In your head, your holiday is pure relaxation. In reality, you’re checking your phone and worrying about unfinished work. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

So many people return from holiday feeling more tired than ever, says business, executive and career coach Lynne Frost of Idea Alive. ‘They aren’t able to let go of work pressures, and end up feeling resentful towards their employers. Their families feel resentful, too, because it’s difficult to spend time with someone who isn’t really present.’

Happily, with a little preparation, this pressure can be prevented, and you can get the most out of your holiday. Fiona Thalmann is an HR professional and Enneagram practitioner (the Enneagram is a coaching tool that offers insight into personality). Thalmann says that her method of avoiding holiday stress begins at the end. ‘I like to work backwards,’ she says, ‘envisioning the day I walk out of the office and head into my holiday. I think about everything that I need to have done before I can walk out the door confidently, so that I’m not plagued by the anxiety that I might have forgotten something.’

Your calendar is the best tool for this, Thalmann adds. ‘Look at the meetings that may be scheduled – for you or your boss – during your holiday. Identify which of them will need to be postponed, and which can’t be put on hold and must therefore be delegated to someone else. Discuss this with your boss and team members (and clients if relevant) so that everyone agrees, then update calendar invites so that everyone is aware of the changes.’

She advises doing the same for the tasks that must be completed while you are away. Are there emails you can schedule to be sent automatically while you’re away? Is there a team member who can pull a report and send it out on your behalf while you’re out of office? She adds that’s it’s important to show your appreciation with a small token – perhaps a chocolate or coffee – to thank them for picking up the slack.

Now, turn your attention to the deadlines and projects due in the week before you go on leave. Thalmann suggests blocking time to work on these so that you’re not caught in a last-minute panic, or working late into the night when you should be planning your break.

All that’s left to do is agree with your colleagues and your boss and anyone else relevant – on a point of contact in the office while you’re away, so that you won’t be disturbed. Thalmann advises that you set an ‘out of office’ response on your emails, detailing not only the dates you are away, but also who clients can contact in your absence, providing their contact details. ‘Don’t include your own phone number, though, unless you don’t mind receiving calls while you’re on holiday,’ she says.

If you run your own business or are a service provider like a hairdresser, beautician or motor mechanic, let your regular clientele know about your holiday well before the time. This will give them the chance to schedule appointments before (or after) your leave, and go a long way towards building trust and a good relationship with them.

Before you go, set the stage for a stress-free return to work by booking out your first day, making sure that you don’t have any appointments and leaving you free to answer messages and emails that may have been left in your absence.

“Make sure it’s a real holiday by planning activities that are completely different to your day-to-day routine”

Frost notes that we typically take our work worries on holiday with us, so it’s crucial to be disciplined about relaxing, as strange as that may sound. Your electronic devices are an obvious intrusion in this regard. ‘Be strict about when you switch on and off. If you absolutely have to contact work, do it at the beginning or the end of the day so that the rest of the time is yours, and try to keep that contact brief.’

She also says it’s a good idea to appoint a ‘go to’ person who can handle any unexpected crises in your absence. Provide a list of potential issues and things that could go wrong, along with the contacts of people who would be able to help in such situations. Going through a practice run will give you added peace of mind, assuring you that everything is under control.

Finally, make sure that your holiday is a real holiday by planning activities that are completely different to your usual day-to-day routine, making sure that you leave time for spontaneous activities. ‘This will help to shift your mind away from your typical concerns and worries, and will help you make the most of your leisure time,’ says Frost. While you’re at it, ditch the TV marathons at night – instead, go for an evening stroll with the family, play board games, make a delicious family feast or read – anything that’s different to your ‘ordinary’ routine, and which has the added bonus of fostering your connections, goes a long way to reducing stress.

‘Make a point of practising mindfulness while you’re on holiday,’ says Frost. ‘This will help clear your mind of clutter and distractions, and help you relax.’ It takes only a few minutes a day – and, if you struggle to empty your mind of busy thoughts, there are apps like The Daily Calm to help you. ‘Stay in the moment, and enjoy it! Embrace the joy of your holiday so that you return to work with your creativity, energy and motivation restored. Happy holidays!

By Lisa Witepski 

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