Is a holiday enough?

For the longest time, before I learnt what stress management really meant, I thought that a holiday would alleviate the stress I was under, revitalise me and allow me to work happily for another 50 weeks.

So one day I’d had enough and decided to call in my time-in-lieu, all of it, at once. My boss at the time was not very happy. He was happy I was taking some time off, just not happy I was taking a month of time off.

This time was meant to revitalise and re-energise me. Instead I slept late and went to bed early. And for the first week I fought off a cold that ‘seemed’ to arrive just as my holiday started. I was lethargic and unmotivated for the rest of the time.

I would check email almost every day. Although every time I did I felt dread and guilty I was ‘cheating’ on my holiday. Every time I didn’t check email I felt guilty for letting the team down. I answered calls several times a day, and each time I looked at my phone, I frowned sadly.

This holiday wasn’t much of a holiday for two main reasons:

First I expected it to take away all my problems, when I was the problem. If you’re read or listened to my thoughts on stress and stress management at all, you’d know that all stress management is self management. Having a holiday, break or anything as a single event, without dealing with the underlying stressors (ie, the things you do that cause you stress) means that you might get a break, but nothing changes. It’s exactly the same as a hospital giving you morphine for a broken leg then sending you home. Sure, you’re no longer in pain, but you’re leg is still broken. Much more effectively than taking that month off would be for me to change my behaviour around and within the work I was performing. That is the entire goal of the book and this site.

Second I didn’t plan anything other than the start and finish of the holiday. Related to the above, (and somewhat in opposition to) using a holiday as an episodic distraction is much more effective when you have activities planned. Take for example my two week ski holiday I planned once I finally quit that work. Two weeks, without access to a computer or phone, doing hard (but still fun) physical activity in a foreign country. In that environment I was unable to fall back into my conditioned work/stress patterns. I was forced by everything in the environment to change my behaviour. And because of this I was incapable of keeping myself stressed.

That holidays are your stress relief matches the general corporate idea still active – your X weeks of holiday a year is all you need for a happy work-life balance. If you listen closely to the media, you hear it implied by how relaxing a trip to a beach, or to some foreign country is. You see it in the pictures of happy people walking along a beach.

The idea is wrong.