Take Time Off Like You Mean It

It was a rainy May night in Amsterdam, I’m two nights into my nine-day vacation, and I can’t handle it.

In the middle of the sidewalk, rain coming down on me, I froze. Stress is twitching my eyebrow and tears well up in my eyes. My boyfriend is concerned and asks me to share what’s happening. 

With this attention, the tears move quickly and the truth flows, “I don’t know how to be on vacation!” I exclaim, “I can’t relax!”

Twelve years ago I was so good at working that I froze up when faced with not working, even for nine days. Of course this made it hard for me to enjoy my vacation and, as I know today, the stress built up in my body was a festering ground for illness. 

Maybe you identify as a workaholic or you can identify a healthy sense of pride in how good you are at what you do. It’s needed. You’re needed in the role you play. In any company, the role of each individual is a necessary part of the whole, and how you function can propel the greater organization into success. And hopefully, every part of the whole, each employee benefits from the success through sustaining their jobs, monetary compensation, benefits and a sense of camaraderie. 

There’s a slippery slope that I was skiing, however, in my work-perfectionista days and it’s the one that led me to draw a blank when the command was to relax and enjoy.

In my coaching work, I often see this pattern in my perfectionist-workaholic clients: work hard and, right before vacation, work even harder! The window for self-care goes from small to non-existent and the excuse, “well, I’m going on vacation,” is the bargaining chip. 

Then what happens?

Sometimes it’s the freeze response that I had in Amsterdam. Oftentimes it’s sickness – a cold or a flu. “Why does my cold wait until I’m on vacation to get me?” 

The additional stress of trying to “earn” your time off or to look good, laying out the most orderly “while I’m away” plan with zero room for anyone managing minutia, lowers your immune response, making you more susceptible to illness and not being able to enjoy time off. 

In today’s work-from-home-world, taking off or even turning off, becomes increasingly more complex as work and home life share physical space. 

Whether you’re taking a weekend off or a week, I’ve written these tips to help you enjoy more of your time-off so that your time-on gets the refresh of inspiration and creativity needed to ace the role you play at work. 

1. Practice taking time off each day

Although it may be tempting to move from hitting your phone alarm to thumbing through your notifications, to answering emails and phone calls, I urge you to take back your morning. 

You can set your mind, attitude and day up for ease, peace and flow simply by taking a few minutes to yourself. 

A meditation or mindfulness practice is easiest to do in the morning because your mind is the least cluttered after sleeping. That said, any time you can schedule to take time off – with your phone in airplane mode and absolutely nothing to do except to allow yourself the space to sit, breathe, observe and be – you’ll be training yourself to be more present for life, more aware of change and more adaptable to time-off and time-on.

A helpful breathing practice that Peace Inside Your Workplace shares live on zoom is a deep inhale and exhale pattern through the nose, followed by a short breath-hold. This pattern of active breathing, followed by a pause, helps to soothe anxiety and builds flexibility in the chemoreceptors of the brain, which strengthens our ability to go into stress with a sense of ease and to check stress “at the door” when it’s time to turn off. 

Another helpful exercise for a moment of pause is this square-breathing technique. 

2. Set an intention for your time off and create the space

So you’ve made it to the hour, day, weekend or week off…now what? 

Anything worth doing is worth stopping for. In this “stopping” practice, take as little as one minute to envision the time you’re taking for yourself and how you’d like to feel in this time off. You can imagine the feeling, letting yourself relax in how you’d like to feel. This begins to train you to match this feeling over other feelings of stress, anxiety, worry, resentment, frustration, etc. 

You can take the “stopping” practice a step further by asking yourself any of these questions and either sharing the answer with a companion, friend or family or journaling your responses:

What is my intention for my time off? 

What does it look like when I take this time? What am I doing? What am I not doing?

What am I in control of that can make this time most enjoyable or enriching? 

If there was a single word or phrase to summarize how I’d like to feel during this time, what would it be?

3. Release perfection, have faith in who you are

In a state of striving for a place other than where you’re at right now, you can lose the plot of what you’re up to in the first place. 

If you’re reading this article, you’ve gotten yourself to a place where you’re curious and trying to be your best, healthy and well. You might even be in touch with a part of you that knows that there is great wisdom in the path you’ve chosen, in what interests you and in who you are, just as you are. 

I leave you with this inquiry on the journey: 

What would it be like to know that you are where you need to be and any answers you’re after are waiting for you to give them the time? 

All my best,

Jordana, Co-Founder Peace Inside Your Workplace


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