Managing the stress that comes with annual leave (how to holiday in peace)

Image for Elise Bailey-Probert By Elise Bailey-Probert

It’s that time of year. British summertime seems to already be lacking, well… ‘summer’. And the weekend break just isn’t doing it anymore. Even those endless bank holidays haven’t felt enough.

Holiday season is here. Morning alarms off, do-not-disturb on and that ‘what day even is it?’ blur activated. Nothing better.

But, as with most things in life, nothing good comes easy. And from the moment you’ve decided you’re going on holiday; it feels like you need a break to plan your break. And another break to cope with your return. The stress that is taking annual leave is one shared by many, and it’s not uncommon to feel like it’s just an easier option to stay. Especially with clients to please.

Annual leave is a time to recharge and relax. In short, escaping your desk to just have some you-time (whatever that looks like) and forget all about work. So, what is with this out-of-office headache we endure when taking well-deserved time off? Why does it feel like we’re choosing extra mental luggage as well as the standard 23kg for the flight?

Time to ‘declare all’! Here’s some tips on how to offload that annual leave anxiety before take-off…

  1. Before you even book your trip, check your dates!

If you work in Finance and schedule a holiday at month end, or your financial year-end, or tax year end, some could argue you’re really just asking for stress. That leaves you with a two-week period in the middle of the month to enjoy your annual leave.

However, this means you’ll also have a rough ‘holiday period’ that your colleagues and family should remember as the norm. With time, it also won’t feel like it’s as disruptive to your workload either.

  1. Overcommunicate

It’s not even bragging at this point. Keep reminding your team when you’re going and if necessary, delegate. Arrange a thorough handover with prioritised tasks to be completed in your absence and you’ll be on the same page when it comes to expectations, workload and managing stress levels. You can still stay on track towards that deadline with good coordination and collaboration.

Make sure to tell anybody else (particularly clients) whose day-to-day will be impacted by your holiday that ‘X’ has officially got it covered. They don’t need to ring you whilst your mid-mojito by the pool.

  1. Prioritise, prioritise and… prioritise

Make a list of everything that really must be done, and be brutal with anything else – is it essential? It’s best to put this together a few weeks before your annual leave, to avoid a mountain of work piling up. Clarify this with anybody else you need to, managers or relevant team members, so they know where you’re focusing your attention. Blocking this time out also means nobody else can grab that time from you!

  1. Leave room for those “oh, before you go…”

When people find out you’ll soon be unavailable, you’ll undoubtedly receive some last minute “could you just help me with/look at/sign-off… before you go?” requests to accommodate. It’s worth leaving some time so sort those in your last week before your travels and give people a heads up that anything else after ‘X’ amount of time will have to wait until your return.

  1. OOO on and get out that door

Have a bit of fun customising your internal out-of-office, something like “sorry I missed you, I’m currently drinking 172 cocktails on the beach, but will be back on ‘X’ (and hopefully with a glowing tan). If urgent contact ‘X’” usually does the trick.

Your external out-of-office should aim to prevent extra work on your return. Point people in the direction of help, as you aren’t contactable, and tell them you’ll be available the day after your official return. This way you won’t be inundated and overwhelmed on your first day back.

  1. Put things into perspective

The world doesn’t stop turning if you can’t deal with something, stay on top of your inbox, or pick up that phone call whilst your away. Don’t feel guilty. Talk to yourself how you’d excitedly encourage others to not worry about anything whilst they go away, because you deserve this break too. And you certainly won’t feel the benefit if you don’t actually ‘unplug’.

  1. Don’t forget your passport

Best-practice sees people repeatedly check bags every 15 minutes when at the airport. There’s never a wrong time to locate this.

  1. Remind yourself why you’re going away

You’ll set many a meeting agenda so take a break with one too. Refocusing your attention with something to achieve on holiday will help you escape from your job at home. Are you trying to learn a new language? Or finally finish that book? Immerse yourself in your time off and you’ll truly escape.

  1. Back to reality

On your return, reset your to-do list, and create a new one by checking in with those who covered your absence before you even open your inbox. Grab a cuppa and tackle your inbox by searching for relevant keywords first, like your manager’s name or projects you need to check-in with. Blocking out this day also means you won’t have any meetings to attend that steal your attention from just catching-up.

You’ll most likely find that with your clearer, post-holiday headspace, you’ll have a better perspective on what’s a priority and what’s not. And equally, what’s worth the stress or not. So, it makes sense why we’re encouraged to take regular breaks, and actually use the annual leave we’re given throughout the year rather than just ‘push-on’ until the summer.

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