As a result, “people get caught in a sort of chicken-and-egg problem where they work all the time so they don’t know what to do when they aren’t working, and because they don’t know what to do when they aren’t working, they end up working all the time,” he said.
This is often a problem for Ms. Aarons-Mele when she takes time off. “I’m the worst — I’ll wake up at a beach resort and be like, ‘Now what?’”
To avoid falling into that trap, she said, you can schedule activities during your vacation that require focus: Sign up for a class, volunteer with an organization or visit a museum, whatever feels fulfilling and distracts you from your screens.
Plan a fun day for when you get back.
If you’re able to space out your return home and your back-to-office day, put something on your calendar that you can look forward to for that time in between, Ms. Vanderkam said.
“Let’s say you’re taking a trip and you come back the day before you start work. Maybe plan a get-together with friends that afternoon or go see a movie that night,” she said. “It’ll ensure you are not fixated on the thought of starting work the next day. You’ll likely be thinking about the fun still to come as opposed to the anxiety of starting work.”
Remember: The worst outcomes probably won’t play out.
A lot of times, the scenes that you envision about all the things that could go haywire at work while you’re away or the daunting situations you have to come back to are just your brain inventing catastrophes, said Bisma Anwar, a licensed therapist on the telehealth platform Talkspace: “We tend to build up things in our minds, and it’s usually not as bad as we think.”
To pull yourself out of that mind-set, Ms. Anwar suggested, ground yourself in the moment by meditating or working out so that bad thoughts don’t ruin your time off. While doing so, you can look back on all you achieved before vacation, Ms. Aarons-Mele said, “and tell yourself, I worked hard, I did a lot, I accomplished a lot, I deserve a break.”
And if you’re away for an extended period, remind yourself that most issues that come up at work in the first few days will probably be irrelevant by the time you return, Ms. Vanderkam said, so there isn’t much point worrying about them from a distance. If something is important enough for your attention, it will come up again when you’re back at work and ready to address it.