In today’s rushed life if you’re not mindful of the fast pace of life and the pressure you encounter on a daily basis, you will most likely end up in the wilderness of burnout: a place of emotional exhaustion, disengagement, and decreased performance. A powerful way to avoid experiencing burnout is to practice good self-care regularly.
Self-care refers to activities and practices that we can engage in on a regular basis (such as regular exercise, a healthy diet, and good sleep hygiene) to reduce stress and maintain and enhance our short- and longer-term health and well-being. Self-care also includes work-life balance…and being out of the office.
I am always trying to lead by example but I do find it difficult to take time out of the practice yet at the same time I advocate the importance of taking breaks to my patients. Is it because I am self-employed, due to patient demand, or is it more a case of feeling guilty and not affording myself the “luxury”? I’ve been pondering these questions as well as the necessity to take breaks and came to realise the following:
Not taking proper holidays may seem harmless at the time, or even helpful to your career, but be warned: a poor life-work balance may affect your work, and your relationships, negatively. Working non-stop without a break can lead to unnecessary stress, over-tiredness and general lethargy, which can have a negative impact on your work. A holiday is not just about experiencing the sun and fun in exotic destinations. It is also about taking a break and re-energising yourself. Whether you take regular short breaks from work (i.e. a monthly long weekend, a three-monthly one week break, or a two week break every six months), the most important thing is to fully “unplug” from work and the regular mundane activities of your life. This gives you an opportunity to recharge your body and mind which allows you to return to work and your life more and with renewed strength to cope with the stresses of daily demands.
Glassdoor (2014) found that only 51% of people took their allocated days of leave, while 15% of people took no time off at all. Many said that they were worried about falling behind in their work while others worried that they would lose their edge on the competition. But this reasoning may be flawed. Research proved that holidays are good for you and for your career! What are the benefits?
- It increases your happiness. Post-holiday people are less tense and stressed, they are more likely to be in a good mood, have higher levels of energy, and are more satisfied with their lives in general. Relaxing equates rejuvenation!
- It is essential for physical and mental well-being. Chronic stress increases your susceptibility to experience a number of health problems such as hypertension and elevated cholesterol levels, headaches, decreased immunity, obesity, and depression. The Framingham Heart Study found a long-term correlation between taking frequent holidays and living a healthier, longer life. Men are 30% more likely to have a heart attack if they regularly skip holidays! “Pressing reset” during a holiday offers a chance for your body to turn off the stress systems, to recuperate and to repair. A holiday will re-energize you!
- It increases your productivity. Not only does your creativity and problem-solving improve, but also your ability to deal with the day-to-day demands of your job. Levels of burnout decrease, and work performance increases. Increased productivity often equates into more free time and more money. Taking a break is inspiring and economically advantageous!
- It helps you to see the bigger picture. A key reason you may have become self-employed is to avoid the rigidity of office hours. Also, when you are knee deep in paperwork or managing a project, how often do you take time out to consider the fundamentals and goals you have set-out for your business? “Time out” helps you to reflect on the bigger issue!
- It improves relationships. Sharing time with family and friends without the distractions and daily stresses of life creates a sense of belonging and builds fond memories for a sense of connectedness. But you do not always have to travel with your “significant other”. Although traveling together can create increased intimacy and commitment, couples who support each other to take time to themselves, including holiday time, offer each other the precious opportunity to break free from their role as a spouse and/or parent – the gift of being just “you”.
- It empowers others. Being self-employed, does not mean working in isolation. An important self-employed skill, is learned to trust others and to delegate your faith in other people’s capabilities. By really and truly removing yourself from the day-to-day business (which include a break from technology!) you are allowing yourself to trust that the business will not only survive, but thrive in your absence. This in turn sparks the autonomy, motivation, and performance of your colleagues and staff. It is a reality check. There is a reason why companies allow a number of days holiday: work is, ultimately, work. Those of us who just live for work, are not valuing all the other aspects, things and people in our lives.
