The Skill of Vacation: Reclaiming Relaxation in Recovery

Caribou Falls (MN) / Josh Hild / Unsplash

Taking a vacation should be easy. Many Americans struggle to truly get time away. A 2022 study by Qualtrics uncovered that nearly half of Americans polled still worked one hour a day while on vacation.1 That doesn’t sound like a real holiday. In fact, some Americans seem to avoid taking vacation in fear of falling behind at the office. According to a 2023 Pew research study, 46% of Americans do not take all of their allotted vacation time each year.2 Many careers demand constant connection and attention from their employees. This practice is detrimental to our collective mental health.

Vacation is a skill. Some people are really good at setting aside time to relax and create a space free of career and personal responsibilities. I wish I could say that I was one of those people. Respite, retreat, and downtime typically come as an afterthought for me. Like any skill, I have had to develop vacation habits, practices, and methods over a long period of time to ensure that I am maintaining good mental health.

My life is a balancing act between my vocation and my complex mental health needs. I am a Pastor, I live well with bipolar disorder, and I have been clean and sober for fourteen years. For a decade and a half, I struggled with addiction and mental health. Between the ages of fourteen and twenty-nine, I was living with an untreated mental health condition and was in active addiction. During that time, I was never truly capable of giving myself any time off. In my experience, if my using and mania were active, I would be unable to truly take a break from life. I realize now that vacation is not only beneficial to my mental health but is vital for my recovery.

Over the past fourteen years, I’ve gradually discovered and learned three essential practices that shape my ability to take vacations effectively. While I don’t employ these three vacation skills on every single holiday, and I’m far from being an expert, I do acknowledge that I have had moderate success. The following vacation skills are incredibly life-giving and restorative when I carefully follow them.

Advocate for your vacation needs

I encourage everyone to patiently and confidently normalize taking time off. Workplaces can be chaotic, confusing, traumatic, and full of power differentials. Navigating employment in recovery has been something I have done with the assistance of a support network. Friends, recovery peers, co-workers, human resources, and even management have all become people to whom I have communicated my needs and been supported by. With the encouragement of others, I slowly gained enough confidence to ask for the time off that I need to recuperate and refresh my body, mind, and spirit.

Plan ahead: Carve out time

Careers have a peculiar ability to make time go by incredibly slowly on a daily basis yet surprisingly rapidly on a monthly basis. For this reason, I sit down with a calendar and map out vacation time months in advance. There are two benefits to this practice. First, when I submit my vacation time and get approval, I can confidently plan all of the details that lead up to a vacation. Specifics like accommodations, rental cars, and even my workload in the week leading up to vacation all need to be considered. Preparing for vacation is labor and I have discovered how that needs to be part of the equation. Second, as soon as the date is set and the travel details are arranged, you can enjoy the benefit of anticipating time off. The psychological relief in looking forward to vacation can transform how you view the day-to-day drudgery of vocational life. Instead of wandering aimlessly through your work week, you can look forward to rest and relaxation.

Check yourself out of the office

Leaving the office on your last day of vacation should be a formal process with your employer and a mental process for yourself. Make sure your vacation responder is set for your emails and you have silenced all email notifications. If you need to send out an email to your co-workers and management updating them on the status of your work, give yourself time to do that on the morning of your last day before vacation. Spend some time intentionally saying goodbye to people that you work with regularly as you prepare for vacation to remind them of your pending absence. The moment you are ready to leave, update your voicemail with your out-of-office message. Take a deep breath and acknowledge that you are now officially on vacation. Use your “do not disturb” setting on your phone and leave it in a drawer or suitcase as much as possible. Checking out of work in this manner is responsible professional behavior, good communication, and excellent self-care.

Never forget, skills take time to be honed. I have been developing my vacation skills for fourteen years. Sometimes I leave the office and embrace peace, rest, and serenity. Other times I fumble my way through my time off by checking my email, answering my phone, and ruminating about my first day back in the office. My support network, mentors, and peers have always encouraged me to go easy on myself when learning how to recover. If vacation doesn’t go as planned, give yourself a break, hit the reset button and try again.

References:

  1. “Half of U.S. Employees Say They WFV (Work from Vacation).” Qualtrics. March 29, 2022. https://www.qualtrics.com/news/half-of-u-s-employees-say-they-wfv-work-from-vacation/.
  2. Horowitz, Juliana Menasce, and Kim Parker. “How Americans View Their Jobs.” Pew Research Center, March 30, 2023. https://www.pewresearch.org/social-trends/2023/03/30/how-americans-view-their-jobs/.

Seth Perry (he/him/his), an ELCA Pastor, devotional blogger, and mental health recovery educator, embraces his journey of living well with Bipolar Type 1. He works to reduce stigma where faith, mental health, and personal growth intertwine. Pastor Seth currently serves Elim Lutheran Church in Scandia, MN. His website is: www.ourstigma.com

Last Updated on May 6, 2024

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