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How to return from your vacation refreshed

Vacations are a great opportunity to relax and recharge...yes, even during a global pandemic.

Travel restrictions, social distancing and worries about health, budgets, and more due to Covid-19 have probably put a damper on your plans for time off and may even have you considering forgetting about your vacation (for now, at least).

And it makes sense. While even short breaks provide serious returns when it comes to mental wellbeing, and weekends are something most of us look forward to throughout the workweek, most of us pin higher expectations (and even higher hopes) on annual leave.

We spend months daydreaming about our paid time off, planning the perfect trip, or figuring out how to fit all of the household projects that we can never cram into a weekend into a week’s vacation.

It’s harder than usual to make firm plans just now, and taking time off can feel like a waste, especially if you feel like you can’t go and do as you please. But you might want to reconsider vacation procrastination. Why?

Because taking time off is really good for you.

Vacations aren’t just an escape from our everyday realities—they present us with a unique opportunity to break stress cycles. Research supports our need for regular breaks from our routines to recover and prevent the mental and physical health problems that can stem from exhaustion. In a study of 900 lawyers in 2009, vacations were also found to help "buffer" or otherwise "ameliorate" job stress.

And suppose the potential mental and physical health benefits don’t sway you. In that case, recent studies cited in the Harvard Business Review suggest that contrary to popular belief, taking your vacation time may increase your likelihood of a raise or a promotion.

So hopefully, now you’re sold on taking some time away from your job, even if right now that means a stay-cation. The next hurdle is making the most of that time (despite current circumstances).

Make the most of your vacation time

A woman with short hair in a long, sleeveless, striped dress leans over to check her work phone on her bedside table in a vacation rental

@sincerelymedia via ​Unsplash

When you’re on vacation, more often than not, the days fly by, and before you know it, it’s back to work for the foreseeable future.

And somehow, despite your best intentions and efforts, you end up back where you started, stressed and not at all rejuvenated the way you may have hoped.

Genuinely enjoying your vacation and returning to work post-vacation rested and ready to get back to it is harder than it sounds, especially right now, when a global pandemic has likely had an impact on what you can do during time off.

However you decide to spend your leave, to return to work relaxed, you’ll have to spend at least part of your time relaxing (and disconnecting from work).

It’s harder than it sounds, but follow these practical tips, and you’ll be well on your way.

1. Get organized before you go.

According to author Laura Vanderkam, author of 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than you Think in Forbes, you should start "laying vacation groundwork" a  few weeks before you take your leave. Make sure any tasks and projects that must be advanced during your absence are covered. If you’ve got a trusted coworker that can help with some of your responsibilities, ask them for a hand (this works best if you’re open to returning the favour when they take their leave).

Set up your away message and make sure that it includes a return date and a person to contact in case something comes up that needs to be handled before your return. Another pro tip: leave your away message up until the day after your first day back to give yourself a little margin to catch up with emails after your return.

Having everything under control before you go will make it much easier for you to actually relax and disconnect from work while you’re away.

2. Don’t check in every day.

We get it. It’s hard to resist logging in for a few minutes just to make sure nothing’s come up, even though you’re technically supposed to be off-the-clock. And it’s not a major problem…just try to limit your check-ins as much as you can—science shows feeling obliged to answer emails in your off-hours (and that includes vacation) can be very damaging to your mental health.

Is checking messages every other day enough to quiet any worries that come up? If you find yourself thinking about what may be happening at work more often than you would like, you may want to journal or do a Thought record in Foundations to explore the why behind your thoughts.

For more tips on how to disconnect from work, see our blog post on how to stop thinking about work-stuff when you’re not working.

3. Have a contingency plan.

Depending on the type of work you do, and your role, you may feel more or less comfortable taking off. If you’re someone that manages a team, or an integral process at your company and you aren’t comfortable disconnecting 100%, a plan to check in with people on your team once every few days may leave you less stressed.

Even if you’re comfortable stepping entirely away for a few days, you may want to have a plan in place for how you can be contacted in the case of an emergency or a truly urgent question only you can answer.

Simply knowing that your team has the details they need to get ahold of you if necessary may help you feel calmer.

4.Do what you want (but don’t overdo it).

While pleasant vacations mean vastly different things to different people, moderation is never a bad idea. What do we mean by this? Don’t spend your days off vegging out in front of a screen….or rushing around trying to see everything at a destination. Extremes aren’t your friends.

Instead, do things you genuinely enjoy at a reasonable pace—so sure, if you like going on long hikes, hike. The point here is not to spend your sunrise to sunset rushing from one activity the next without some downtime in between.

If you’re not sure what you’d most enjoy doing on vacation (apart from the standard replies of "nothing" and "lie on a beach somewhere"), you may want to take some time to think about it. Consider what you enjoy doing in your spare time on weekends and compile a list of activities (but not too many) to add into your itinerary.

5. Schedule some recovery time.

Ideally, you’re allowing yourself ample downtime throughout your vacation. But adding in some recovery time at home before your return is especially key to an unfrazzled return to work.

So if you’ve got a busy vacation planned, make sure you allow yourself a day (or two) at home before you go back. This way you’ll have plenty of time to unpack, do the shopping, and settle back in before you’re back on the clock.

It also gives you the chance to take a peek at your email and messages (if you must) before your first day back.

By preparing with enough time before departure, and being realistic about what you can manage on your first day back, you’ll be less likely to spend your leave worrying about what’s happening in your absence (or may happen on your return).

Hopefully, fingers crossed, you’ll also be more inclined to relax while you’re away and come back ready to tackle your next project.

How do you feel after you return to work after time off? Let us know at foundations@koahealth.com.