How to Take a Break From Work (and Why You Need It)

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We all need to take a break sometimes. Oddly, though, many people leave their vacation time unused. Whether you plan a vacation, a staycation, or a playcation, it's important to take a break from the job, the routine, and the demands of life in order to keep stress levels in check.

When you take a break, you're not shirking responsibility. You're taking care of yourself so you'll have the stamina to be your best.

Symptoms of Chronic Stress

The body is designed to respond to short bursts of stress. When stress is prolonged and the stress response is triggered repeatedly and regularly—as can happen in a stressful job or a conflict-ridden relationship—the situation turns into one of chronic stress, and real health problems can set in.

Those who experience chronic stress are more susceptible to conditions ranging from frequent headaches and gastrointestinal issues to high blood pressure, which brings an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. When our allostatic load, or overall level of stress, accumulates to a certain level, stress can snowball because we're constantly in a state of reactivity.

At this point, even positive events can feel overwhelming if they take energy to enjoy. We're not able to respond from a place of strength and wisdom, but rather from a place of anxiety, or we work on auto-pilot.

Signs That You Need a Break

Sometimes, it's obvious when a vacation is necessary. But other times, stress can sneak up on us, and we may be less able to recognize when we're at risk for overwhelm and burnout.

Because we all respond to stress in unique ways, our signs of overwhelm may be unique as well. However, there are some general warning signs that apply in most cases. If you're experiencing one or more of the following, it's a good idea to start planning some downtime, even if it's in the form of a weekend staycation to recharge your batteries.

  • Lack of energy
  • Lack of motivation
  • More frequent frustration
  • Feeling fuzzy-headed
  • Mild health issues
  • Sleep disturbances

In fact, unless you already feel energized, motivated, excited, creative and fully engaged at work and in your relationships, you'd likely benefit from a vacation because it's a good idea to manage stress before it feels overwhelming. Vacations, mental health days, and regular self-care can keep you functioning at your best.

Benefits of Taking a Break

Vacations and even shorter breaks where we get some physical and psychological space from the demands of life can bring many rewards. Obviously, we feel less stress when we're not in a stressful environment.

But vacations bring more than that. They interrupt the cycle of stress that can lead to being overwhelmed. They give us a break from chronic stress so we can restore ourselves physically and mentally to a healthier place.

Because a chronically triggered stress response can lead to decreased creativity, memory problems, and other issues, this break in the stress cycle can lead to sharper thinking and increased creativity in all areas of our lives. This makes us better at our jobs, more available in our relationships, more energetic with our families, and more able to enjoy life for a prolonged amount of time after we return.

What Makes a Break

If you need a break, there are several different options for getting one. You can go for a long and luxurious break, a relaxing and simple one, or something short and sweet. You can even have minutes-long breaks that you take throughout the day to keep productivity higher and to keep from feeling overwhelmed.

Vacation

A vacation is a real break, in the classic sense of the word, and taking a vacation is more important than many people realize. That's why many vacation days go unused when they should be enjoyed to the fullest.

The key to a restful vacation is to prioritize rest and fun when you go; don't overbook yourself with tourist activities or bring so much work with you that by the time you return you feel you need a vacation from your vacation.

Staycation

The staycation is becoming more and more en vogue, especially as people have a greater need to take a break, but with fewer means to pull off an exotic trip. The staycation is all about rest and relaxation, and enjoying the place you are often too stressed and busy to really enjoy: home sweet home.

The key to a refreshing staycation is the same as the key to a restful vacation, though somewhat trickier to pull off: don't overdo it, and don't let work creep in. That means no cleaning, office work, or dealing with regular responsibilities. You can either turn off the phones, ignore email, and make it a point to both rest and play at home, or go to a nearby hotel to make it easier.

Playcation

Few people talk about having a playcation, but it's a great idea: stay home, but make it fun! The difference between a staycation and a playcation is that staycations tend to focus more on resting and relaxing, while playcations are for—you guessed it—fun!

With the hard work and stressful routines that characterize many people's lifestyles, it's important to have some fun (like Billy Crystal did to "get his smile back" in the classic movie City Slickers) as a way to recharge your batteries and be sure you're enjoying life. You can devote several days to taking a playcation, or just be sure you pepper in some fun on a regular basis.

Short Breaks

Sometimes we just need to take a break from stress long enough to disrupt the body's stress response cycle, and then get back into the action. For quicker options, take a hike or a bike ride, enjoy a movie, or even have a 5-minute meditation session. With these ideas for ​quick breaks, you'll have several ideas from which to choose.

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Article Sources
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  1. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Workers’ access to and use of leave from their jobs in 2017–18. Updated January 2020.

  2. Mariotti A. The effects of chronic stress on health: New insights into the molecular mechanisms of brain-body communication. Future Sci OA. 2015;1(3):FSO23. doi:10.4155/fso.15.21

  3. National Institute of Mental Health. 5 things you should know about stress.

  4. Private industry workers received average of 15 paid vacation days after 5 years of service in 2017. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Updated June 28, 2018.

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