• TOVI's Science Communicator, Ashley Miller-Dykeman, M.A.

4 Tips for Taking a Real Vacation


COVID Summer Vacation
Photo: Violeta Carlos/iStock

Fully vaccinated and ready for your first real vacation since the COVID-19 pandemic began? Excited but stressed about disconnecting from work and entering the “real world” again? Check out these tips for taking a real vacation.


Give disconnecting some practice.


If you’re like most people, especially those that work from home, you’re used to always having work on your mind. Even when you’re “offline,” you’re thinking about your job and your responsibilities. Even your weekends might have felt a little bit less like days off and more like a regular weekday.


Objectively, it is hard to disconnect from work until you practice disconnecting from work. If you're used to working non-stop at the expense of your personal and social life, disconnecting abruptly feels unnatural because your mind is still used to going 100 miles an hour.


To help with this, try practicing taking time away from work before you head off for your vacation.


Take a morning or afternoon off. Have a long lunch or two, if you can. Set up an away message or auto-response on your email when you’re away from your desk, and do something fun.


When you take these mini-breaks, you’ll begin to realize that:

  • you can take time away from work

  • you were still able to pick up your work where you left off

  • it feels good to be kind to yourself by logging off and being in the present


Normalize being nervous.


Vacations aside, this is a time of transition for everyone. People are getting used to seeing others without masks or in close quarters after a full year of social distancing and interpreting these actions as a threat. It’s normal to feel a little nervous being back in the “real world,” and it will take some time to “retrain your brain” to feel comfortable in situations that you’ve been avoiding for safety reasons.


If you can, start small and build up your exposure to people, places, and activities over time. Maybe start with situations that cause a little anxiety, like going to a store for 10 minutes. You might feel anxious at first, but these activities will normalize over time, and they won’t feel threatening anymore.


As you start to feel comfortable in those situations, try challenging yourself to enter into situations that are a little more anxiety-provoking. Over time, your brain will begin to understand that you’re safe.


Be specific about your availability.


So your boss isn’t used to not having you around, and you’re a little worried you’ll be getting emails and Slack messages on vacation.


Focus on clearly and specifically communicating your availability to your co-workers before your vacation starts. Being vague or unclear is a common pitfall when it comes to communicating, and a straightforward heads up can help everyone prepare.


Get all the details out there with a message like: “I will be online until 5 PM on Friday. After that, I will be unreachable through the weekend and the beginning of next week. I will be back online to address emails and messages at 9 AM on Wednesday.”


Once you’re offline, make it clear that messages sent to you will go unanswered with a similar, specific message. Take things up a notch by listing a co-worker that can be contacted instead in an emergency. Then turn off your notifications and enjoy your time off!


Daydream a bit.


Everyone knows you’re away from the office, you’ve practiced disconnecting, you’re ready to enjoy your time away, but you still feel that temptation to check your email “really quickly” or make sure no one has messaged you.


Take a second to daydream about all the things you’ve wanted to do but couldn’t because of work getting in the way. Then, make a list of those things, and try to recreate those dreamy conditions during your vacation when you’re feeling a little restless. Even better? Add them to your TOVI Plan!


Remember, this time is for you! Enjoy it!


Note: we always recommend following guidance and recommendations established by the CDC, state, and local governments regarding travel and being around others.


Reviewed by: Lorena Ruci, PhD, Registered Psychotherapist


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