The Reason You Can’t Turn Off the Stress and Exhaustion of Work On Your Vacation Days

When you come out of a state of hyperarousal, which can happen when you’re on the hamster wheel of working, you may not know what to do with yourself. It’s at this point—once we stop—that Avellino says we can experience and process the full slate of feelings we consciously or subconsciously have long held. “When we stop working, it’s not that we are more tired, it’s that we feel how tired we have been,” she says. “Work is like a lid on the can. It opens when there’s space and time to come down, revealing what’s already there.”

Upon accessing this space and time—which might be your vacation—in order to work toward feeling rested and rejuvenated, you first need to go through feelings like anxiety or frustration, which you might avoid because they’re coded as negative.

4 tips to help you actually relax

1. Decipher whether you need to sleep more

Pay attention to those sleepiness cues from Dr. Asarnow. If you’re not sure whether you’re sleepy, try and take a nap. When you wake up, maybe you’ll feel more rejuvenated, which would be a win. If not, work on addressing your tiredness or fatigue.

2. Practice mental flexibility

Mental flexibility, or cognitive flexibility, is the ability to toggle between different states of mind. According to Dr. Dahlman, being able to practice mental flexibility can help you find more balance in your regular routine.

Doing so can, in turn, translate to more relaxing time off, Avellino says: “In order for things to work, they need to be practiced over time. I think about it more as what are your maintenance tools? What makes you feel seen, soothed, and secure? What helps you feel nourished, and how are you integrating those things in your everyday life—not just on the vacation?”

As for what your mental flexibility routine or practice actually looks like, the sky’s the limit. And it doesn’t have to be huge or time-consuming. Dr. Dahlman suggests doing any exercise that can help you put a pin in whatever anxieties from work might be taking up mental real estate and then intentionally shift your attention. “Whatever transition ritual it is,” she says, “whether it’s deep breaths or shaking your whole body, let it be private to you, and let it be the start of your evening or the weekend.” Or your vacation time.

3. Compartmentalize, don’t avoid

Practicing mental flexibility asks you to switch gears to help ensure work stressors don’t seep into your time off—but it is not the same thing as avoidance. “Compartmentalization is an essential and healthy coping mechanism…it’s like putting a Post-It on something [so you can return to it later]” says Avellino. “Avoidance is never going back to that thing.”

Compartmentalization can be a helpful tool for being able to earnestly enjoy your time away and feel rested when you return to your regularly scheduled programming.

4. Give yourself a break

If you’re feeling exhausted during time off work, getting frustrated about it won’t magically energize you. Your best bet, according to Avellino, is “approaching the body and mind with curiosity rather than judgment.” So, pay attention to what’s going on—is your mind racing? Is your heart pumping? Are your palms sweaty? Pinpointing what is happening might pique your curiosity, lead to some answers, and help you legitimately relax.

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