September 1, 2020

Should you take a vacation during COVID-19?

In a word, yes.

Maybe you can’t eat your way through the patisseries of Paris or jet off to lounge the beaches of Bali.  But the chance to explore a fabulous destination is only one benefit of vacations.

The main reason we need time off – and the real reason many employers are encouraging teams to take vacation during the pandemic – is that time off from work is necessary for our mental and physical health.

You can probably come up with dozens of excuses for not unplugging from work right now.  Vacation during COVID-19 might not be the adventure of your dreams.  But I am here to tell you that you need it, now more than ever.

The mental health consequences of COVID-19

As the pandemic set in earlier this year, many of us canceled plans for adventures, and those of us fortunate to be able to work from home settled into a new groove.  The prevailing thinking seemed to be: “I can’t do anything else, so I might as well work.”  Especially for those of us with limited paid time off (PTO).

This might have seemed reasonable back in April.  In September, it’s getting a little old.

Add in worry, perpetual access to information (which has fostered a new term and unfortunate habit — “doomscrolling”) and looming uncertainty, and we are primed for trouble.

The human brain was not built for this.  And so, the effects are many, and they are both neurological and psychological.

Our sleep cycles are disturbed; we may be irritable; some of us might even be melting down alongside our remote-learning children.  Excessive screen time, inadequate time outside, insufficient exercise and other issues are affecting circadian rhythms, contributing to reduced release of positive neurotransmitters.  Indications suggest mental health is worsening.  Higher-level creative work might feel close to impossible – because it is.

In short, we’ve never needed time off more than we do now.

Your vacation during COVID-19

PTO during the pandemic won’t look like it would have a year ago, and that’s OK.  When you can’t explore the world, you can zero in on what you really need, which is a break.

One of the main benefits of vacation is that it shakes up your routine.  And when every day looks like every other day, a shakeup in routine is especially important.  How can you achieve this?

One way is simply by changing up your day-to-day in some key ways.  Try a screen-time break.  Even just on a long weekend (and even just a single day on a routine weekend), unplugging from the bad news and blue light of technology could be the single most important thing you can do for yourself.

Think of this as a microdose of restorative time.  The benefits of even a short break can have a magnified effect, given how stressful these times are.  When you haven’t changed anything in months, a long weekend with no computer and a few walks in the woods can yield a major shift in mindset, and major benefits for your life.

Try a drive in the country.  An RV adventure.  A long weekend of hiking.  A creative project you can immerse yourself in.  What you’re trying to do is get off autopilot so you can regain perspective and reset your body and your mind.  You need a different view from the one you have had daily since March.

Of course, if you can safely manage something longer, go for it.  Whatever you do, look for joy, a new routine and a way to escape the always-on electronic mode of life right now.  On the back end, you’ll experience a sense of rejuvenation, more mental clarity and the stamina to make it to your next break.  This is the way to tap into the creativity and resilience that often feel just out of reach right now.

Leaders: Talk the talk and walk the walk

The early days of the pandemic felt like the wild west, and some employers made desperate moves like putting a hold on vacation as crisis mode set in.  It’s time (long past time) to recognize people will burn out without a break, and your teams will suffer.  Leaders need to make sure people are taking time off, and in fact some are requiring it (good for them!)

In your communication, be sure to get really clear that time to unplug is a human need, and convey that it’s not just OK, but really necessary for people as employees … and as humans.  Scrutinize your communication for messages about pushing through challenges that could be read the wrong way.  The things we say to rally the troops can send messages we don’t intend.

Also, take some time off yourself.  For you, but also to encourage your team to do the same.

Charge your battery

This is kind of a funny post for a technology metaphor, but think back to what was always in your purse or briefcase back when we still needed them every day.  Probably a phone charger, and possibly an external power source for desperate times.

Humans are the same in that way – we need some kind of energy reserve, too, but ours looks different.  And times like these drain our batteries rapidly.  Give yourself a break, and step away from it all, even if just for a little while.

Are you taking vacation during COVID-19?

Feel free to share, especially how it affected you … and maybe some creative ideas for making PTO during the pandemic fun!

Last updated September 1, 2020

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