Unplugged: How to Disconnect from Work and Enjoy Your Vacation

As travel restrictions ease and the summer heats up, there is no better time to take a vacation or staycation. Taking time away from work has many health benefits including improving your connection to yourself and loved ones and resetting from or avoiding burnout.

The Benefits of Taking a Vacation

Vacationing and taking time away from your job promotes a long, healthy life and has tremendous benefits to your mind. Taking a break from routine in fun and different ways can have the same benefits as consistent meditation exercises and help you build connections with not only your loved ones but yourself, too. In addition, taking a vacation has been scientifically proven to boost brain power. Taking time off from learning, working and gaining new information every day allows your brain to consolidate existing knowledge, resulting in improved learning after vacation.

The benefits go beyond just your mind — they affect your body too. Through reduced stress, vacations can improve heart health and decrease chances of metabolic diseases or conditions. Vacation time also improves sleep as poor sleep habits can be broken when sleeping in a new place. Coming home after vacation feels like sleeping in another new place, allowing those improved habits to continue.

Using vacation time is one of the best ways to reset from or avoid burnout. Check out this video from Jamie Hutchinson, the Deputy Director of the MSU Worklife Office, where she explains the five phases of burnout and how to avoid or correct them. Taking a vacation and then coming back to work helps reset a person to their “honeymoon phase,” a term used in Hutchinson’s video. 

Before Going on Vacation

To take full advantage of these benefits, you should consider fully unplugging from work — those emails and phone calls won’t go anywhere. 

Before you head to the airport or hit the road, set up automatic email replies with your out-of-office details including when you will be back, who to contact in the meantime, and how to contact you in case of an emergency if needed. If you use a shared calendar with your team, add your out-of-office dates as early as possible and notify your team verbally and/or by email. If you have ongoing projects, consider asking a coworker, supervisor, or team member to check up on them while you are away and plan to share updates when you return. If possible, leave work-related things at home or at the office to prevent the temptation to focus on work. Finally, prepare for the day you return from work before you leave by keeping your schedule as clear as you reasonably can on your first day back.

Returning from Vacation

Returning to work can often be stressful and sometimes undo the rest you achieved on vacation. To avoid getting immediately burned out, take time to ease back into your work routine. Try to avoid scheduling several meetings on your first day back and try not to set or meet big deadlines during your first week back in the office. The more time you spend away, the more time you should give yourself to get back to your normal work pace and routine.

In addition to easing into your normal work routine, it’s important to unplug from work at the end of each day. It’s easy to get burned out if you are mentally on the clock 24/7, answering emails and catching up during nights and weekends. You can use Microsoft Teams, Outlook, Google Calendar and other work team services to set out-of-office messages at the end of your workday. Finally, avoid stress by taking the necessary steps to be productive and engaged as shared in this earlier post about avoiding and reducing burnout. 

All these tips and more are available through these links:

Burnout: How to Avoid It and What to do if You’re Experiencing It

Burnout is described as a state of emotional, mental, and often physical exhaustion brought on by prolonged or repeated stress. According to the American Psychological Association 2021 trends report, “two-thirds of employees report that poor mental health has undercut their job performance during the COVID-19 pandemic, and 40% of employees are battling burnout.” While these numbers are disheartening, after a year of balancing the evolving demands of remote work, childcare, social distancing, financial uncertainty, grief and more, they’re certainly not surprising. If you are experiencing symptoms of burnout, we want to ensure you’re aware of the resources available to MSU employees that may help. If you’re a supervisor, follow these tips to lead by example and make sure your team is aware of them too.

While symptoms of burnout can vary depending on the severity, some include persistent fatigue, chronic stress, inability to focus, change in eating habits, reduced sleep quality, depression and anxiety. If these symptoms sound familiar or you want to learn more about the signs of burnout, we recommend you watch this 24-minute webinar called How to Recognize and Minimize Burnout presented by Jaimie Hutchison, Deputy Director for the MSU WorkLife Office.

