Working on the beach creates vacation stress

Do you have a hard time relaxing on vacation? Photo by Giorgio Montersino.

If you’re one of those people that feels frazzled before you go on vacation and not much better after you return, you’re not alone. According to surveys, nearly 60 percent of people feel that taking a vacation doesn’t relieve their stress. What’s even worse, a quarter of respondents say they feel even more stressed when they get back to work following their trip.

How is that possible? Well, it might have something to do with this: half of American employees say they plan to get work done during their vacation. Yup, that’ll do it. I mean, it’s hardly a “vacation” if you’re not actually taking a break from work, right?

The thing is, taking a vacation is not a frivolous thing. In fact, there’s growing evidence that vacations make a very real difference to our physical health – those who fail to take vacations have a much higher risk of death from a number of medical conditions, with heart attacks topping the list. In other words, it really is do or die.

It is completely possible to have a vacation where you unwind and enjoy yourself and then come home to an under-control workload. It’s simply a matter of taking the right steps to prep your home and office before you step on that airplane. Interested? Then read on to learn how to avoid vacation-related stress.

Make preparations at work

1. Set expectations straight.

Make your intent not to work during your holiday clear with your boss and among your colleagues. As far as I’m concerned, it should be pretty obvious that if someone is on vacation, you shouldn’t send work-related emails to that person. But since not everyone takes the same attitude, you may need to point out to your workmates that you will not be checking your email or answering your work phone during your time off. Don’t forget to set out of the office messages for your email and voicemail.

2. Tie up any loose ends before you leave.

If you’re in the middle of any projects at work, make sure you wrap up as much as possible and hand over any unfinished tasks to other teammates. Spend some time ensuring they have all the information and materials they need to get the job done and that they have the contact details for people they can reach out to if they need help (you should not be one of those contacts!).

3. Prep for your return.

If you have the kind of job where the work is likely to pile up while you’re gone but it can’t be done by anyone else in your absence, try to get ahead of things before you leave for your trip. This way, you don’t have to stress about it while you’re gone and there won’t be a monster workload waiting for you after you return from vacation. Be sure to start getting ahead weeks or even months in advance depending on how much extra work you need to do. The sooner you start, the less you’ll feel overwhelmed at the last minute.

Prepare your personal life

4. Tidy your home.

If possible, spend some time cleaning and organizing your house or apartment before your vacation. Coming back to an environment that’s spic and span helps prolong the rested feeling a lot more than returning to a sink full of dirty dishes and clutter that you trip over at every turn. This article lists five chores to do before you travel. I think washing the dishes, taking out trash, and picking up clutter are the three most helpful things. If you have time, I also like to wash sheets, remake the bed and ensure I have fresh towels on my return – it’s the closest thing to recreating the pleasures of being in a hotel.

5. Prep your kitchen.

It’s handy to stock some non-perishable food in the pantry before you travel so there’s something to eat when you get home. Even a jar of pasta sauce, some spaghetti, cereal, and long-life milk can mean you’re not scrambling for groceries the moment you get home. Other options include cooking a little extra and freezing meals that you can eat upon your return.

6. Start your packing list early.

If you start noting down items you’ll need for your vacation early, you’ll have plenty of time to purchase or order any gear you might need. Start putting aside things for your trip several weeks in advance to save yourself frantic last minute packing. There’s nothing worse than realizing that the clothes you want to pack are still in the laundry hamper – but you’ve only got an hour till you leave for the airport.

Plan the right kind of vacation

7. Take as much time off as possible.

It’s going to take at least a few days, if not longer, to fully decompress. Give yourself enough time off so that you can truly unwind and start enjoying your break away from home and the office.

8. Choose a destination that will help you de-stress.

If there was a lake you vacationed near as a child or a beach that your family visited every summer, it could be helpful to choose one of these places as your vacation destination. The locale can have the effect of triggering those happy childhood memories of fun and relaxation and put you in the right mindset to unwind.

9. Choose a warm destination.

Sunnier places help you feel happier and give you more energy, which is ideal if you’re feeling stressed. Check out this article if you need more reasons why sunshine is good for you.

10. Avoid jet lag.

Since you’re traveling to relax, it’s best to avoid traveling anywhere that’s going to turn your body clock upside down – you don’t want to feel groggy and jet lagged during your trip or upon your return. One way to do this is to avoid traveling in an eastbound direction. Read this post to learn more about combating jet lag.

11. Travel with the right people.

A vacation is not going to be restful if you take it with people that have completely different expectations from you or otherwise irritate you, so be sure to travel with people who aren’t going to raise your stress levels! Even if you’re vacationing with family or friends who are on the same page, it can be helpful to take some time to yourself to do the things that help you unwind. Here are some some tips on traveling with friends and family while keeping your sanity.

12. Don’t travel for the entire vacation.

Returning home on a Sunday evening and then heading to work early the next morning is bound to leave you feeling exhausted and frazzled. Try and plan your trip so that you return home a day or two before you have to go back to work. Use this time to settle in, buy groceries, open mail, get over jet lag, and relax a bit before you return to the daily grind. Having a day to spare can also keep your stress levels down if your flight home gets cancelled or delayed.

Relax while you’re away

13. Shut off your phone.

Resist the urge to check your blackberry during your holiday. The world will not fall apart while you’re gone. If you absolutely must check emails, limit it to 30 minutes or an hour each morning and then stop.

14. Focus on being in the moment.

Don’t think about the work you’ve left behind at the office or what you’ve got to do when you get home. Instead, focus on enjoying what you’re doing right now on vacation. When you’re stressed, it’s not always an easy thing to do, but it does get easier with practice. If you’re struggling, this article offers some really practical tips on how to be present in the moment.

15. Get some exercise.

Physical activities boost endorphins, helping you feel happier and more invigorated. Go swimming, horseback riding, golfing, hiking or do whatever other sports you enjoy.

16. Get enough rest.

If you’ve been working like crazy before your vacation, chances are that you’re suffering from a sleep deficit, so you’ll want to catch up on as much sleep as possible during your vacation. Put the “do not disturb” sign on your hotel door so housekeeping does not wake you up and stay in a hotel that serves breakfast until late.

17. Don’t schedule every minute of your holiday.

The busier people are in their everyday lives, the harder time they seem to have unwinding. However, there’s no need to cram your vacation days full of sightseeing and attractions – you’ll likely return home feeling like you need a vacation from your vacation. Instead, take some time to just lie by the pool, get a massage or read a good (fiction) book.

What do you think? Do vacations relieve your stress? Do you work while you’re away? Does your boss bother you while you’re off-duty?