This Way for the Secret Weapon to Self-Care

“You can sleep when you’re dead.”

“Rest is for the weak.” 

“Burn the midnight oil.”

These are common phrases we hear all the time as we strive to work harder so that we can play harder — except many of us aren’t actually doing any playing. A great deal of Americans don’t get PTO (paid time off), and many of those who do are too scared to actually take it. In 2015, more than half of working Americans have unclaimed PTO at the end of the year. Although it may be easy to let the months go by without taking a break, the consequences are counterproductive and potentially dangerous. More and more studies are showing how damaging burnout can be, and why we need to start getting serious about taking a break. 

Signs of burnout include exhaustion, hopelessness, irritability, cynicism, and a lack of passion and drive. Work stress has taken over your life and you’ve lost sight of why you’re on this path to begin with. One of the key reasons why it’s so important to take time off is because it gives you the space to hit the reset button. It clears away all of the environmental factors and allows you to break down the source of your stress.

Do you hate your job? Are you overloaded? Maybe you don’t feel challenged in your current role. Taking a vacation and forcing yourself to pause can help you refocus your career goals.

According to Forbes, burnout costs businesses $300 billion dollars annually. Additionally, not only does not taking PTO encourage burnout, but according to the Framingham Heart Study, leaving it on the table has also been linked to higher chances of heart disease.

So if those who don’t take time off are more prone to burnout and health issues, what happens when people do take time off? A Nielsen poll conducted on behalf of Diamond Resorts International found that not only can vacation time make people feel happier and sexier, but 71% of respondents who took yearly vacations said they were satisfied with their jobs, whereas only 46% of those who didn’t take vacation time felt satisfied. 

If businesses make more money, run more productively, and keep more employees, and if we return from vacation happier, healthier, and more creatively charged why then aren’t more Americans taking a break? 

It’s part of a bigger conversation of work culture in America where the problem is trifold: it’s harder to unplug, there’s more pressure to work, and PTO is not guaranteed.

With the advent of advanced technology, working remotely has become increasingly easy. Unplugging, however, is nearly impossible. Work boundaries become blurred and staying at least partially connected is almost expected. It’s easy to respond to just one email, jump on just one call, and then before you know it, you’re working remotely on vacation. 

Even if there wasn’t such an ease in working remotely, the social encouragement to hustle has become cocaine for workaholics. Social media creates a facade that only entrepreneurs who put in 17 hours of work a day will get ahead. Internet personalities advocate for pushing your mind and body harder and faster until you reach your destination. Take a break, and you’ll most definitely fall behind. You’ll be replaced, your boss will question your dedication, and you’ll miss out on that promotion you have your eye on. In particular, millennials often feel shame for going on vacation. 

The last factor that plays into this resistance of vacation is the fact that paid time off is not required in the US, making America the only industrialized country without a guaranteed annual leave. (Yes, you read that right — we’re way behind than our peers in the PTO game.) Many jobs don’t even offer PTO, and those who work in the private sector experience the disparity in policies as they begin to make more money. Statistically, those who earn more tend to have more access to paid vacation. In 2017, of the bottom 25% of wage-earners, only half had access to paid vacation. However, more than 90% of the top 10% of wage earners had paid vacation time. 

If you do have paid vacation, it’s time to start taking advantage of it. 

Put in a request, break down a strategy to get ahead in your work, and take time to truly unplug. You’re not a work machine, and you don’t have to reach a burnout to justify a vacation. Just put a pause button on the hustle and you’ll be grateful later.

And if you don’t have access to PTO? Perhaps it’s time to have a conversation with your employers about work priorities. PTO isn’t just about your personal enjoyment, it’s about your health and the success of the company. Create a compelling case as to why your employer should consider adding paid time off to the policy. The facts speak pretty loud for themselves. But until then try taking a weekend to yourself to recenter. 

While we’re still far from nationwide mandatory PTO policies, we can prioritize our physical and mental health, creative energy, and productivity by taking those vacation days when they’re offered. Your paid time off should not be seen as a detour during a marathon but rather a cornerman between boxing rounds. It’s there to ensure you fight stronger and smarter when the next round begins. 

Based out of Los Angeles, Iona Brannon is a writer and photojournalist who deeply enjoys hearing the stories of others and drawing out the beauty of the mundane. Her hobbies include sitting in LA traffic and occasionally yelling at other drivers. You can see her work and connect with her at ionabrannon.com.

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