Well-Being//

If Preparing for a Big Vacation Stresses You Out, Try Taking a “Microcation”

The advanced planning and post-trip catchup of an extended trip can be overwhelming for some. If that’s you, experts suggest trying something less intimidating.

Chutima Chaochaiya/ Shutterstock
Chutima Chaochaiya/ Shutterstock

There’s a lot of preparation that goes into taking time off — everything from notifying your manager, discussing a coverage plan with your co-workers, getting ahead of your workload, and making sure each detail is set for your leave. Factor in the process of catching up on what you missed upon your return, and your entire vacation can suddenly seem more stressful than simply staying put.

This time-off crisis is more common than you’d think, and research shows it’s even holding workers back from taking their designated vacation days — which can be a classic recipe for burnout. 

If taking one or two big annual vacations is a source of stress for you, try taking more “microcations” throughout the year. Microcations are shorter, more frequent trips that require less preparation, but allow you to take the same amount of days away from the office. After all, there’s nothing wrong with taking one extended trip, but if taking off two or three weeks at a time feels overwhelming, microcations can help you recharge without the stress of planning for a longer leave. Here are some tips to help you optimize your next microcation.

Set screen time boundaries before you leave

When you only have a few days to relax and recharge, it’s important to truly allow yourself the time to disconnect — and experts say unplugging from technology is one of the most effective ways. Bring awareness to how much time you plan on spending on your devices, Timothy Bono, Ph.D., a psychology professor at Washington University in St. Louis and author of When Likes Aren’t Enough: A Crash Course in the Science of Happiness, tells Thrive. “Instead, find an activity you like to do, or better yet, connect with who you’re with and really enjoy each other’s company.” Microcations are all about savoring the moment, and Bono says when you’re wrapped up in technology, it can distract from appreciating the present. “Even if we are physically with another person, we often are so wrapped up in documenting the experience for our followers to see, or checking our phones to see what others are up to,” he adds. “We neglect the opportunities to develop authentic connections with the people we are actually with.”

Be comfortable with incompletions 

When you’re preparing for vacation, you’ll likely realize that there will inevitably be work that you simply cannot finish in time — but if you’re taking a microcation, you can avoid some of that stress by reminding  yourself that any incomplete work will be resumed soon, and that’s OK. Worrying about staying on top of every project and every single unread email while you’re away will radically detract from your brief time off, so remind yourself that incomplete work will be completed upon your return. Setting mental boundaries is crucial for taking time off, and if you’re taking a microcation, those boundaries may be easier for you to establish. 

Avoid the comparison trap

Taking a microcation is all about giving your mind just a few days to part from the stressors of your day to day, and it’s difficult to do so if you’re thinking about other people who may be taking longer, more luxurious trips. To avoid falling into the comparison trap, Bono suggests focusing on what you can control, instead of what others are doing on their own vacations. “Whether others are better off than us is completely out of our own control,” he explains. “It’s far better to focus on what is within our own control.” Whether that means logging out of social media for the weekend or making the effort to connect with a new friend, the key is to prioritize your own joy, and surrounding yourself with those who elicit that. “The single strongest predictor of our happiness is the strength of our connections to other people,” he adds. “You’ll get more of the benefits with fewer of the drawbacks.”

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