By Alison Fox
October 27, 2019
Colin Anderson/Getty Images

Life can be stressful. We’re often going from one deadline to the next, pushing through without taking a break.

But that constant grind can actually be bad for your mental health and your productivity. That’s why it’s so important to unwind, take a total mental vacation from work, and allow yourself to recharge, Dr. David Ballard, a psychologist and the director of the American Psychological Association’s Office of Applied Psychology, told Travel + Leisure.

“Work is such a big part of our identities that anything that butts up against that or challenges it can create problems. We know our satisfaction with our work life can have an effect on our overall life satisfaction,” said Ballard, before adding, “The research suggests you make up in productivity more than the time you take in taking a break or recharging.”

It doesn’t have to be a whirlwind vacation to the historical cities of Europe or an adventure down the Mekong River in Asia, but it does need to include time when you’re not thinking about your job. In fact, Ballard said that those nonstop vacations — when you try to pack in as much as possible — can sometimes leave you more exhausted than you felt before you took the trip.

Rather, Ballard said people should plan “stress recovery experiences” in order to “get back to your normal level of functioning, to get back to your baseline.”

So the next time you’re thinking about taking a much-needed timeout from work, use Ballard’s six tips to take a break that will completely reset you.

Actually take time off

While Ballard said this one seems like a “no brainer,” it needs to be explicitly said. And once you’ve decided to take time off, it’s just as important to establish boundaries for technology and ground rules that you can actually stick with.

“Not only do you need time off when you’re not working, you also need time off when you’re not thinking about work,” he said. “Turn off pop-up notifications and alerts on your mobile devices so your brain isn’t getting sucked back into it.”

Plan a relaxing activity

Ballard said it’s important to plan an activity during your vacation that you know will relax you, like meditation or yoga, taking a walk, or reading a good book.

“And that's different for everyone,” he said. “When you plan [a] vacation, it’s a packed agenda. You come back from trips and feel like you need a vacation from your vacation. It’s important to plan some down time or relaxing activities even if you’ve got a really packed schedule for a vacation.”

Make time for a stimulating non-work related activity

While it’s important to relax, it’s equally as important to engage in an activity that is interesting or challenging to you — and is not work related — Ballard said.

“For stress recovery experiences, it’s actually helpful to be engaged in something else that you find engaging or stimulating,” he said. “If you’re planning a beach vacation and will spend time laying on the beach, find some other activities even [if] it’s just an hour a day … often it’s hobbies or things that have fallen by the wayside.”

Get good quality sleep

While the actual amount of sleep you need can vary from person to person, Ballard said quality uninterrupted sleep is one of the most important things you can do to reset. “That’s one we all know we should do, but were not great at it,” he said.

Think about your re-entry strategy

A great, rejuvenating vacation won’t do anything for your mental health in the long run if you throw it all away the day you get back, Ballard said. Instead, he said to make a plan for when you get back to work — like building in time to comb through emails so that you’re not overwhelmed.

“We want to be able to hang on to those gains as long as we can when we get back,” he said. “Finding a way to make those benefits last as long as possible is important. So what if it’s a perfect vacation if you blow it all away when you get back?”

Seek out extra support if you need it

If you are feeling super stressed out, it may be helpful to seek out the support of an expert to help maximize the benefits of actually taking a break, Ballard said.

“You might problem solve or strategize with them in advance of taking time off to make sure you get the optimal recovery experience,” he said.

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