WORK, REST AND PLAY

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It’s the time of year we all love to hate. Winter is here and if we are to take the weather forecast for the long weekend as anything to go by it looks like it’s going to be positively miserable!

Having just returned from a family trip back to the UK where the days were long and the sun came out to play it got me thinking about just how important it is for us all to take time off, enjoy a holiday, get some sunshine and make the most of our annual leave.

Fighting the “winter blues” – there is a serious downside to these darker months and a surprisingly large number of us will experience Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and many others will experience a milder form of fatigue, depression and low motivation as the sunlight disappears.

Low seasonal light levels are thought to be the primary culprit behind the symptoms of SAD.  Scientists believe that the battle between your biological clock (which tells your brain to sleep when it’s dark outside) and your busy schedule throws your mood and sleep hormones off. TAKE ACTION – rearrange your office furniture to place your desk beside a window. If your office is windowless, use a light box to enjoy half an hour of serotonin-boosting rays each morning as close to your wake up time as possible. Be sure to double up on daylight’s positive effects by bundling up and heading outside for a walk during your lunch break, as exercise is another proven mood lifter.

Aside from making you feel physically unwell, coming down with a cold can also torpedo your mood, possibly because the resulting inflammation mimics the negative effects of depression on your brain. TAKE ACTION – keep your immune system and morale strong by paying special attention to the three pillars of health over these chillier months – eating well, exercising regularly and try to get seven to nine hours of sleep per night (easier said than done for some of us!).

About 80% of those affected with SAD admit to increased appetite and carbohydrate cravings, which makes that meeting room treat extra tempting and extra problematic for your mood. Self-medicating with simple carbs temporarily increases levels of the feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin in your brain, but can lead to a dizzying crash afterward. TAKE ACTION – avoiding carbohydrates altogether can backfire due to lowered serotonin, so opt for complex carbohydrate-based foods instead such as whole grains, legumes, and vegetables.

Believe it or not, taking a photographic trip down memory lane can be even more effective than booze for improving your mood. TAKE ACTION – plaster photos of loved ones wherever you might see them at work whether that be on your phone, or your computer screensaver, or framed on your desk.

Planning time off work is paradoxically one of the best ways to increase your contentment on the job. Studies have shown that the positive mood effects of a holiday start an impressive eight weeks before departure due to happy anticipation, but fade within a week or two of returning! TAKE ACTION – Plan your winter getaway in a sunny spot for the most SAD fighting effects. Opt for a relaxing itinerary instead of an action-packed one to maximise your post-holiday afterglow! Also keep in mind that frequent mini-breaks may result in more overall happiness than one long trip because of the anticipation effect.

TAKING A HOLIDAY IS ESSENTIAL FOR SURVIVAL

According to a recent report, only one in three of us take our full holiday entitlement. So why are we so reluctant to take annual leave? Whatever we do for a living whether we recognise it or not we all experience some form of job-related stress. We may face the burden of meeting tight deadlines, making crucial decisions, or managing the complexities of household demands. And for many stress may also include the stress of being unemployed and that of finding a new job. It’s a fact that we all too often shy away from it but all of us have lives that are filled with some form of stress, even if we don’t truly acknowledge it. Chronic stress takes its toll in part on our body’s ability to function normally. It’s a fact that when you’re stressed out and tired, you are more likely to become ill. What’s also a fact is that you are less likely to seek medical advice about being stressed as you would if you were suffering from a common cold. Mentally, not only do you become more irritable, depressed, and anxious, but your memory will become worse and you’ll make poorer decisions.

Taking a holiday has the potential to break into the stress cycle. We emerge from a successful holiday feeling ready to take on the world again. We gain perspective on our problems, get to relax with our families and friends, and get a break from our usual routines. Research shows that over 50% of people work extra hours before taking holiday and one in ten claim they feel guilty about leaving colleagues when they eventually do go away. My top tip – don’t feel guilty because you’re going on holiday, it’s all too easy to overthink this. But switch off (as much as you can) you’ll be amazed how well others will cope without you around!

It’s important not to rely on your manager or colleagues to manage your breaks, especially if you’re part of a large team. While good leaders will recognise when an employee needs a rest, no one knows how you’re feeling better than you do. Working at Acquire Group where we recognise the value of time out of the office it’s easy for us to manage our annual leave and make the most of time away with friends and family. If you have a great manager then they will “force” you to take your entitled annual leave. If you have the boss from hell, then nothing you can do will be enough but you need to take control and insist on having the leave you’re legally entitled to.

Do you feel an obligation to check your work email when you’re on holiday? What about your voicemail?

What will it take for us to completely remove ourselves from “work” whilst we’re on holiday?

Why are we not completely cutting the ties while away from the office?

If you’ve mastered the art (i think i’m getting there!), you may be feeling quite smug about taking your full holiday entitlement. But whether it’s fear of missing out on opportunities or simply losing touch, people still can’t seem to switch off when they finally do take leave. Like a lot of workplace issues, understanding expectations, and managing them, plays a big part in avoiding potential problems. Having to maintain office contact while away with family or friends can trigger negative feelings towards your boss or workplace. But there are a few things you can do to find out what’s expected of you while you’re off, and also keep any contact that is required to a minimum. The rise of mobile technology and the world wide web could well be to blame. It’s quite possible that because people know it’s easy to be contacted on holiday, then they should respond.

Paid holiday leave is not a bonus granted by your employer, it’s a legal entitlement to a break from work. It helps to keep you healthy by giving you time to recharge your batteries and spend time with friends and family. It’s a fact holidays are good for your health, everybody needs a break to relax and unwind. If you’re married to your job, here are my five top tips on how to make sure you take valuable time away from work.

  • Always give your employer plenty of notice of time you’d like to take off.
  • Commit yourself to a break by booking flights and hotels in advance.
  • Plan a holiday with friends and family so you can’t let them down by backing out.
  • Delegate work to colleagues before you leave so you know you won’t return to chaos.
  • When you do get away leave the laptop at home.

As we come to the end of the financial year it’s time to make the most of warmer climates and to revive our work-weary minds. So if you’ve got a few days of leave tucked up your sleeve, what are you waiting for? Book that flight, turn off your phone and leave the laptop in the office – trust me your mind and your body will thank you for it.