By Dr. Aletta

The number of people who don't take their hard-earned vacation time is appalling. A survey of American workers reports that more than half don't use their vacation or personal leave time. More than half! Why do people do that to themselves?

Sadly I can think of several reasons why people don't take vacation:

  1. Fear of losing their job if they don't appear to be 100% committed. This could be imagined or real depending on the employer's attitude.
  2. Our OCD society still sees time off as slacking. Same goes for sleep.
  3. If you are self-employed you have no paid vacation time and time is literally money. 
  4. An inflated sense of our importance at work. Everything will fall apart if we are not there!
  5. We have no idea what we would do with ourselves in the absence of work.

I can think of only one reason to take a vacation: Taking a vacation is the healthy thing to do! It's healthy for your mind, body and relationships. Vacation provides a needed balance. It's like hitting the reset button. Taking a vacation, vacating your mind of work, will improve your on-the-job performance! Otherwise, you risk serious burnout.

I'm a bit guilty of losing track of my time off. I love my job, so I can easily go on and on until a few tell-tale signs it's time to take a break begin to pop up.

  1. Irritability. When I went to get a hair cut yesterday, and discovered the appointment was for another day, I could feel the steam coming out of my ears. Something that usually would roll off my back became a huge inconvenience as if they had rescheduled open heart surgery, for crying out loud!
  2. Memory loss. I find myself forgetting stuff. When my kids begin to say, more than once, "Mom, I told you about that already," I begin to think there's a clone of myself, like in that movie, Multiplicity, running around engaged with my family while I zone out. Not good.
  3. Apathy. The weeds are taking over the flower beds. Dishes pile up. Patient charts are open and lacking notes from a week ago. My dog needs walking and my legs need shaving. When I really don't care once in a while, that's OK. When days and weeks go by and life's little maintenance chores go ignored? Someone needs a vacation.
  4. Fatigue. It doesn't matter how much sleep or exercise I get. I'm pooped and want to nap, a lot!
  5. Anhedonia. I love that word. It's a fancy way of saying that the old stuff that used to make me happy, doesn't make me as happy anymore. Anhedonia is a major sign that something is off in our lives and can lead to burnout and depression if we don't pay attention to it.

My work usually makes me happy. Before it doesn't bring me contentment anymore, I bit the bullet and scheduled some time off. Chronically not taking your vacation from work is a kind of insanity. Now that I have time off to look forward to, I feel relieved and wonder, why did I resist in the first place?