For lots of people, month after month of telecommuting during the coronavirus pandemic has blurred the lines between work and free time.
For this reason, a real switched-off summer holiday this year may be even more important than ever.
According to Mari Laar, an occupational health psychologist with the Finnish healthcare company Heltti, as the beginning of your holiday approaches, it's a good idea to start winding down and not stress yourself with a tight minute-by-minute work schedule.
Many people feel particularly in need of time away from the job this year. A holiday is always important, but after living so long with the changes brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, this year it may be more badly needed - whether the holiday is a short break or a period of several weeks.
"A lot of people have been overwhelmed this year for various reasons. For many, this summer holiday will certainly be even more important than a holiday normally is," Laar says.
Unless you are burned out, or on the verge of exhaustion, even short vacations, she says, help one recover - if you able to disengage from work.
Laptop in closet, flowers on the desk
Many people now work from home, and the line between work and leisure may have become blurred. Therefore, switching to vacation mode may be more challenging than ever.
"If you are on holiday at home in the same environment where the work has taken place, it may be difficult to break away from your work mentally. There are things in the environment that remind you of work," Laar points out.
If your home or cottage, for example, is a place where you've been working, you should turn it into a holiday environment for the duration of your break.
Laar's advice is to put away your tools, your laptop and other work-related items, as soon as the holiday begins.
"Even small changes can help to create a different feeling. While on vacation, you can even put flowers on the table that usually holds a computer," she suggests.
If possible, you may consider rearranging the furniture a bit.
Don't hit the brakes
If at all possible, try to slow down the pace of work during the last few days before starting a holiday. This will help you get into the holiday mood faster once it starts.
"It helps not to hit the brakes, but to cool down a bit," Laar advises.
She also suggests turning on an automatic email reply a couple of days in advance. This can help you start to orient yourself to thoughts of taking a break, and maybe let others know that you are shifting focus soon and to not to send you new jobs for a while.
Of course, not everyone has a holiday in the summer. Even so, small things can create a more relaxed summer mood for evenings and weekends.
According to Laar, it helps to be able to focus on on the moment.
"You can even just go out onto your balcony and make yourself a smoothie or some other refreshing drink and put a little cocktail umbrella in it. A holiday atmosphere can be created in the middle of everyday life," she points out.
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Some people may be starting holidays after being laid off, or they may face uncertainty about whether or not they'll have a job to come back to after their holidays.
If this is the case, Laar says, it is ok to worry, but it would also be important to give yourself permission not to think about your problems at times.
"If you do not think about the situation all the time, it does not mean that you are not interested in your own future. It is important for recovery to give the brain a rest from these types of thoughts," she says.
And what if you have the bad luck of being quarantined during your summer holiday?
Laar notes that while this scenario is not very likely – the number of infections is down and vaccinations are progressing rapidly - in general, it is worthwhile making holiday plans with flexibility in mind.
"It is not advisable to plan holiday activities in such small detail that it will all go wrong if something surprising happens," she warns.
Instead of planning out the entire holiday, it might be a good idea to make plans for just one activity that appeals to you that can be done on a flexible schedule.
Active or relaxed
If you feel that work has taken a toll on you physically, mentally, or both, then it is important to relax and recover during your holidays. Window washing, top-to-bottom house cleaning, and other chores should be struck from the holiday to-do list.
On the other hand, there are people who have had their fill of quiet times, and no little boredom, since the start of the pandemic and crave even more action than they normally would.
For others, summer holidays usually mean packing bags and heading abroad. International travel is gradually opening up, but is still limited.
"It's definitely a tough spot for a lot of people. Sure, we’re already used to this, and it may be easier now than last year. I would say you can start thinking about other ways to get a change of scenery. We also have a lot of wonderful destinations here in Finland," Laar says.
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And, what kind of plans does this occupational health psychologist have for her own summer holiday?
Laar says that her plans for this summer are pretty much the same as for previous summers. Of course, she has left a little more room for change in the plans than usual due to the coronavirus situation.
She adds that she intends to meet friends in different parts of Finland, but she also wants to set aside completely unscheduled days to give her the chance to just lie on the sofa and watch a TV series.
"I don't want the whole holiday to be scheduled. However, I do want there to be some highlights that I can expect", Laar explains.