How to have a day off

Here in the United States, we just had a holiday. The fourth of July, also known as Independence Day. A day full of watermelon, sunshine, and sparklers. 

But for people who tend towards burnout (and who doesn't, these days?), holidays can be a little fraught. The idea is to take the day off. Completely. To sleep in. Or to get up early and enjoy the quiet before a day of picnics and lakesides and lots of socializing.

But, for many of us, and especially anyone who's working for a global company, taking a day off can be ... stressful.

Instead of enjoying our watermelon and sunshine, we're sneaking away to the bathroom to check our work email. We're excusing ourselves from the merrymaking to answer a slack message from a colleague halfway around the world.

In short, we're working, while also pretending we're not working. (Of course, there are those of us who don't even bother with the pretense, but when I was in corporate, I was always one of those "YES A DAY OFF BUT ALSO I CAN'T RELAX OH NO" people.) Which is to say, we're not really fully showing up to our day off, but we're also not fully showing up to our work. We're sort of half-assing both.

Has this ever happened to you? Maybe, like me, you LOVE days off, but you also have a hard time turning your work brain off. Maybe there's just a really tight timeline on one of your projects. Maybe there's nothing at all going on at work, but you're still scared of missing something.

No matter what the reason is, you can learn to let go of your brain's drama about taking a day off. And (surprise!) it has nothing to do with your workload or a last minute email from your boss or even that project that is slipping further and further from its deadline.

The way to handle worries and fears about unplugging from work isn't necessarily about the work bit at all. The way to handle your worries and fears about work is to change how you are thinking about them. 

If this sounds too simple, hear me out. Have you ever spent a day off worrying and checking your email and waiting for bad news that never came? I know I have. I've also wasted countless weekends that way. I've ruined whole nights out because I was worried about something my boss had said that later I found out was something I could totally handle.

And that's the important part. Whatever is going on at work, spending a day off worrying about it doesn't actually help you do anything productive. It just wears you out and leaves you less rested for when you return to work. One of the lies our brain tells us is that worrying about something will make it easier to handle. But the opposite is true. Worrying depletes us, which means that if something does happen, we're less equipped to handle it well. (Please note that worrying and planning are not the same thing.)

Still, these can be difficult habits to change. Your brain evolved to scan for threats, and chances are, you've also given it lots of practice. Those neural pathways are strong. But difficult is not impossible, and every task, no matter how hard, can be started with a tiny shift. Maybe every time your brain brings up work, you remind yourself that taking time off now will help you return to work in a better, more rested state. Maybe every time your hand goes to your pocket to check your phone, you record a gratitude instead of checking your work email. Maybe you do decide to send a work message or two, but afterwards, you spend five minutes really connecting with a friend or family member you're spending the day with.

What shift you choose to make isn't even the important part. The important part is learning to see yourself, and your work life, differently. If all you do is realize that your brain is just playing out its habitual thoughts and patterns, that awareness alone will change how the day feels. (But I really hope you go all in, turn your phone off, and deep dive into your day off like it's the best thing ever, because maybe it is.)