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You Must Take Vacation Days — Here’s Why

why you must take vacation

You Must Take Vacation Days — Here’s Why

We mentioned previously that one challenge with feeling as if you hate your job is that as Americans, we average fewer vacation days than many countries, in for example, Western Europe. But the truth is, even if you love your job, you must take vacation days. In fact, if you’re unhappy you might actually take advantage of some days away. The danger in being driven and satisfied at work is not knowing when to step back.

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You must take vacation – and here’s why.

Your mind needs a real break. It seems obvious, yes, of course you need to let up on the long days. But it’s not as simple as you just need to get your mind away from this morning’s meeting or next week’s deadline. Your mind doesn’t actually detach from stress that quickly. It can feel like a three day weekend, or a fun night out, when you “didn’t think about work at all”, is giving your brain a break.

But it takes a good deal longer than that to for your mind to not be working through things on a subconscious level. Because until your whole brain, so to speak, is on vacation, the anxiety, stress, pressure, adrenaline is not alleviated. Stress and adrenaline aren’t always bad words. It keeps you focused, motivated, energized. But, any article on cortisol production will clarify that sometimes, enough is enough.

Think about it – how many times have you been unable to recall the name of an actor, or title of a book? Then you say you’ll just forget about it and it will come to you? And it does. Yeah, like that. Same as when you’re stuck on a problem and “suddenly” you figure it out, “out of the blue” while doing something unrelated. That’s a neat hat trick your brain does for you 90% of the time. But it’s the same process that means even when you’re kicking back with friends and sipping a glass of wine, part of your brain is still attached to that spreadsheet on your desk.

So how do you really “turn off” your brain? To disconnect from work completely, you have to stop re-stimulating it so frequently. So, taking off a Friday and getting out of town until Sunday afternoon might seem like a break. But think about it – on Thursday you have a little more pressure than usual because you won’t be in on Friday.

Then, by Sunday morning (even in late Saturday night) you’re beginning to think about returning home – packing your bag, checking traffic – signaling to your brain that it’s almost back to business as usual. We all know that we start thinking about work on Sunday evening. But your subconscious brain, never had enough time to detach. If you were in transit to your getaway, you’re still revved up.

Then you need time to consciously stop looking at your watch and thinking about what’s happening. Some studies say that a vacation of less than two weeks – yes, really – isn’t long enough for your brain to stop secretly spinning. One reason this makes sense – if you go to the beach every day at 9 am, instead of the office, your brain begins to expect beach, not sales presentations. You won’t break your body’s longer natural habits that fast, but it’s enough to stop feeding your brain to keep working in the background.

You must take vacation, and you’re going to have to work at it.

Seriously – you have to learn to be good at taking a vacation. Turn off everything else first. Because none of this works unless you address the bigger offenders – the constant checking of email, voicemail, social media – that restart your conscious brain. Some companies require employees to turn in their company phone once annually to “force” this separation. Yep. You might need to be protected from yourself.