The benefits of a taking a holiday is clear. However, a Netherlands study showed there is no happiness gain after a holiday if there was moderate to high travel-related stress, such as long airport delays and traffic jams. Furthermore, some holidays may actually leave you more tired than you were to begin with, making you wish you could take a “holiday from your holiday”. Some practical tips to minimise holiday-induced stress:
- Plan ahead. Make travel arrangements well in advance. If you work on your own and cannot delegate to others, try to plan in advance so that you can clear all your work load before you go. Set aside specific days for shopping, visiting friends, preparations, and other activities (without being rigid about the schedule). Make your shopping and “to do“ lists in advance and avoid last minute scrambling.
- Be realistic. No family is perfect. Neither is your partner or The holidays don’t have to be perfect or exactly the same as last year. Try to see the humour in unpredictable little “disasters”. A suitcase lost? At least you can return with a wearable souvenir! As families change and grow, traditions and rituals often change as well. Focus on the positive and enjoy the little blessings in each day.
- Free time for yourself. Saying yes when you should say no can leave you feeling resentful and overwhelmed. Friends and colleagues will understand if you can’t participate in every project or activity.
- Make sure to spend some time alone and without distractions (including your cell phone!). Do something that reduces stress by clearing your mind, slowing your breathing and restoring inner calm. Take a walk, gaze at the stars, read a book, listen to music…
- Leave the office behind, literally! A holiday should not just involve time spent out of the office but time off work as well. Studies have shown that people who spend a lot of time thinking negatively about work while on holiday actually had higher levels of exhaustion and disengagement from work when they returned. Try not to think about all the things that annoy you at work, don’t log into your email unless absolutely necessary and limit your use of electronic devices.
- Seek support when needed and build new friendships. If you are feeling lonely or isolated, reach out to others. Contact your friends, seek out support within your community, religious or other social events, or volunteer your time to help others.
- Let everybody know in advance. Setting up “out of office” email alerts and emailing clients well in advance, will alert others to your intentions and to respect your break too.
- Acknowledge your feelings. You cannot force yourself to be happy just because you are on holiday. If you have recently lost someone dear to you, or can’t be with your loved ones, it is ok to feel sad – and often the holiday will be the first time you have time to really deal with the loss and come to term with your emotions. Often when we are so busy with our daily to-do list, we don’t allow ourselves to really re-connect with events, traumas, losses and hurt. Use this time to connect again with your emotions and return back to your life feeling much lighter.
- Acknowledge others’ feelings. Be understanding if your family members and friends get upset or distressed when something goes awry. They do not have to live up to all your expectations. Chances are they’re feeling the effects of holiday stress too. Is it worth your emotional energy to carry the grievances into the holiday?
- Stick to your budget.Decide how much money you can afford to spend. Don’t try to buy happiness with an avalanche of gifts, or a holiday that will cause financial distress.
- Don’t abandon your healthy habits. Overindulgence only adds to guilt and stress. Exercise, get plenty of sleep, eat healthily, and limit alcohol! A holiday is also an excellent time to get into healthy routines (if you have neglected these).
But a holiday is not enough. We need to take “mini-breaks” every day! Taking care of yourself is crucial in preventing burnout. Take short breaks (the ideal is 15 minutes every 2 hours or so) at work by leaving your desk to get up and take a walk, read a book, doodle or draw, or take longer breaks (lunch hour) in which you might have lunch with friends, exercise, unplug from technology or even take a power nap. Step away from your desk and make time for activities that energise you and give your brain a “mini-holiday”.
If, despite your efforts, you find yourself feeling persistently depressed or anxious, irritable or hopeless, you have lost interest in and motivation for things you used to enjoy, you are unable to sleep or excessively tired, your appetite has changed, or life is feeling not worthwhile: do get professional assistance from a mental healthcare professional.
Time-outs have value in childhood and also when we become adults. Whether the “time-outs” are the “mini-breaks” each day, or the holidays away, it should be a time you can disconnect from life and the world for a set period of time to rejuvenate and refresh yourself. Giving yourself an adult time-out has many benefits and can make a positive impact on your ability to cope and function effectively. It is important for a healthier you, a happier office and a more productive workplace.
Avoid the wilderness of burnout by getting-up, disconnecting, and switching on your “I am out of the office”.