Plan for better quality rest during your paid time off this year
January 2023   MENTAL HEALTH

Plan for better quality rest during your paid time off this year

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If there is one thing that we look forward to each year as an employee, it is paid time off (PTO). Typically representative of a respite away from the stresses of work, PTO is meant to help us recharge ourselves before returning refreshed, re-energised and ready to take on the challenges that come our way.

As we have come to know, however, taking a break from work is not always as easy as it seems. Whether it is dealing with travel stress, being unable to stop thinking about work, or constantly worrying about the emails that are piling up when we are away, our PTO can end up not being less restful than we want it to be. Recent studies have shown that such experiences are more commonplace than we think, with approximately 87% of workers feeling increased anxiety and stress after returning from vacation1, and the effects can be even more pronounced for those in high-stress jobs2.

Constantly returning to work feeling more stressed than we did before can quickly devolve into a slippery slope of burnout and other effects. To help you break the cycle and get in some well-deserved rest this year, we have compiled some tips on why it is important to obtain good quality rest, as well as how you can plan for it during your PTO.

Why is good quality rest important?

While we mostly associate PTO with simply taking a break from work to spend more time on the things and the people we love, there are also tangible health and wellness benefits that we reap from doing so. Having good quality rest is crucial for our mental health as it helps build our resilience and prevent burnout, which in turn boosts productivity and keeps our creative juices flowing.

Good quality rest is also essential in helping to reduce the physical effects of prolonged stress on our bodies. It results in lower blood pressure, decreased cortisol levels, improved heart health, a stronger immune system and better digestion, amongst a host of other positive outcomes3.

How can we ensure that we get proper rest during our paid time off?

It is important to remember that taking a break does not always translate to getting good quality rest, as getting proper rest can require us to do more than simply setting things aside. To ensure that we are giving ourselves the best chance to enjoy our PTO without being distracted by the worries and stresses of our work, there are a few things that we can plan for before we go.

  • Plan to ease back into work

Returning to work after an extended period of time away often means that there is a lot of catching up to do. From hundreds of unread emails, requests from colleagues, project updates and new tasks, it is easy to be overwhelmed. Having to deal with all this backlog all at once often requires us to have to work overtime just to get back on track. The key is therefore to anticipate this period of backlog and give ourselves some time to deal with it as a way of easing back into the job.

One good method of doing so is to schedule a period of time on our first day back solely for the purpose of catching up on everything that we have missed. Blocking off this time will also allow us to fully focus on getting ourselves up to speed while doing away with the excess stress of constantly worrying about rushing out overdue tasks. At the same time, giving ourselves some leeway will make it easier for us to gauge the time it will take to catch up and provide our co-workers with a reasonable timeline on the projects that they are also involved in.

  • Set boundaries

For some of us, it can be incredibly tough to completely disconnect from our work. When this happens, it can be more productive to plan for some limited check-ins rather than to struggle with the guilt of being distracted and disengaged for the entire duration of our PTO. Choosing to set strict boundaries on these check-ins therefore affords us the best of both worlds: we will be able to keep ourselves updated while putting our minds at least for the remainder of our time away. However, in doing so, it is vital to ensure that we stay accountable and stick to the boundaries that we have set to stop our work from spilling and taking over our PTO.

  • Engage in meaningful distraction

While it is tempting to want to lounge around and do nothing during PTO, having too much unplanned free time can end up being counterproductive by causing our thoughts to wander back to our work. Fortunately, there is a simple solution for this: plan to spend time on the things that are meaningful and exciting for us or be around people that we love. Having these activities on the docket can help minimise the temptation of thinking about work, instead allowing us to focus on enjoying ourselves and ease out of the need to constantly be productive.

  • Schedule non-work activities to look forward to after returning

Most of us will have experienced that feeling of dread and anxiety just before our vacation ends and when we have to head back to work, even to the point where it sometimes stops us from fully enjoying what is left of our PTO. One way around this is to plan a fun activity during or at the end of our first week back at work. Doing so can help ease some of the anxiety related to restarting work and allow us to stop associating the end of each break with dread.

Over to you

With mental health concerns such as anxiety, burnout, and depression becoming even more prevalent these days, ensuring that we get some proper rest is now more important than ever. PTO offers us the first step to achieving this, which means that it is up to us to make the best of our well-earned breaks with a little planning and coordination on our end.


1 Monster. (2022). Poll Results: PTO Woes - Results and findings from recent research on the future of work and the evolving jobs market.
2 Gump, B. B., Hruska, B., Pressman, S. D., Park, A., & Bendinskas, K. G. (2020). Vacation’s lingering benefits, but only for those with low stress jobs.
3 Forbes (2022). The benefits of resting and how to unplug in a busy world

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