When was the last time you took a true vacation? One where you turned your phone off and completely unplugged from work.
If so, you are not alone. Here in our San Francisco therapy practice, we work with a lot of people who struggle to take time off from work.
You may personally feel that in order to succeed, you must always be available and “on”. But being a workhorse can backfire.
All work and no play can lead to burnout, resentment, and making mistakes. It can also negatively impact your health and your closest relationships.
Therefore, taking time off from work is not just a nice thing to do—it’s necessary.
Resting Is Part of Working Hard
Perhaps you may have trained yourself to be on the go 24/7 and to equate success with hard work. While “success” (however you define that) does usually require hard work, it also requires rest.
Consider, for a moment, a marathon runner. Whether you love running or hate it, there’s a good chance you’re aware of what it takes to train for a long distance race. And it’s more than just hours upon hours of running.
There’s a strategy, balancing exercise and rest. Each is equally important. Without rest, the marathon runner isn’t able to push themselves hard in their training sessions.
It’s the same for you in your work life. You need rest in order to be able to return to work revived, refreshed, and ready to fully focus.
How to Make Real Rest a Priority in Your Life
If you’re like most people, you often find yourself “wasting time,” doing things that aren’t really restful. Things like zoning out in front of the TV, scrolling through social media, watching YouTube videos, or online shopping.
While these activities are all fine in small doses, none of them are likely to truly nourish you. To the contrary, they can quickly make you feel like you don’t have time for true rest. Or, that you even deserve it.
Often people say they take plenty of time off from work to take it easy. But what they mean is that they lost hours in front of a screen. That is a “fake” break!
If you don’t take a real break, your body and brain will take a fake one for you, and you will find yourself losing time doing things that don’t help you relax and recharge.
For example, you might tell yourself you can’t take the time to go out for dinner with your partner because you have to stay late at work. But the real reason you’re behind at work is that you lost an hour away doing things that failed to really nourish you, like scrolling through social media.
Instead of feeling energized and motivated, you may feel guilty or ashamed for spending an hour online. After all, the time wasted certainly didn’t feel like a real break.
Pay attention to how much time you lose doing things like this and how this may cut into your time to do things that are truly restful and meaningful.
Ask yourself how you take “fake” breaks.
Here are some common ones:
- Watching TV
- Online shopping
- Scrolling through social media
- Eating when you’re not hungry
As opposed to real breaks, which embody true rest or restorative activities.
Common ones include:
- Creative time (crafts, cooking, art, music)
- Nature time (hiking, walks on the beach, gardening)
- Contemplative time (meditating, thinking about your future, watching the sunset)
- Reading or journaling
- Time connecting with friends or family
What Does Rest Look Like to You?
What feels restful to each person is highly individual.
Perhaps, for you, rest is a beach vacation, lying on the sand for days, letting your mind wander. Or maybe it’s backpacking, spending your days wandering among trees and your nights sleeping under the stars.
Think about what truly helps you feel rested, rather than what you’ve heard others do in their time off from work. Maybe two weeks exploring a new city is exactly what you need to be doing to recharge—but maybe it’s not.
Allow yourself to get creative when thinking about what you most want and need to really rest.
How to Overcome Barriers to Truly Allowing Yourself to Rest
If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance, rest doesn’t always come naturally to you.
As San Francisco therapists, we have found that there are some common barriers people face when planning to take time off from work, such as:
“I don’t deserve rest.”
To put it bluntly, this concept of deserving or not deserving isn’t very effective.
Ask yourself – who exactly is setting the bar on when you deserve to rest? Is there some kind of internal gauge that you have set for yourself (not consciously, of course) that tells you when you’ve done enough?
For many hard workers and overachievers, the bar keeps moving. So, enough is never enough and you never “deserve” to rest—both of which are untrue.
“I feel anxious when I rest.”
You may have become so accustomed to being on the go and to not taking true breaks that when you do rest, it brings up anxiety.
Take, for example, the last time you took a true vacation. Be honest with yourself, how many times did you check your work email during your downtime? And further still, when was the last time you actually took at least a week’s vacation, period?
For many career-driven people, you may be surprised at how long ago that was.
Therefore, you aren’t used to quiet time—time to think and feel and be without an agenda.
If this is the case for you, see if you can notice the anxiety and let it be there without having to busy yourself with your phone check things off your to-do list. What you may find is that if you don’t act on the anxiety, it will pass.
“I don’t have time.”
This is such a common barrier to taking true rest.
Think about all the times that your body and brain go into shut down mode after you’ve pushed yourself for hours at work.
Those hours of zoning out, drinking too much, or collapsing on the couch could be hours of true rest doing things that actually feed your soul, creativity, and relationships.