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A Vacation For The Mind

While I was visiting practices in Tennessee this month, I was asked a question I didn’t know the answer to: How many days do you have to be off work before your mind stops thinking of BEING at work?

I can draw only on my experience and the conversation that followed. When you have only one day off, it’s difficult to free your mind of the workday before and the workday to follow as you catch up on homework such as errands and house chores. 

What about a week off? That sounds like a nice long vacation, right? But in reality it can take days to stop your mind from spinning about work. And days before your vacation is over you’re already dreading the mess you may return to at work. If you’re fortunate, you have a few days in between when you can relax and not think about work.

This is a shame, because even when you clock out at the end of your shift you should be able to step through the door of your facility and be able to enjoy time off, even if it is a mere 12 hours.

So the real question becomes: How do we accomplish this separation of time at work and time away from work?

It’s not easy, as we have explored, but it’s necessary for you to recharge your batteries, fight burnout and minimize compassion fatigue.

On a daily basis, the concept of a “role shedding ritual” is easy to incorporate. This is whatever you can do to separate your work and home life, typically performed around the time you travel between places. This can be music you listen to in the car, an audio book you focus on while driving home, a walk you take at a park you pass on the way home, or even a visual reminder you pass as you open the door at home and choose not to take your work inside with you. This could be a big stop sign, a piece of artwork by one of your children or simply a sticker placed near the door knob.

At work, we often hear that we’re supposed to leave our personal lives at home. We know that is virtually impossible, and it also is very difficult to leave work behind when you go home.

For me, the only time I’m really clocked out mentally is when I’m camping or away from my home or work environment. So a stay-cation, as they’re called now, where we spend time off at home, doesn’t alleviate my work stress much. (This was true even before I worked so much from home, by the way.)

The question you must answer is: What does it take for you to really be off work?

It’s an important question only you can answer. Is there a place you can visit to leave work stress behind, such as browsing a bookstore or shopping for a favorite collectible? Do you need to plan a road trip when you have several days off, so you can carve out time for yourself and your family?

Ask the question and find the answer. Your mental health depends on it.

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