How to get in the vacation mind-set to ease your stress

How to get in the vacation mind-set to ease your stress – even if you aren’t going anywhere

  • Three-quarters of Americans get some paid vacation time from work
  • Research shows that time off reduces stress levels and makes people more productive when they return  
  • But making the most of that time is difficult in a connected world
  • About two thirds of people say that their ‘vacation glow’ and its benefits have wear off within a few days
  • Two psychologists reveal how to get in the vacation state of mind  

The ocean breeze is blowing, the sun is on your skin (under sunscreen, of course) and you have your favorite book in your hand. You shouldn’t have a care in the world. 

But you can hear your to-do list calling from a thousand miles away. 

Vacations have been scientifically shown to reduce stress and improve your productivity when you return to the real world – but the great escape only work if your body and mind get away. 

And with smart phones to keep us constantly connected to everything and everyone, getting into a vacation state of mind can seem harder than ever. 

Two psychologists revealed to Daily Mail Online how to get into holiday mode – even if you aren’t going anywhere.

Vacation is a state of mind: Taking time away from phones and work has been scientifically shown to reduce stress and improve productivity – but you have to get your mind right first 

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Everyone needs a break from the hustle and bustle of daily life, and Americans especially need to make every day of vacation count.  

While Europe is known for its generous holiday times, nearly one-quarter of Americans say their employers do not give them paid time off or vacation days, according to a recent survey. 

The same report, from the American Psychological Association (APA) found that even most of those who got time off felt the positive effects of their vacations fade away within a few days. 

We need time to recharge, relax and reset, but we also need to get in the right state of mind to do so, and that takes some skill, before, during and after vacations, says Dr David Ballard, assistant executive director for Organizational Excellence at the APA.  

For better or worse, ensuring you get the most out of your break from work requires some work. 


‘Before you go on a trip, it’s easy to feel like you’re scrambling to get everything done, so that lead-up time is stressful,’ says Dr Ballard.  

Taking time off often means entrusting someone else to fill in for you, or at least trusting that everything won’t fall apart in your absence.  

This is why ‘communication with your boss and team is so critical, so you can make sure tasks are covered and have the peace of mind that you’re not going to be walking back into a mess,’ Dr Ballard says. 

‘You need to set clear expectations about your availability because you don’t want to end up with a disconnect in your expectations and your supervisor’s.’ 

But avoiding that disconnect doesn’t necessarily mean totally disconnecting from work emails and calls.

‘For some, disconnecting completely totally makes sense and works, for others that’s actually more stressful, so you can keep up communication minimally, but set up some boundaries,’ Dr Ballard adds. 

Map it out: Psychologists suggest setting expectations for yourself and your employer for how available you’ll be while you are on vacation

It’s not just work whose expectations you need to manage, but your own, according to Dr Andrea Bonior, a Maryland psychologist who writes the Washington Post’s Baggage Check column on relationships. 

‘One of the reasons that a vacation is so good for mental health – and why experiences are better than possessions – is that you have all this wonderful time of anticipating it,’ she says. 

‘It’s not just that you bought something, it’s that you’re looking forward to it, talking about it and daydreaming about it.’ 

But you can overdo the daydreams, so it’s important to set what you expect to get out of your vacation. 

‘Make it more about the emotional experience of the vacation than about staying in the best hotel room or being the romantic couple in the commercial,’ Dr Bonior says. 

She warns that if you get too specific an image in your mind of what your perfect vacation will look, ‘you run the risk that if the nuts and bolts don’t look exactly like the pictures, you’ll be disappointed.’ 

So decide instead what you want to feel during your time away and focus on sticking to that, but staying flexible on the rest. 


‘To really recover from stress and prevent burnout, you need some time when you’re not working,’ says Dr Ballard.

‘Along with that, you need time when you’re not thinking about work, and that’s often the catch because we’re so tethered to mobile devices where we get emails and pings all the time.

‘If you’re getting pulled back into that, you’re thinking about work.’ 

Dr Bonior suggests using simple tricks to ‘catch yourself,’ and make sure you’re not too glued to your device. 

‘If you find yourself reaching for your phone a lot, put something in places that makes that harder to do: wrap it in a washcloth and put it in your bag,’ so you’ll feel the barrier you put up between yourself and the daily grind. 

Adventure time: Dr Ballard says that doing something engaging but not work-related – like a parasailing adventure – can and remind you your brain is for your enjoyment, too 

Finding your way to relax is really up to you, and it’s important you choose the form that suits you but most of us need something to switch our minds ‘on’ and time to switch them off. 

‘Try engaging in some kind of none-work activities that are interesting and simulating to you, but also get some good quality sleep. If you’re not having those self care experiences, the activities pile up,’ Dr Ballard says. 

‘Sleep is one of those things we’re all supposed to do but most of us aren’t very good at it.’

Escape and rest are both key and so is being ‘present’ in those moments, Dr Bonior says.

‘It just lets your central nervous stop reaction to things and instead just be. We are usually so busy that we’re in hyper-vigilant mode, thinking about the past or anticipating the future and both of those take up immense amounts of energy,’ she explains. 

‘Your central nervous is ready for fight of flight, so when you can be mindful of the moment, even here and there, and that will give your body and your brain a break and allow you to be more in touch with your senses; how good this tastes, the sand under your feet.’ 


Monday will always come, but after a vacation its especially important to brace yourself a bit. 

If you followed the first step, then hopefully you’ve prepared yourself (and your office) for your return a bit so that ‘you’re not hitting the ground at 100 miles per hour and getting bombarded the moment you walk in,’ says Dr Ballard. 

‘That eats into the benefits immediately.’  

But if you can, take your time and ease back into work, he advises. Maybe even work from home your first day back, if that’s an option.  

Dodge the deluge: Remember to build in some cushion to let yourself ease back into work. Getting ahead before you leave will minimize your stress when you come back to the office

‘It’s disheartening. I think a lot of times we enter back into our regular lives too abruptly,’ says Dr Bonior. 

‘In an ideal world, you’re not taking the red-eye back and going to work the next morning, but sometimes it has to happen.’

But remember, you were just on vacation, and you can’t bring the whole beach with you, but your experiences fit neatly into your own mind. 

‘The way to keep a little vacation mindset is to plan some time to talk about it and relive it. That keeps those memories getting solidified in your mind so you can return to them and relax,’ says Dr Bonior. 

‘That doesn’t mean throw 30 pictures online and wait for everyone to like it, but actually talking to people about it and those moments that didn’t go as planned. The more you do that, the more you can relive it and build up that narrative.’ 

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