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Sun, Sand & Serotonin: How to Ditch the Guilt and Take a Vacation Already

According to a study by the US Travel Association in 2019, over 55% of Americans didn’t use all their paid time off and only 28% took a vacation to travel somewhere away from home.

America has sadly been dubbed as the “no vacation nation” as compared to our European


So why are people leaving so much paid time off on the table and are you one of them?

Although finances were certainly one reason, the research shows that anxiety and guilt about

taking a vacation played a major role in why people don’t take time off from work. Thirteen

percent (13%) of the respondents in that study said that they experienced too much anxiety or fear of how much work they’d return to after the vacation ended. And in another study of over 2000 people sponsored by Turn Key Vacation Rentals, 54% of respondents said that they felt too guilty about taking time off to leave the office.

Sound familiar? If so, read on for ways to get over feeling guilty about taking some much-

needed R&R! Did you know that vacations boost our creativity? You’ll come back to the office with even more energy and ideas than ever before! In fact, at the major accounting firm, Ernst & Young, it was found that the employees with the best performance reviews took the most vacation days. The study found that for every 10 hours of vacation taken, performance reviews were 8% higher. So if you can’t get past the guilt, maybe the thought of an increased chance of getting a raise or promotion will get you thinking about some time away from your job.

Here are some tips for taking a guilt-free vacation:

1. First, make sure you take time to intentionally plan ahead. Planning is vital. Research

conducted by the US Travel Association in 2019 showed that 46% of people don’t plan ahead

for a vacation. If you don’t plan, you likely won’t do!

2. Now let’s examine the issue of guilt. Think of all the times you may have covered for

someone else in your office while they were out. It’s likely that you didn’t resent them for doing so. Maybe it created some extra work, and you were glad to see them back but, in the end, it was probably not that big of a deal and something that you just took in stride.

Your co-workers will likely feel the same when it’s your turn to take time off. You are not a

machine. Constantly working without a break does no one any favors and frankly, behaving like a martyr in the workplace (or anywhere,) gets old for the people around you. You need to

recharge your depleted energy stores.

If guilt is a major barrier to getting some much-needed beach/mountain/lake/staycation time, maybe it’s a good idea to think about what was modeled for you around work while growing up.

Did you have parents who took vacations? If not, why not? Did they not have the financial

means? Did they work all the time? What messages did you receive from them about relaxing in general?

Spend some time journaling about this. If the messages you received were not helpful in this

regard, it may be time to create a new narrative for yourself – one in which taking time off to

do nothing but sit and stare at some gloriously blue water is not only okay but a wonderful,

positive form of self-care! Practice thinking about the concept of a vacation as a right not a

privilege or indulgence.

3. Next, let’s talk about the anxiety. The fear of returning home to hundreds, if not thousands, of emails, prevents far too many Americans from taking a vacation. And if they do take one, they often don’t unplug from the office because they are busy checking and responding to emails, which essentially defeats the whole purpose of going in the first place.

It’s far better to make as much of a plan as possible to minimize the emails than it is to forgo a vacation altogether. For example, one strategy is to ask to be left off all the day-to-day emails that will be irrelevant by the time you return. That probably ends up being quite a few of them and the rest can wait until you return to the office. You can also ask people not to text you business-related messages.

Don’t make the mistake of staying glued to your devices to monitor what’s happening at work. That’s not healthy for you and it’s certainly not fair to anyone with whom you travel who is probably hoping for some uninterrupted quality time. If you absolutely must check your email, set a limited number of times you will do so and then stick to that commitment. Better yet, leave your devices home altogether.

4. What about the cost of going away? Until we change how we think about the importance of taking time off from work, money will always be the number one reason that we use as why we can’t travel.

There will always be a plethora of other, more “practical” things that we should be spending

money on. But let’s re-define what “practical” looks like. Is it practical to simply continue to

work, day after day, year after year, until you collapse from exhaustion? The health risks of

doing this are very real and we likely all know at least one person who sustained major health

consequences by working too hard for too long.

Maybe money really is tight. Maybe you’re saving for a house, your kid’s college or a new car or paying off student loan debt. If so, then you already know planning is key. Set up a special

savings account for vacation and contribute at least something each payday until you have

enough to take a trip. It need not be an extravagant one. The internet is full of free advice on

how to take great trips on the cheap. The point is that you make taking time off a priority and setting up a special account for it will increase the odds that you’ll do it.

And if you have the money to spare but are more on the “frugal” side, it’s time to re-think the purpose of money. Money is a tool – not an end game in and of itself. Psychological studies have shown that money spent on experiences, rather than material objects, contributes to our happiness more. One 20 year study by Cornell psychologist and researcher Thomas Gilovich, Ph.D., found that money spent on experiences rather than material objects, contributes more to our sense of identity. As opposed to buying a new car, for example, which delivers a fleeting experience of happiness, having a unique experience that is ours alone, makes us happier.

Objects have a “keeping up with the Joneses” effect. We’re happy for a while but then that new car smell disappears, and we quickly adapt to that. If our neighbor gets an even nicer car, then we are once again feeling wanting for something more. Travel, though, creates lasting memories that become part of the intricate and exquisite creation that is uniquely YOU, and is something that remains part of your individual tapestry of life forever.

And, if you still need convincing of the value of taking some R & R, one longitudinal Swedish study and published in the Journal of Society and Mental Health, found that the number of anti-depressant prescriptions declined proportionately to the number of vacation days taken!

If you don’t have any time off booked on the calendar this year, dirch the guilt and get out of

the office already!


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