Even though you’ve booked that much-needed vacation, you may have second thoughts about actually taking the time off.
The act of taking time to unplug and relax could result in an immense amount of unavoidable guilt. For instance, you may fear the implications of being away from work or feel anxious about leaving family members for some time, said Erica Basso, a family and marriage therapist based in Los Angeles.
This is extremely common. Data published by the Pew Research Center in May 2023 found that nearly half ― 49% ― of workers surveyed say they don’t take their paid time off because they are worried they’ll fall behind at work. Other reasons the workers cited for not taking all of their PTO include feeling badly about colleagues taking on additional work and a fear they may lose their job.
The workplace isn’t the only reason people hold back from vacation: Those who are caregivers often find it challenging to leave loved ones who depend on them. Studies show caregivers often forego their own leisure in favor of assisting their loved one.
Either way, this impending feeling of guilt can be a barrier to people allowing themselves to have their own downtime. So, how do you tackle the guilt that may be weighing you down and finally enjoy your vacation? We asked therapists to find out.
Plan your vacation in advance
“Plan your trip ahead of time so you have time to prepare yourself emotionally and logistically for the vacation,” said Israa Nasir, a psychotherapist and founder of the Well.Guide.
Knowing your plans in advance provides a sense of control and time to deal with responsibilities you may be missing during your time off. For instance, if you feel guilty about being away from work, you could complete some of it beforehand and gain appropriate coverage to ease your anxiousness.
Focus on the health benefits
Taking time to rest and unplug from work can inspire productivity and prevent burnout, Basso said. Even though you may feel guilty about taking the time off, the break will help you feel refreshed and relaxed.
“Remember the positive effects of taking a vacation on your health. Understand that you’re doing something good for yourself,” said Colleen O’Grady, a therapist and author of “Dial Down the Drama” and ”Dial Up the Dream.”
Think of it as a way to reconnect with yourself
When thinking about your vacation, embrace the opportunity to reconnect with yourself and enjoy new experiences. While work and other responsibilities may be an important aspect of your identity, take some time to focus on other activities you enjoy, Basso said.
“You have the space to remember who you are, what you enjoy, and what’s important to you,” said O’Grady.
If possible, try to delegate tasks to others during your time away if you are worried about work piling up.
“Remind yourself of people in your life who are willing to help you while you’re away and that you will come back more energized to complete your work,” Nasir said.
Setting clear boundaries will help you draw the fine line between taking time off on vacation and other responsibilities. Tell your colleagues and family ahead of time that you will be going on a vacation, so they know that you will not be working.
You can also try writing an out-of-office autoresponder message in your email and creating custom greeting for your phone voicemail for those who are trying to reach you while you’re away.