Are you in need of a vacation? For many Americans, the answer is a resounding "yes!" Unfortunately, the strained economy has put the kibosh on travel plans for many people. And let us not forget that those Americans who are overdue for a vacation may feel disinclined to take it. Feeling that your job may be in jeopardy does not make people feel comfortable leaving the office for long (or even short) periods of time. You may be shocked to learn (insert sarcastic tone) that many employees repeatedly check their business email and voice mail during time away from the office. Work permeates much of our downtime.
And you have probably heard the anecdotal evidence that time spent engaged in leisure activities is shrinking with each passing year. The Harris Poll is a yearly survey that tracks American leisure time. The 2008 Harris Poll found that the median number of hours Americans spend per week on leisure activities has dropped a whopping 20% from 2007 to 2008! In 1973, when the Harris Poll began, Americans enjoyed about 26 hours per week of leisure time. The most recent 2008 survey found that we currently spend only about 16 hours per week involved in leisure activities.
Obviously, many employees have no other choice than to work two jobs or stay an extra hour at the office. People have real financial troubles and worry about feeding their kids and paying the mortgage. If your spouse gets laid off from work then you can't exactly start booking a trip to Jamaica. People are dealing with a terrible period of economic upheaval—a time of crisis when people force themselves to do what needs to be done. But the general trend in the American workforce is troubling and not simply a result of this recent economic turn down. I fear that being in a kind of constant work mode is becoming the norm. If we don't see our neighbors putting the Blackberry down, then how can we feel okay about doing it? Americans have forgotten the importance of—not only vacation—leisure time in general.
All of this work takes a toll on our sleep, our relationships, and our quality of life. Tough economic times may force many workers to put in extra time at the office, but it is important to remember that this period of intense work should be finite. Everyone needs a break—to process feelings, watch the sunset, play golf or whatever. These are not simply luxurious pursuits. These are the necessary activities that fuel our energy reserves, which then allow us to return to work and be productive.
I constantly see clients who are burned out but feel guilty if they take any time for themselves. If you can identify with this sentiment, then you might want to take some time and reflect on why you have difficulty putting yourself ahead of others. It might help to journal about these feelings or talk to a close friend or a therapist. Of course reflecting on this topic will require you to set aside time for yourself—but that’s the point!
And even if you can’t plan a vacation, because of financial reasons or other constraints, at least make it a priority to make you leisure time sacred. Build time into your everyday routine for the hobbies that you enjoy. Even if you only have five minutes to yourself, spend that time meditating or doing some deep breathing. While it may be a stretch to call this true leisure time, taking a mini break will help you stay in touch with yourself and reduce your stress. Try to cut out unnecessary obligations. Prioritize fun. It’s serious business!