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It's Time to Stop Letting Anxiety Hijack Our Time Off Work


Raise your hand if you’re ready for some vacation days! I know I am. This time of year so many of us are setting up our automatic replies and saying goodbye to co-workers and bad office coffee for much-needed rest. Once we leave the office for our time off, the whole idea is that we aren’t supposed to look at emails, work on projects or even really think about the office. However, for those of us who experience anxiety around work, checking out for a few days sounds easier said than done.

If your anxiety makes it difficult to enjoy your much deserved days off, you aren’t alone. Work is a big trigger for my anxiety, so it doesn’t take much time away from my desk for me to start stressing about everything I left behind. I struggle to turn my brain off, and all the sudden I’m worried about unanswered emails, tasks to do and people who need my help. This really isn’t a fun way to spend a vacation, so this year I’m not letting anxiety hijack my paid time off (PTO) and I’m prioritizing my own mental health.

Below, I’m sharing some strategies for helping to ease the stress that pops up when we’re away from the office so we may finally enjoy our vacation days.

Set clear expectations with your supervisor.

I know for me, it’s hard to relax and stop thinking about work when I’m concerned that my boss needs something urgent from me or is even judging me for taking time off in the first place. It’s not a good feeling, so instead of spending your vacation worried, take some time before leaving to lay out some ground rules with your boss. Explain that you are using this time to recharge and that you are looking forward to coming back refreshed for the benefit of everyone. Not planning on checking your email? Good! Share that with them and ask them to shoot you a text if something absolutely urgent comes up. The more transparent you are with your supervisor, the more your mind will be at ease on your days off.

Create a game plan for your return.

One thing that quickly disturbs my restful day off is thinking about all the work I need to get back to when I walk into the office. If you’re in the same boat, try making a game plan for your first day back. Use those last few hours pre-vacation to write out all the tasks that will need your attention after vacation, and don’t forget to include time for answering emails and voicemails. Taking time to create a game plan for your return can ease some of the anxiety, especially on your last few days of time off. Yes, there will be work to do when you return, but the game plan will give you control over it and help it seem less overwhelming.

Take time to close up loose ends.

Who wants to stress about leaving their co-worker high and dry? Not me. Instead, try meeting with the each of your co-workers for 15 minutes before you head out for vacation. These brief meetings will give you a chance to go over any loose ends and make sure they have everything they need from you to continue working in your absence.

Turn off email notifications.

Don’t want to think about work? Then it’s probably not a good idea to have email notifications popping up on your phone every few seconds. Even if I see the preview of an email, it makes it 10 times harder to ignore it. I know who it’s from and what the email is about and all the sudden my heart rate is rising, and I feel like I need to stop my vacation to respond. Let’s go ahead and get rid of the temptation and head into settings to turn off the notifications. The emails will be there when you return to work, and you have already set aside time to answer them. Ahhh, peace!

Check your email if you must.

OK, this one sounds counter-intuitive to everything above, but trust me. If you are trying hard to enjoy your vacation, and you have implemented everything above, but you still can’t seem to shake the anxiety that something needs your attention, go ahead and check your email. I know everyone advises against this, but checking your email for anything urgent could allow you to get your anxiety in check and move on. Set a timer for five minutes giving you enough time to scroll through briefly, and shut it down after the timer goes off. Sometimes the best thing we can do for our anxious thoughts is not to fight them.

Yes, vacation days are great, and we definitely have them for a reason. Our brains need time away from work to recharge and rest so that we can come back with a more motivated and creative mindset. However, if you deal with anxiety related to work, stepping away from the office can bring about more stress than you realized. By taking time pre-vacation to set expectations, create a game plan and close up loose ends, you may help negate some of that anxiety you’ve experienced in the past and you prioritize your mental health.

Wishing you a relaxing and peaceful PTO!

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