When time off means more work time – shepherd express

There’s a lot of post-summer blues going around. It’s a real bummer when taking a little time off doesn’t even make a dent in your pent-up work stress. Still, taking time away from work is a good idea. Studies show that Americans leave an awful lot of vacation time on the table each year. Our European neighbors, on the other hand, have no qualms about taking an entire month off and going to the beach. What sounds like an impossible luxury to us is a matter of course for them. It’s an enviable way to live, but let’s rethink vacations and create some opportunities for respite that are more compatible with our own culture.

Work-life balance is more than just a buzzword. Our physical health, mental acuity, psychological and emotional stability are supported by good food, moving around a bit, getting enough rest and hanging out with people we enjoy.

Sadly, the demands of work often bump these necessary life ingredients to the bottom of our list of priorities. Yet, if you’re not taking care of yourself, you’re ultimately not going to perform any of those priority tasks very well. When we were younger and operating on an academic schedule, September marked the beginning of a new year for us. So, now’s a good time for you to look at some new strategies to manage your work-life stress more effectively. Try some of these suggestions:

Is there anything more irritating than waiting all year to be able to get outside and enjoy some sunshine, then learning that the weather forecast is calling for pouring rain and damaging winds? We’ve all been there. Always have a “Plan B” option for what to do if the weather doesn’t cooperate. If you’ve booked a campsite a year in advance and the weather is less than ideal for camping, is it worth it to keep that reservation and resign yourself to being soaked all week? Or, is this where you cut your losses, bag the camping trip altogether and do something else? Make “Plan B” something that can be easily implemented at the last minute. Think of it as an equally acceptable way of getting your long-awaited R&R even though it might not be your first choice. As the old saying goes, don’t leave home without it!

Many people look forward to spending their time off with families, in-laws or at a high school or college reunion. But, for some, these visits feel more like an obligation or they involve so much emotional work that they add to the exhaustion you’re already experiencing. It’s really hard to tell the family you’re opting out of the reunion this year or decline an invite to an old school chum’s wedding. But, is the social pressure or the “FOMO” (Fear Of Missing Out) factor enough of a reason to spend your limited vacation time doing something that won’t be all that relaxing or enjoyable? Only you can judge what your level of burnout is. Realistically, though, sometimes you do have to spend your vacation time in ways that aren’t particularly satisfying or rejuvenating, so my next point is a critical one.

If possible, add a day on to a weekend now and then. Create a quarterly micro-vacation for yourself by arranging a day or a half-day off during the week vs. on the weekend. Put it on the calendar and make it something to look forward to. Even if you spend that day doing errands, there’s something to be said for grocery shopping on a low-key Wednesday morning instead of a crowded Saturday afternoon or being home alone while the kids are in school and the spouse is at work. Plus, there’s a psychological bonus in knowing that the rest of your team is working away in their cubes while you’re playing hooky! Don’t be afraid to use your sick days as mental health days. Sometimes you just need to stay home and reboot your system.

Managing stress and balancing the demands of your job with all the other things and people in your life is an ongoing challenge. Since most of us don’t have unlimited time or money to spend on the things we’d really love to be doing, it takes some creativity to think about what types of things will give you a restorative time-out. Then, it takes assertiveness and permission to consider it a priority.