How To Properly Switch Off On Holiday When Your Mind Has Other Ideas

Because work stress and social media pressure are not invited to the beach.
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Your body is on a beautiful beach, but your mind is stuck in the office, thinking about what you “should have done” before you left and what you’ll “have to do” when you return.

Brits take an average of 46 hours and 42 minutes to feel relaxed on holiday, according to a survey of 2,000 people from travel experts Tots to Travel – a serious dent into a week-long break and almost obliterating a weekend away.

Neil Shah, chief de-stressing officer at The Stress Management Society – yes that is his real job title – believes our inability to switch off stems from an “always-on culture”, which often centres around screen time from the moment we wake up.

“This is where the challenge starts,” says Shah, who is author of the 10-Step Stress Solution. “If you are always on, you can’t just switch off when you are on holiday and tell your brain to go into relaxation mode.”

People are living their lives at a thousand miles an hour, he says, then they go on a holiday, lie on a beach and their brain hasn’t caught up with them – “it can take a few days for them to catch up with themselves and switch off.”

He describes this phenomenon as the ‘Roadrunner Effect’ – just as the cartoon Roadrunner struggles to stop when running, so do we when we’re on holiday.

Failing to relax on holiday isn’t just annoying, it’s bad for our health and wellbeing, too. A 2018 study by the University of Helsinki found those who take fewer than three weeks of annual leave a year are more likely to die young than those who take more. And taking time off work “alleviates perceived job stress and burn out”, according to a 2001 study by Tel Aviv University.

If you’re spending your holiday stressed, it barely counts. So how do you force yourself into the holiday spirit?

Set The Foundations Before You Leave

Delegating your usual duties at work is a good place to start, says career coach Nichola Johnson-Marshall, founder of Working Wonder.

“Sometimes a lengthy handover document via email doesn’t send the right message to your work colleagues, especially if you are asking them to pick up some of your tasks,” she says. “Instead, ask them what works best for them.”

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Avoid Work Communication While You’re Away

Time off from work is essential to maintaining your professional wellbeing, says Johnson-Marshall, so no good boss should ever call or email you while you’re away. Yet a recent global survey by Ipsos Mori found 41% of Brits check in with work while they’re on annual leave, up from 36% in 2009.

To avoid this happening, set up a handover 1:1 with your boss to reassure them that your colleagues are more than capable of covering while you’re away. “It also doesn’t hurt to drop in a project that you are very excited to work on with fresh eyes when you return,” she says.

If your boss does still call, don’t answer it straight away. “Instead, wait a bit, then send a text message to say signal isn’t great and maybe offer a colleague to support instead if it is urgent,” Johnson-Marshall says. “They will then hopefully get the message.”

Martin Talks from Digital Detoxing, which teaches workforces how to switch off, says a good handover should lessen the urge to check emails while you’re away – but if you dread a build up of emails on your return, set up an automatic reply saying all emails received while on holiday will be automatically deleted, asking people to resend their message if it’s still important. “It’s amazing how many issues go away,” he laughs.

Make A Plan For Your Holiday Admin

Shah says “fail to plan, plan to fail” is a good mantra to embrace outside of the workplace, too.

“If you’re going away with your family or your partner, think about who’s going to get the suntan lotion, who’s going to get the travel money and who is sorting out the insurance,” he says. “Often, a lot of that can be left on one person’s shoulders, meaning they will be left feeling overwhelmed.”

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Ditch The Tech (As Much As You Can)

Can you avoid social media while you’re away? “Be honest with yourself about why you might want to post that picture of you by the beach,” Talk says. “Spreading FOMO is not great and it can often mask the reality of a holiday.”

If you really want to send loved ones a nice picture of your holiday, Talks advises using a service like Touchnote, where you can convert a photo to a postcard that arrives by post.

It’s fine to take photos for your own collection, but do so sparingly. “If you see your holiday through a screen, are you really there?” he asks.

And, with our favourite programmes now online at the touch of the button, the Tots to Travel research found more than half of Brits (55%) continue to watch their favourite TV shows while on holiday. But Shah questions whether this is a good idea.

“One of the biggest benefits of going away is this break from the norm and a break from your routine,” he says. “If you’re taking your norm and your routine with you, you’re not getting the benefit of that reset that you would otherwise get on holiday.”

Ask Yourself Why You Can’t Relax

Other tips from Shah include eating well and making sure you get enough sleep in the run up to your holiday, so if you do have to get up at “silly o’clock” for a flight, you won’t feel awful.

But, he adds, if you’re really struggling to switch off, perhaps it’s time to look at your life in general – relaxation shouldn’t feel like an alien concept.

“The concern for me isn’t that people can’t switch off on holiday, it’s that we live a life that people can’t switch off full-stop,” he says. “[This means] we need to do much, much more to relax on a regular basis.

“We need to think about this not once or twice a year when we’re on holiday, but every day.”