Why Vacation Won’t Cure Burnout and Effective Mental Health Days Off

Welcome to episode 82 of the Nerd Journey Podcast [@NerdJourney]! We’re John White (@vJourneyman) and Nick Korte (@NetworkNerd_), two Pre-Sales Technical Engineers who are hoping to bring you the IT career advice that we wish we’d been given earlier in our careers. In today’s episode we discuss why vacation won’t help with burnout and effective mental health days-off.

Original Recording Date: 06-20-2020

Topics – Mental Health and Revisiting Stress, Anxiety, and Burnout

2:00 – Vacation Won’t Cure Burnout

  • Our discussion is based on reviewing this article from Quartz at Work.
    • Go back and listen to Episode 78 if you have not heard our interview with Josh Fidel on burnout.
  • The normal vacation is not an inordinate amount of time.
  • If we can disconnect from / ignore work during a vacation, this will allow time to decompress.
  • A vacation does not always mean taking a trip. You don’t even have to leave the house.
  • Many times the week before a vacation and the week after are more stressful due to trying to prepare for it and then trying to catch up after the fact.
    • It’s rare when work does not pile up while you’re on vacation (i.e. the world does not stop).
  • The idea of not thinking about work while you’re on vacation is a good one, but we have trouble turning our minds away from work.
    • Can most people actually turn off work e-mail from getting to them while away?
    • Nick makes reference to some people removing e-mail from their phone while away from the office.
    • A full detox from normal work routine may take a couple of days. On the flip side, as the end of vacation approaches, some people may begin to dread going back to the office.
  • Josh Fidel told us in episode 78 (link above) that a lengthy leave of absence did not on its own address the things that were making him unhappy.
    • Time away from being in the work may allow pinpointing the problem (i.e. unhappiness, other signs of burn out / dissatisfaction with your job) but doesn’t actually allow you to fix it.
  • For some, their identity is tied up in the work they do. Imagine someone who is burning out but can’t stop doing the work because they identify with it so much that changing does not seem like a real possibility.
  • What about unlimited PTO? Will that allow time to fix the problem?
  • Once you’re back at the office, how can you help yourself decrease the burn out risk?
    • Take small breaks whenever possible. John says try to schedule the breaks if you’re worn down from sitting in too many meetings.
      • Too many meetings takes away from being able to complete action items as a result of those meetings.
    • Will you defend the breaks if they are scheduled when there are conflicts?
    • Do a daily evaluation. What was good / bad about the work you did today? Does it align with your values and your likes / dislikes?
      • John suggests if you are having trouble completing a task, find out why in the moment.
        • Is there something else bothering you?
        • Doing the evaluation in the moment allows time to recognize what is bothering you and to put it on a formal task list to address at a later time.
  • Addressing root causes of unhappiness
    • This is a much harder task to think through and take action on if the answer is finding a new job.
    • Many times it is easier to avoid, distract yourself, or use coping mechanisms (from semi-unhealthy to very unhealthy).
    • Facing the issues of what is making you unhappy will be difficult.
      • Maybe it isn’t work that is the problem. It could be family stress, social stress, etc.
      • All of these can cause anxiety and manifest at work. Just because something manifests at work does not mean work is the root cause.
      • Take the time to address these things!
      • Sometimes the work is so hard that you need to take a vacation to face the issues (i.e. reach out to your support network, a doctor, a therapist, a councilor, etc.). This takes time and energy and can be draining. Vacation gives you the time and space to work on your issues.

17:32 – Ways to Use a Mental Health Day

  • We’ve noticed a movement toward companies giving mental health days
  • People are under more stress (financial, emotional, etc.) during the time of COVID and protests on police brutality, etc.
  • Ideas for ways to use a mental health day
    • Get outside
      • Try talking a short walk or spending some time in nature (a local par.
      • Check out the UNC Health Talk video on mental health benefits of getting outside.
      • John’s wife has created a garden in the back yard. He’s recently spent some time helping her and noticed a change in mood from being out in fresh air.
      • Nick mentioned a recent trip on which there was a lot of hiking and time in nature. During periods of the day when he would normally get groggy, being outside helped him stay energized.
    • Spend time with loved ones / important people
      • Face-to-face communication can reduce anxiety and depression.
      • Check out this article on the topic.
      • Even time spent face-to-face when social distancing can help. It’s a different experience than a video call / meeting.
      • Social isolation can be draining for those who tend to be more extraverted.
    • Spend time on hobbies
      • 6 Reasons to Get a Hobby
      • Hobbies can help cope with stress and help add to your self-concept (i.e. self-concept will not be just work).
      • Nick mentions active leisure time and how this focuses your mind on something else, even if it is related to what you do for work.
    • Reading
      • When was the last time you read / listened to a good book?
      • Reading 30 minutes per day has been shown to reduce stress.
      • A book allows exploring new viewpoints.
      • Audiobooks allow you to consume while doing other things (chores / menial tasks around the house).
    • Learning a new skill
      • Maybe you’re training for a certification like our friend Manny Sidhu.
        • See Episode 80 for the full interview on Manny’s love for / addiction to certifications.
    • The list is meant as suggestions for things to do instead of numbing your mind with nonsense. Each of these can provide a little structure to your day.
    • John suggests structured participation in an effort to give back to the community is a great way to use a mental health day.

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