December 16, 2017
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The Psychology of Vacation

Americans work more than citizens of any other industrialized country, yet we don’t take full advantage of our time off. Here’s how to seize the (vacation) day.

When a relative in England asked how many paid vacation days my job at this magazine offered, she was surprised at my answer: 15. That’s great, considering many of my fellow Gen Yers receive only 10 days off — and many jobs offer no employee benefits such as vacation. Still, she asked, “How do people survive in America?”

As a media producer at a football club in London, she enjoys 24 vacation days every year. Some of her neighbors in mainland Europe fare even better: Workers in France, for one, earn an average of 38. In the United States, the average employee is granted 13 paid days off, according to Expedia.com’s annual Vacation Deprivation Survey. Still, 34 percent of Americans don’t use all of their vacation time, “giving back” an average of three days each year. 

That’s troubling to Caron Leader, a partner and psychotherapist at aha! Architects of Human Awareness (www.ahacounseling.com), an East Side counseling and consulting firm. “The main reason Americans do not use all of our vacation time is that we as a culture do not value down time or relaxing,” she says. “There is a perception that if one is relaxing, they are lazy.”

That perception leads to excessive job-related stress, which in turn costs American businesses $344 billion a year in medical bills, absenteeism, turnover, and training, according to the Chicago Tribune. Leader questions the term “workaholic,” but says she’s seen clients with problems that arise from too much work. “What typically occurs when they try to turn away from work is a sense of loss of purpose or meaning,” she says. “They simply feel lost without this preoccupation in their lives and use it to avoid other issues within themselves.”

Convinced you need a break? Leader offers these tips for maximizing time off once you’re on vacation. 

Plan ahead. Some times of the year may not be conducive to a restful getaway, so “make sure you take your time off when you can truly relax,” Leader says. Delegate your responsibilities to colleagues so you don’t feel pressured to constantly check in.

Get off the grid. Breaking news: Your Facebook, e-mail, and LinkedIn accounts will be just fine if you log off for a week or two. Leave your computer at home if possible, then turn off gadgets and don’t allow yourself access to them. If you must work, Leader suggests limiting it to 30 minutes or an hour every other day.

Expect the best. Instead of clinging to your smartphone, check it once a day. Better yet, leave your hotel number or other contact information where coworkers can reach you in case of an emergency. “My motto in life is, ‘No news is good news,’” Leader says. “Try to remember if something really needs your attention, someone will contact you.”

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