“I need a break”. It’s a phrase many of us mutter after a hectic work week or too much time with rambunctious kids. But if you find yourself regularly saying it and plotting escapes from reality, it could be a sign that you’re experiencing some degree of burnout and need to take a closer look at the root cause.
Will taking a break help?
Thanks to the nonstop connectivity offered by smartphones and laptops, modern Americans have been working increasingly longer hours with fuzzier boundaries between work and home life. It’s not uncommon to find ourselves answering business emails from bed or tweaking a presentation on the weekends. And since the Covid-19 pandemic forced a huge portion of the workforce to telecommute, even more employees have struggled with feeling “always on” in what should be their free time.
It’s absolutely normal to want a break from work or other aspects of your life from time to time. This is especially true if you have a demanding job. That’s why most employers provide vacation days; taking a break or vacation can help our bodies and minds cope with stress. Even when your life is relatively balanced, we encourage stepping away to recharge periodically. It’s not healthy to work all the time. Even taking off four days in a row can benefit your sleep, productivity, stress levels, and physical health.
If you’re experiencing burnout, a state of emotional exhaustion that typically stems from unmanaged and chronic workplace stress, this desire for a break can feel more intense and frequent. We’ve found that people suffering from burnout often say things like, “I need a break from everything, “I just want to get away,” or “I want to get in the car and drive away.” If you fall in that camp, you may not even be able to articulate why you want to flee — you just know you want to escape.
Can a Vacation Make Things Worse?
For those with moderate burnout, vacations can still help provide a much-needed reset, even if the relief is just temporary. But if your burnout is more severe, a vacation might not even make you feel better. Ironically, we’ve worked with many individuals struggling with burnout who weren’t able to enjoy or relax during their time off. They thought going off on vacation would solve their problems and help them shake off stress and recharge. In a cruel twist of fate, they actually felt anxious or had panic attacks.
Sadly, this isn’t uncommon. In a 2018 survey by the American Psychological Association, 21% of working adults surveyed said they felt tense or stressed while on vacation, and 28% said they end up working more on vacation than they planned to. The survey analysis points out that if a workplace and/or supervisor aren’t supportive, if there aren’t effective work-life policies and practices, if pay or paid leave policies are lacking, or there are issues with trust or fairness, it can affect an employee’s ability to recharge from a vacation.
Other experts point out that in a fast-paced culture that values productivity over rest and relaxation, it’s no surprise people feel guilty for relaxing, or simply can’t let themselves, even though they’re on vacation.
We’ve also found that some employees in competitive work environments find it impossible to fully disconnect from work when they’re away. They might stress that their boss will realize they’re not needed or replaceable, or fear that the business will fall apart without them there.
Getting to the root of your need to flee
If you find yourself frequently daydreaming about quitting your job and/or escaping on a vacation, you might assume you’re just tired or stressed. But we suggest you pause and reflect if you’re noticing a pattern of wanting to take a vacation or get in the car and just driving as a form of escape. For example, maybe you work nonstop for a few months then desperately want a vacation, but then need a vacation from your vacation (and rinse and repeat).
If this pattern sounds familiar, you might be dealing with more than typical stress. Take some time to think about the deeper reason you constantly feel like you need a vacation.
Here are some examples of what an underlying problem could look like that would cause this:
- You have negative feelings about your job but have avoided dealing with it.
- You’re struggling with a workplace relationship, such as a bullying coworker or overly-demanding boss, and you just want to escape.
- You work too much or can’t find balance in your life, and you’re finally hitting a breaking point.
If the underlying issues don’t go away, you will continue to fantasize about quitting, escaping, or taking a long vacation, and you may find yourself facing burnout if you’re not there already. At Flourish, we encourage the exploration of these feelings and desires, which can help reveal if you’re experiencing burnout and need to do some deeper work than simply booking a getaway.
Other signs to look out for
Burnout can manifest in myriad ways, spanning across physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual symptoms. While thinking “I need a break” and having the urge to run away is one of the red flags, there are many other signs of burnout you can look for to assess if that’s what’s really going on.
Here are a few other signs you may be experiencing burnout:
- You’ve lost motivation and no longer feel energized by your work
- You dread going into the office
- You’ve lost confidence in yourself, especially your decision-making abilities
- You hit your alarm’s snooze button repeatedly
- You’re no longer enjoying social interactions and your relationships are suffering
- You’re drinking more and/or eating comfort food, but neither make you feel better
- Activities, hobbies, and relationships that once brought you joy now feel dull
- You feel depleted and rely on caffeine to get by, while spending weekends exhausted and binging Netflix
- Boundaries between work and your personal life have dissolved
If any of these signs sound familiar, don’t panic. Burnout is increasingly common, but our proven process helps sufferers identify their causes of burnout and address them so they can start feeling like themselves again. Contact us to set up a consultation and learn how Flourish can help alleviate burnout.