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When Vacation Becomes Stress

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Vacation has been a thing for a long time now. Back in 2010, William Taft, the 27th president of the US told the New York Times that “[…] 2 or 3 months’ vacation […] are necessary in order to continue work the next year with that energy and effectiveness which it ought to have.” (“How long should a man’s vacation be?,” 1910, July 31).

And, he was right! Now, we might not take 2 or 3 months of vacation, but we sure like our two weeks! It looks like Mr. Taft didn’t predict that in the 21st century, people will LOVE their jobs. Well, at least people in tech. And sometimes they love them so much that they don’t even want to take a vacation.

Vacations should be the time where you relax and recharge your batteries for the challenges that await. Sitting at the beach, swimming in the sea, reading books all day, discovering new places, be with your loved ones… This should be the time where you do things you love. Pressure excluded.

However, there comes a point when you get tempted. Tempted to check your email, tempted to open Slack, or to open Drive and see how’s your project advancing, just in case.

Then, a lot of unwanted thoughts come in. Is there something important happening at work? Are you missing out on something big? What if your project’s failing? What if your team can’t work without you? Uh-oh. Looks like rejuvenation is going to have to wait for another time after all. It’s time to bring your laptop to the beach.

Well, if it’s of any comfort — you’re not alone. It looks like 66% of Americans work on their vacation. What is more, the average U.S. employee, of those who have a paid time off, had only taken 54 percent of their eligible vacation time.

Vacation stress is a thing

The question is — what is wrong with us?

Welcome to the era of vacation stress. Yes, you read it right — vacation stress is now a thing.

The British Institute of Leadership conducted a survey with 1,000 UK workers, discovering that 73% of them feel anxious about their vacations. Another research discovered that 43% of people find holidays somewhat stressful.

Where does all this stress come from? Obviously, our modern way of working has taken its pay. With all the gadgets and Wi-Fi everywhere, we just can’t find a way to switch off completely.

Things are even worse with remote workers. Project Time Off discovered that remote workers feel more pressured to stay connected on vacation than those who work in an office. The same study also found that 78% of respondents were more comfortable on vacation when they were sure that they could access work anytime.

These alarming numbers are showing that being relaxed is now harder than ever. We keep thinking that we’re forgetting something. We keep writing imaginary to-do lists in our heads, no matter where we are. Even if we don’t exactly think of work — we expect that email notification to pop up. And the worst part is — we will answer it immediately, feeling relieved that we’re needed.

William Becker, an associate professor of management at the Pamplin College of Business at Virginia Tech, has conducted many pieces of research on the subject. One of the studies he co-authored, “Killing me softly: electronic communications monitoring and employee and significant-other well-being,” shows the impact of modern work over the health of employees and their families. His conclusion is:

“…the insidious impact of ‘always on’ organizational culture is often unaccounted for or disguised as a benefit — increased convenience, for example, or higher autonomy and control over work-life boundaries. Our research exposes the reality: ‘flexible work boundaries’ often turn into ‘work without boundaries,’ compromising an employee’s and their family’s health and well-being.”

What should you do when vacation anxiety attacks?

  • Set boundaries. If you really, really need to work while on vacation, limit your time to one or two hours the most. Have a particular time when you’re online and be offline for the rest of the time. Make sure you clearly know when is your relaxing time.
  • Choose the right time. Okay, don’t go on vacation in the middle of a project. Or, before your company is launching a new product. Talk to your team and see when is the best time to go. It would be best if you go after a project is finished — and reward yourself for a job well done.
  • Tell everyone you’re out. Once you have it planned, inform your boss and tell everyone you won’t be around. If necessary, tell them not to bother you. Pick a colleague who can cover for you and tell everyone to direct their questions to the person you picked.
  • Don’t stay connected. Let’s face it — we’re addicted to tech. When we’re on vacation, we don’t stare less at our phones. Try to disconnect. Deep down, you know that your co-workers can survive that week without you. Take your time, rest your eyes and your head. You’ll be back in front of the computer before you know it.
  • Spend outdoor time. The best way to stay away from your phone is to be outdoors and to be active. Plan some activities and find interesting stuff to do. Spending time outside reduces stress and anxiety and improves your overall mental health. However, be careful not to convert your outdoor activities in just another to-do list.

Our constant availability is going to keep taking over even more. It’s up to us whether we’ll let it into our lives and how much we’re willing to permit. Instead of being on our phones all the time, we should try staying mindful — read books, listen to music while not doing anything else, write a diary, enjoy a good meal without a screen. Basically, everything that keeps our brains active and doesn’t involve a screen.

Remember your border. And never, ever cross it. Surrendering your whole life to work is easier than you think. Always have in mind that it’s YOU who matters. Not work.

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Sara Miteva

Sara Miteva

Product Marketing @ Passion.io | https://www.linkedin.com/in/sara-miteva/

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