Resources and Tips

As Jaimie states in the webinar mentioned above, “Even if you are not experiencing stress or burnout now, a positive course of action is to proactively take up self-care and build your mental resilience.” Whether you feel like burnout is on the horizon or not, there are actions you can take to improve or avoid symptoms. Take stock of your current habits to see where you could make improvements and don’t forget to use the resources available to you:

  • Utilize employee mental health resources. As an MSU employee, you and your family have access to the Employee Assistance Program (EAP), which offers a confidential virtual counseling service at no cost. MSU Health4U offers a weekly virtual MSU Grief and Loss Support group. You also have access to Teladoc, which allows eligible employees and dependents who are 18+ to schedule a virtual visit with a therapist or psychiatrist. Your Best Doctors/Teladoc Medical Experts Behavioral Health Navigator benefit allows you to have a current mental health diagnosis reviewed by experts who will provide a second opinion, answer questions and help you find a specialist (if needed).
  • Set boundaries. Keeping an up-to-date work calendar is a great way to let your colleagues know when you’re working and when you’re not. When your home office is also the family dinner table, it can be too easy to answer email and phone calls after hours. However, as shared in this LinkedIn News article, “When there’s never a break, productivity ultimately suffers, and burnout becomes a greater risk.” It’s in your best interest to save after hours work for urgent issues only.
  • Take note of caregiver resources. We appreciate the struggles and challenges caregivers are experiencing right now. The MSU WorkLife Office has compiled an extensive list of resources available, including: options for care providers, support for managing boundaries with kids and work at home, and supervisor support on flexibility and making equitable decisions.
  • Make time to do things you enjoy. Whether that’s painting, planting a garden or walking the dog, make time to do activities you’re interested in – even if they’re challenging at first. This recent MSU Health4U article called I am a Runner! by Beth Morris LMSW, MPA chronicles Beth’s “last-ditch effort in the middle of a pandemic to try and manage stress” through a new running program. Beth’s story is inspiring and demonstrates how making time to do an activity you’re curious about – even if it’s hard – can help you cope with stress. Check out the MSU events calendar to see if there are any interesting virtual or socially distance activities you can join.
  • Practice mindfulness. There are many definitions out there of mindfulness, but most include the practice of being aware of what you’re sensing and feeling in the moment, without judgement. Developing a mindfulness practice can help you focus, ease anxiety, and manage stress. MSU employees have access to discounts for the Headspace and Calm meditation apps (find here under the Reduce Stress heading). If you want to get the whole family involved, MSU Extension recently published this Starting a Mindfulness Practice with your Child article.
  • Move more. A regular exercise program can have huge benefits on our overall health and well-being. Recreational Sports and Fitness Services offers virtual group classes over Zoom and Fitness On Demand, which gives you over 1,000 classes to choose from. Additionally, benefit-eligible employees have access to MSU Benefits Plus, which allows you to explore Global Fit’s growing library of free virtual classes and resources. Login to MSU Benefits Plus, click on Discount Shopping in the top navigation then type “Global Fit” in the search box to find a link to the digital resource library.
  • If you can, take time off. If you have vacation and/or personal days you can use, talk with your supervisor about taking some days off. That time away from work could be just what you need to reset and recharge.

We hope these tips and resources will help you avoid burnout or start to recover if you’re currently experiencing it. While the past year has been challenging, know that you’re not in this alone and there are resources available to help.


Anders, G. (2020, October 8). Burnout signs have risen 33% in 2020; here are seven ways to reduce risks. Https://Www.Linkedin.Com/Pulse/Burnout-Signs-Have-Risen-33-2020-Here-Seven-Ways-Reduce-George-Anders/. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/burnout-signs-have-risen-33-2020-here-seven-ways-reduce-george-anders/

Huff, C. (2021). Employers are increasing support for mental health. American Psychological Association 2021 Trends Report, 51(1), 84. https://www.apa.org/monitor/2021/01/trends-employers-support