“It is not more vacation we need – it is more vocation” – Eleanor Roosevelt
Full-Stop Ahead: When Vacation Becomes a Pre-Cursor to Burn Out
A few weeks ago, my family and I spontaneously decided to take a mini-vacation to the Baltic Sea. We spent time just enjoying being together, laughing, eating and walking through the crisp Autumn air with our dog, Elly. It was a time of fun, joy and of regeneration the stuff of which most vacations are made.
Since then I have been thinking about a growing misconception around vacations and other blocks of extended “down-time”. The idea that vacation time is a substitute for regularly planning times for regeneration into your day and your life is one that can start a dangerous cycle of working to the point of complete exhaustion followed by a period of complete withdrawal from “normal” life. In this context, vacation, long-weekends and sabbatical are increasingly becoming ways of coping with stress and overload when life has gotten far off kilter. This is when taking a break from work becomes just another pit-stop on the way to a complete breakdown known as burn out. For an idea of what happens, imagine yourself putting a tight bandage on a broken leg, taking a pain-killer and then getting right back in the paraglider. For a while the support from the bandage and the medication may allow you to feel better and carry on almost as usual, but the break certainly won’t heal properly. And woe to you, when you stop the pain medication and the bandage comes off! For your broken leg to heal properly, you will need to take proper care of it and until it heals, stop jumping out of the paraglider! Of course, if possible, it is much better to avoid the break at all, wear the proper safety equipment and most importantly learn the skills for gliding and for landing especially in case of turbulence or unexpected obstacles at the planned landing point.
Let’s transfer this broken leg scenario to the broken mental, emotional and eventually also physical state that accompany burnout. While you don’t need a full-body cast; you do need overall support. What you really needed are some strong functioning personal boundaries, the ability to communicate clearly and with intention, better self-care practices and a clear align of personal values, goals and the actions you take. You need someone who can provide you with empathetic, non-judgmental and no-excuses support (hint: not someone who is attached to the outcome, i.e. your spouse, best friends, boss or your mother!) And for goodness’ sake, stop jumping out of the paraglider! Identify the highest stress factors and take immediate action to remove them from your life – today.
Recognize when you need more than “a break” – 6 red flags that warn of burn out danger
While the likelihood of suffering burn out is impacted by a number of factors including personal resilience, there are some conditions which increase the overall risk. Here are some signs that your vacation just may be a pit-stop on the way to burn out:
- You consistently work more than 40 hours a week at a job that you hate. Even when you love what you do there can be challenging times, when you hate your job the same challenges can seem impossible to overcome. If this is you, the flag is RED!
- You love your job and consistently work more than 70 hours a week without scheduling and taking at least one day to rest. Even when you love your work, performing at 110% and being there for everyone else, if you rarely practice good self-care, the flag is RED!
- The reason you hate your job is:
- No one shows appreciation for the work that you do
- You earn less than everyone else doing the same job with a similar role
- The work you do is meaningless to you and you don’t really see how it actually serves anyone. The reasons for disengagement vary, but these three are some of the most common factors among people who have experienced burn.out, so if this is you, the flag is RED!
- You get sick almost every time you go on vacation. Count on it, a cold, the flu, migraines, backache or some rare form of a malaria-like condition not transmitted by any known insect, no illness is too obscure to befall you on at least the first two days of your vacation. When your body is constantly in stress-mode, adrenaline and other natural stress substances can mask and suppress your body’s natural defenses and the moment you relax and “let yourself go”, the monsters at bay pounce upon you. If this is you, the flag is RED!
- You increasingly indulge in compulsive and or addictive behavior such as increased or excessive alcohol consumption, increased participation in high—risk sports, excessive or compulsive eating/bingeing and experience feelings of profound helplessness or hopelessness, as well as bouts of crying and withdrawal from your environment. If this is you, the flag is RED!
- You often become sad, depressed and or aggressive just before the vacation ends and you have to return to work. Everyone has had a moment when they’d rather stay on vacation forever or at least another week, because, well the Seychelles islands are just better than most office complexes, however if you consistently spend the last vacation day literally crying over your glass of Chardonnay before moving on to Vodka & Orange (in bulk) , the flag is RED!
These are only a few select warning signs that you may be at risk for burn out and if any of these red flags are coming up for you, it is certainly worth looking into and exploring what is really happening at a deeper level. Sometimes just a few simple changes in your work day, your work environment or a new way of reframing what your work means in the larger context of your life, can make all the difference between suffering, surviving and thriving.
If two are more of these signals are showing up in your life, stop what you are doing now and before you contact your travel agent, give me call! In a free consultation, you’ll find out how coaching with me can help you prevent burn out, bounce back after burn out therapy or simply create and maintain your ideal life, a life that reflects your core values, your highest goals and your personal definition of success.
You can start living that ideal life today. Contact me and let’s Make it Happen!