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Taking a Vacation and Dealing with Academic Guilt

I will be the first person to admit that taking a vacation without academic guilt is difficult and an aspiration more than an actuality. However, I have reached a point where I can take a vacation without letting academic guilt surpass the joy of time off. This past May I took two weeks traveling completely offline, and it changed my perspective on a healthy break. While I chose this location specifically so it would force me to disconnect and be present for the vacation, here are a few things I did along the way that helped. 

Respect your out of office reply. I added two extra days to my out of office email, stating that I would return to my emails shortly after I arrived home. This gave me the time to unpack and get settled at home before I dove back into a ridiculous number of missed emails and eradicated the looming anxiety of a full inbox immediately upon return. Also, it meant that I stayed true to the out of office notice, not answering any emails while on vacation. The expectation that we answer emails even on time off simply perpetuates a 24/7 work cycle. This was my attempt to break out of it. 

Delete all work-related apps from your phone. Outlook, Slack, ToDoIst…the list goes on. The easiest way to get rid of the temptation to check and just “quickly” check your emails, is to simply delete these apps. The first time I did this felt like a detox, and it was shocking to realize how habitual it was to check these apps throughout the day. While I downloaded them as soon as I started work again, the two-week break has helped me to be more conscious of my use.

Journal. Each vacation, whether it is spent somewhere exotic or lounging in my local park, I try to get into a habit of journaling. This tried-and-true technique is shown to reduce stress and anxiety and helps to stay in the moment, instead of worrying about the work you have momentarily left behind. 

Be aware of burnout. We all need to take time off. The danger of burnout is something all graduate students are aware of, and taking vacation is an incredibly important part of avoiding this. Taking care of your mental health with a break will not only feel better in the short term but help you to be more successful in the long term. I highly recommend two books about this phenomenon: Burnout: The Secret of Unlocking the Stress Cycle by Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski, and When the Body Says No: The Cost of Hidden Stress by Gabor Maté.  

More than anything, you deserve time off. Take it and enjoy it! You’ll be back to your research in no time, hopefully feeling much more refreshed.

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