt.

Perhaps it’s the remnants of our Puritan ancestors who felt that work was the only path to success, and that back-breaking labor glorified God. Perhaps it’s our modern tech culture that insists that unless you are teetering on the edge of total burnout, you’re not really committed to your work.

Either way, it’s time to cut it out.

In order to maintain the emotional capacity to handle Tech life, you have to take regular breaks. But you can’t just take them — you have to actually enjoy them. You have to make use of them. If you don’t leave your break feeling recharged, what’s the point?

Allow me to present a common scenario:

You wake up in the morning one day and realize you really, really need a day off. So you spend the next half hour debating with yourself — should I go to work anyway? Should I call in sick but work from home? Should I book myself a spa day but be reachable on Slack?

You go back and forth in your mind until the decision has been made for you, because it’s too late to catch the train to your first meeting anyway. So you get a momentary boost of excitement about all of the relaxing you’re going to do that day, and all of the life tasks you’re going to catch up on.

Pretty soon though, the guilt starts to settle in.

You feel bad that you bailed on that meeting with your team. They’re all at work today and you’re at home and why the hell should you get a break when they’re working their asses off to hit that deadline? So even though you’re at home in your pajamas, your mind is at work and your stomach is unsettled.

By the end of the day, you don’t really feel recharged or relaxed. You mostly feel anxious to get back to work and make sure everything went smoothly in your absence.

Yes, you really wanted a break — you needed it, actually. But the part of you that thinks you should have gone to work sneakily pushed you to stress and worry and punish yourself out of relaxing, thereby bringing about its preferred reality — the one in which you don’t get a break at all. So now in addition to missing work, you’ve missed out on all of the benefits your day off was meant to produce.

The moral of this story: stop punishing yourself for taking a break!

When you do take time for self-care (something you should do regularly), do so with the same intention and commitment that you bring to your work. Schedule it in advance. Stay off your email. Don’t guilt yourself out of relaxation. Your work life will benefit, your mind and body will thank you, and your colleagues at that meeting will be just fine.

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