How to disconnect from work on holiday

Since I started doing retreats where you hand in your phone in for a week or more and aren’t allowed to read or write, I’ve started to take the idea of disconnecting from work completely, for granted.

However, the more I talk to people about it, the more I realise that checking work email daily on holiday isn’t uncommon, and increasingly neither is joining a conference call.

When I first heard about people doing the latter, I was really shocked. I was speaking to someone who worked for one of the big four consultancies, who’d just had a month off for anxiety. She said one of the main drivers of her angst was not being able to ever fully switch off from work because she was expected to be constantly checking her phone for emails.

She said she wanted to leave the company, and one of the reasons for that was seeing that more senior employees above her were routinely joining conference calls on family holidays, and that was not the kind of life she aspired to.

When I’ve asked people why they feel the need to check work email on holiday, they say it helps them relax to know that nothing major is going wrong at work.

My contention is that the opposite is true. You can never fully relax if you’re still in the mode of scanning for threats at work. It’s as if you’re a hunter-gatherer on the Savannah, fearing that a sabre-soothed tiger could appear at any moment.

When we’re in that mode of scanning for threats, it activates the body’s sympathetic nervous system, which means fight or flight mode is activated. Some of the physiological changes that happen include:

• Increased heart rate (ready to run)

• Shallower, faster breathing (getting more oxygen into the blood to be ready for action)

• Tensed muscles (ready to fight or run)

• Digestion stops (no point digesting the last meal if your about to be eaten)

• Rapid thoughts (analysing everything that might go wrong and how to solve it)

Does this sound like how you want to be when you’re lying on the beach trying to relax?! You might feel like this is how you live an average day at work. In which case, you need to be able to unwind on holiday!

For your body to de-stress, rest and recover, it needs to know that there is no danger on the horizon. Imagine the hunter-gather being given the all clear, heading back to the tribe and sitting quietly by the fire.

Knowing that it’s safe activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which means rest and digest mode is activated:

• You heart rate slows down

• You breath more deeply

• Your muscles start to relax

• Digestion starts up again

• Your thoughts quieten down

That’s how you want to be on the beach, right?!

It might be helpful to reflect on why you’re going on holiday in the first place. If it’s to recuperate, have fun or spend more time with your friends and family, checking work emails will get in the way of all of those things.

You will be preoccupied, not engaging fully in the jokes and discussions and having less fun. You will also probably not feel as rested when you get back to work as you could be, if at all.

As a leader, you will also be setting the example to those more junior, that this is what is expected of them too, so you’re having a negative impact on their ability to unwind and therefore perform well when they return.

You also need to let go of wanting to tell everyone on social media how amazing your holiday is if you want to really enjoy it for yourself.

So if you were planning to use your phone for work on holiday, ask yourself what would it take for you not to do that? What can you delegate? Can you tell people to call or text if it’s really an emergency? Are you will to go through the discomfort barrier of disconnecting so that you can bask in the peace that lies on the other side?

Let me tell you, from experience, it really is worth it!

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My work is all about love. Loving yourself, loving other people and loving the earth. I do that through writing, podcasting, coaching, running workshops.