Raise your hand if you tend to feel guilty about being on vacation. If your hand’s up, you may be a workaholic, an American, or one of the tiny gremlins that lives in my brain.
Five years ago productivity was my constant habit. If something needed to be done at work, I found a way to make it happen: no questions asked. I regularly spent holidays at the office. On a trip to Hawaii with my ex, I settled into the hotel business center for hours while he read at the pool.
Eventually, after years of this routine, I reached a deep state of burnout. And if your tired bod’s anything like mine, there’s a limit to how long “crazy busy” can last. So don’t do what I did. Six months ago I left that job, giving up seniority and familiarity I’d built over nearly 15 years. Instead, take care of yourself now.
You can make new choices that get you out of auto mode. You’re a human being, and you’re worth it. As Brene Brown said, “One of the things that I found was the importance of rest and play, and the willingness to let go of exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity as self-worth.”
Three Ways to Get Over Your Vacation Guilt
So, consider this my public-service reminder. Let yourself relax this holiday season. On my recent trip to California, I had the chance to practice my newly adopted self-care. I’m not going to say I never felt guilty about not being “productive” on this trip. But here are three ways I helped myself own the experience and truly relax.
1. Choose an Activity Where You’ll Lose Track of Time
If you think this waterfall shot looks like a screen saver, you’re not alone. But it didn’t come from an anonymous batch of stock photos; I took it myself! In fact, composing this shot was one of my favorite moments from our entire week-long trip.
Here’s why: I allowed myself to get lost in time. By boyfriend and I spent 30 or 40 minutes here, lolling about with our cameras. Taking in the scene from different angles. Who knows how long we were there? We weren’t keeping track of time.
2. Surround Yourself with Something Bigger than You
It’s hard to get caught up in details about what you’re missing out on, when you realize the world’s not all about you. There are bigger forces out there. Maybe you’re surrounded by family right now. Let them help you forget the everyday details that drag you down. Enjoy the community and laughter and connectedness. Let go!
In my case, we chose to surround ourselves with trees. Really big ones. If old-growth redwoods can’t get you out of your head, I don’t know what can. As Montgomery Woods State Natural Reserve‘s website points out, the trail where the next photo was taken is “well off the beaten track, a half-hour from the nearest freeway or town on steep and winding roads . . . As a result, Montgomery is amazingly quiet.”
3. Remember This: Your Time Is Your Life
If all else fails and you still feel called to check your work emails, remember this: Your time is your life. No matter what your work situation is, it’s up to you how you prioritize your time. Way too many Americans earn vacation time, then somehow let it slip away.
I understand how this can happen–you care about your job, this project is relentless–but I also know there are consequences. In my case, physical and mental health suffered, along with some of my relationships. Let’s heed the warnings from Project Time Off, who created this map to show us how off base our self-care has become in America.
So. . . Enjoy Your Time Off
If you’re on holiday now, enjoy it! If you’re not, take the time to plan when you will be. Guilt free. As always, feel free to share your stories in the comments.